How to Avoid a Terrible Housemate!

Questions to ask your prospective lodgers

Firstly, you must make it clear to each interviewee that you will be running checks on them.

For landlords in England, right to rent checks have now become a legal requirement with the extension of the Immigration Act 2014 to all parts of England from 1 February 2016. Landlords, including lodger landlords, must ensure that all new tenants and lodgers have at least a time limited right to rent before a licence (such as a lodger agreement) or tenancy is granted.

Midweek lodgers and a tenant or licencee letting somewhere short term, such as a holiday let, is unaffected by Right to Rent provided the property they rent is not their main home. Otherwise, all permanent occupants over 18 (regardless of tenure) in privately rented accommodation must be checked.

If anyone doesn't agree to a right to rent or tenant check they should be eliminated as a candidate. Even if you're not getting many applicants, it is better to have no one renting your room than to have a potential rogue lodger - someone who'll cause a tremendous amount of disruption and distress to your home and your life in general, and far from providing you with an additional income, is likely to actually leave you out of pocket, either through not paying rent, damaging your home and even stealing - almost certainly through the first two, or even all three.

NB some of these questions, such as cooking and cleaning, bills, overnight and other guests, smoking etc should be discussed, even if you already know your prospective lodger well.

  • Unless it's obvious - e.g. you know the person and they've just split up with their live in partner, why are they looking to rent your room?

  • What is it they most want/expect if they move in - will they want to integrate with you and your family, becoming a member of the household or will they want their own space (i.e. staying in their room most of the time - most lodgers will want to maintain their own space, at least part of the time - even an existing friend or acquaintance - this shouldn't be taken as standoffishness!). Also, saying that the lodger can't eat in their room if they want to is too proscriptive and betrays a lack of trust. If you do want to get to know your lodger once they've moved in, and have them integrate more with you, invite them to join you for meals a couple of evenings each week. If you're looking for a companion, you need to make this clear, and be especially careful that you really click with the person you select.

  • Do they cook - how often and what (having your kitchen constantly occupied and smelly food cooked might not be your idea of fun - or on the other hand, you might share the cooking - if one or both of you need the kitchen at certain times, you need to agree on access times.

  • Spareroom founder, Rupert Hunt, gets some interesting answers to his interview questions and ad for pay what you can afford accommodation in his London mansion!!

  • Do they have a partner and will that person be staying overnight often - yes, you can say you don't want overnight guests, but in this day and age, most people will find this restriction offensive and very intrusive (as you're dictating someone's private life in their own home) - although it's usually impossible to have complete freedom in a house share situation, it's much better to compromise and have a rule for both the lodger AND the landlord (this is important - see Resolving Disputes) about how often people can stay over.
    • While on the subject of guests, visitors who don't stay overnight or not often, but still visit nearly all the time, can be even more intrusive for the other house mate, and if anything are much more likely to impact on the household than someone coming over mid evening, spending most of the time in the lodger's room then disappearing first thing next morning for a couple of nights a week.

    • If you hold strong religious or moral convictions about a partner staying, or perhaps you're concerned for the safety and well being of your children, it's critical that you state this nicely from the start - a good lodger will respect this, and will understand if this your only objection - however, ideally, find someone who shares your values and viewpoint on this.

    • Another possible objection to overnight guests might be very limited living space or accommodation that isn't very private - but if your home is like this, why are you thinking about taking in a lodger in the first place? Your home needs to offer private, separate sleeping areas for both the landlord and the lodger - if either party has to go through the other's sleeping space to get to common areas or services, it won't work!

    • However, if you don't have children or religious or moral objections or other good reasons, and you like your prospective lodger and have every reason to believe their partner is going to be a decent person who will treat you and your home with respect, and yet at the back of your mind, you still feel uneasy about the partner staying not only should you not allow the partner to stay, but seriously consider whether you are ready to be a resident landlord - this strongly suggests that you will not be able to share your home, and you are likely to treat your lodger as subordinate to you in the home - i.e. very much your home but not their home. Also, in the absence of concern for children or objections based on deeply held values, your lodger is likely to see your position as unreasonable.

    • Last but not least, meet the partner too ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN, before any binding Agreement is made - you need to feel comfortable with someone who will be regularly visiting your home.

    Next - Interview Question examples continued