A Tenant’s Guide To Finding A House Share

Firewood beside a house
Tenants share household chores such as bringing in firewood. Photo: Tim Green

Accommodation in Whitehorse is tight. Even if you manage to find a place online and even if you have actually met the landlord to see the premises, how do you know what you’re really getting into … especially if it’s a house share?

I know. I’ve been there.

When I first arrived in Whitehorse, I stayed for months in a bed and breakfast, without breakfast (OK but not ideal), while I searched for alternatives. Landlords turned me down. Then I shared a house belonging to someone who turned out to be weird. Being a tenant was not easy and I found that prospective landlords sometimes had unreasonable expectations.

I now have my own house that I share with two tenants. They each have a bedroom and share a bathroom. They share the rest of the house with me: kitchen, laundry, living room, TV and chores. So now my perspective has changed. Being a landlord is not easy, and I find that prospective tenants sometimes have unreasonable expectations.

From a landlord’s perspective, the minimum acceptable tenant is one who will pay their rent promptly and stay for a while without kicking in the walls. And, in a house share, a compatible match of personalities and lifestyles is essential.

In my case, I am looking for a careful, thoughtful person that I can trust in my home—someone who is mindful of the actual and potential needs of others. My experience as a landlord, with tenants across the complete spectrum, has shown that these qualities are not correlated to age or gender.

So how do I go about finding the ideal tenant? The brief Facebook ad gives the barest details, a single photo and a link to more info on a website. That ad also clearly says NOT to contact me through Facebook but, instead, to read the website and contact me there.

The website has more photos, extensive house details and the email contact address. It also has a short list of questions to which I would like answers: Where do you work? Why are you moving? and What makes you a good fit for the house? (Yes, this is like a mini job posting as the first step in determining a good match.)

So, what happens? I get a burst of messages via Facebook from people who clearly didn’t read the ad. OK, they’re out (not the careful, thoughtful people I’m looking for). A smaller group actually reads far enough to get to the email stage but they don’t answer the questions. Not helpful.

And then a very few actually give me the info I’m looking for. That triggers more discussion and possibly a visit. My experience has shown that this self-selecting process generally leads to a very good short list.

I am sympathetic to the challenges that desperate tenants face. Some become quite critical, accusing me of being unreasonably picky and charging too much. But it’s important that we all realize that not every match is a good one. I’m certainly careful about who shares my house and daily routine.

Through this whole process, I have learned a lot about tolerance and diverse life experiences. I don’t expect tenants to become friends, but we must at least share some core values. (Actually, some do become friends. One woman liked The Dogs way more than she liked me, and she came back a year after she had moved Outside, so she could dog-sit while I was away.)

So if you are a prospective house-share tenant, and especially in our tight rental market, please recognize that, whether you like it or not, you must convince the landlord that you are the most suitable of all potential candidates. The truth works well.

Some approaches that do not work:

1. Trying to convince a landlord to accept you by threatening them (yeah, really)

2. Insisting that a landlord call you back only at a very specific, inconvenient hour such as at 3 a.m.

3. Giving no info about yourself but demanding the exact address so you can drop in at some random time

4. Asking questions that clearly show you have not read the ad

5. Being evasive, especially about past living arrangements, current employment and future activities

6. Trying to bargain down the price (a lot of thought goes into the price, and doubt that you can or will pay promptly is a red flag)

So, in figuring out a house share, both parties must understand that it’s really like online dating, with the up-front idea of living together as the very first step. This is all about establishing a relationship, which is different from a commercial transaction such as renting an apartment.

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