Re: Room rental in cohousing
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 1996 13:11:55 -0500
Don Maddox wrote:
> I would be interested in hearing from others in cohousing who have
> rented rooms in their community homes.  Some of the questions I have
> are:

I'm going to answer this (even though I must be approaching my quota for  
cohousing-l messages this week) since I delude myself that I know  
something about it.  I have shared with several housemates for the last  
five years, made quite a few mistakes and had some bad experiences, but  
also had a lot of happiness and growth from it.  In the following "we"  
means "my household".

> 1. Is there a ready market in your area for cohousing renters.  Have
> you found it easy or difficult to rent rooms?  I hope it's not
> relatively as hard to find renters in cohousing as it is to find
> buyers?
Davis is a liberal university town.  At the right time of year, there  
will be no difficulty at all in finding housemates.  At the wrong time of  
year, it can be a bit sticky, but we've always found someone in the end.  
 On the whole, our experience has more often been one of agonizing over  
who is the best of several promising people, rather than desperately  
searching for anyone acceptable.

> 2. What is your process for finding renters?  Do you advertise to the
> general public or do you rely primarily on contacts within your
> cohousing network?

Sometimes we hear about people through informal networks, and sometimes  
we advertise.  We used to put ads up in a number of places.  Our  
experience has been that the bulk of enquiries were generated by the ad  
at the local food co-op.  In our ad, we put a considerable amount of  
detail about what kind of household we are and about the fact that it is  
in a cohousing community.  Our experience has been that that results in  
relatively few enquiries, but almost all the enquiries seem like pretty  
promising people.  This saves time talking with unlikely candidates.

We talk with folk on the phone, usually just discussing the basics about  
rent, dates of availability, etc.  If that seems to work out ok, then we  
meet with the candidate in person.  Usually we take several hours over  
this.  We have a long written list of topics we discuss with the person  
(drugs, alcohol, noise, tidyness, extrovert/introvert, people staying  
over, ways of handling conflict, TV, radio, etc, etc).  The point is not  
to make judgements about anyone, but just for us to determine with the  
candidate if we are compatible enough to enjoy living together.  This may  
seem like a lot of trouble.  However, housemates can really enhance your  
life or make it miserable.  It's worth investing some time up front to  
try and figure out which camp this candidate is likely to fall into.

I always get references and follow up on them.  I don't try and find out  
details about the candidate's lifestyle or personality this way.  I just  
use it as a backup to avoid making a really major mistake, like choosing  
somebody who turns out to have a serious addiction, or to be financially  

> 3. What kind of selection process do you use to qualify renters?  Do
> you require consensus of all households in the community?

No.  The decision is made by the household in question.

I would
> think that the selection process would have to be less stringent for
> renters than for full members.

My understanding is that most cohousing communities do not have control  
over resale of houses.  So the community at large does not have too much  
control either way.

> I have questions on the authority given to renters in consensus decision
> making but there are several articles in cohousing-l archives with
> this subject.

My opinion on this is that if you deny the ability to block consensus in  
all matters to renting housemates, they are going to feel like  
second-class citizens (this is already a natural tendency since they have  
less economic power - they can be kicked out of the community which  
cannot happen to an owner).  If they have the sense that they do not  
share equally in the power, they are less likely to contribute time and  
energy to the community.

N St accords an equal role in decision-making to all members, regardless  
of whether they rent or own.  We do not have a pattern of less  
involvement by renters - some are marginally involved and some are very  
involved.  The same is true of owners.

I could see a reasonable case being made for limiting certain kinds of  
issues which primarily affect the interests of homeowners to them (eg,  
major capital decisions - "should we replace all the roofs this year?").   
But if homeowners have more power in how community dinner is organized,  
then renters are less likely to want to cook and eat (IMO).

> Thanks in advance for any information you can give me on the above or
> any other topic concerning renters in cohousing that you feel would be
> helpful to me in the formative stage I am in.

The lessons I have learned are:

1) Put a lot of thought and energy into choosing housemates at the  
outset.  You want responsible people with values, personality, and  
lifestyle reasonably compatible with yours.

2) Once you have housemates, treat them as equals in your house.  Don't  
use your power as the owner of the house to settle disputes on matters  
that have nothing to do with the fabric of the house.  Instead negotiate  
a solution that works for everyone.  Don't make changes in the way the  
household works on the assumption that decisions are yours alone.  That  
breeds resentment and conflict.  Even with decisions that relate much  
more to the house as a piece of real property, and that *are* yours alone  
(such as the roof), keep your housemates informed and consult with them  
about how it may affect them.  Don't assume that they aren't bothered by  
a decision because they haven't complained.  Some people are shy, so ask.  
 The rent is a sensitive issue - if you are going to raise it, have a  
good reason and discuss it carefully with your housemates as far in  
advance as possible.

3) Pay attention to the quality of the housemate relationship - it takes  
some energy and time (on both sides) to make it work.  If there are  
conflicts, work through them rather than letting them fester.  If you  
don't spend any time having fun with housemates, plan some activities  
that will be fun.  Eat together regularly.  The relationship should be a  
source of much more pleasure than pain.  If it isn't, ask yourself and  
your housemates what could be changed to make it so.

4) Be prepared for housemates to move on.  You may get a housemate who  
will be around for a long time, but most will leave after a couple of  
years because of a change in job, school, relationships etc.  Enjoy them  
while they stay and be willing to let them go when it is time for them to  
do something else.  Life is change, and it is better that way.


Stuart Staniford-Chen           |        N St Cohousing, Davis, CA
stanifor [at]             |       Cohousing Network Webweaver     

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