Laws on Renting a Room

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Getting a roommate as a tenant in a room of your house can be a great way to make some extra money and capitalize on your additional space. But what do you do if it’s not working out? Can you legally make a roommate move out, and if so, how would you go about doing so? Understanding the law as it relates to renting a room is important whether you are the tenant or the landlord.

How Can You Evict a Renter?

Once you’ve gotten to the point of desiring eviction – legally forcing someone to leave your house – one would assume you’ve already verbally asked the tenant to leave, and they have either refused or are dragging their feet on vacating the room. To formally begin the eviction process, you must serve them with a written notice, such as a termination notice, giving them 30 days to vacate.

In New York, for example, this is called beginning a roommate holdover case. You will need to be able to prove in court that you served this notice and the date on which it was served. While handing the renter a letter may suffice, sending the letter with a signature and notarization requirement means they have to sign it indicating the date on which they received the letter. It may seem silly to mail a letter to someone who is living in the next room, but creating the proper paper trail is important to proceed legally.

Regardless of the relationship you have with the tenant, there are certain rules and procedures that must be followed. In the eviction notice, you must state the problem – such as nonpayment of rent – with the tenant, and either give him a certain amount of time, say 30 days, to remedy the problem. If those criteria are not met, you’ll be required to go to court to request that the tenant be evicted legally.

The landlord is not required to give you a reason, nor a chance to make good on a bad situation. If you do not have a lease agreement, or the sublesseee is not listed on your lease, you still must proceed with written notice. Further, if you have been subleasing to another individual, asking the landlord for an eviction can cause you to be evicted yourself for taking in an unauthorized tenant without the landlord’s knowledge and approval.

Reasons for eviction vary from state to state, but generally include nonpayment of rent, damage to the property, activity that violates the terms of the lease or use of the property for illegal activity. Any way the tenant has broken the lease agreement can be used for eviction, including, for example, the renter's insistence upon keeping a pet if you have a no pets stipulation in the lease.

What Are a Tenant’s Rights?

If you are co-tenants or have subleased to another person, you cannot evict someone. Further, if you are a co-tenant listed on a lease, the other party cannot simply kick you out, even if you stop paying rent. This is because you have the right, as a tenant, to notice prior to eviction.

Other tenants rights include the right to a safe environment, and the landlord may be in violation of the agreement if living conditions are not safe. That can be broadly defined, so it’s important to understand the specifics of landlord-tenant law in your particular state.

However, what’s uniformly true is that the best way to deal with a problem with your landlord is not by cessation of rent payment. By law, you are required to pay your rent as stipulated in your lease agreement. If living conditions are not satisfactory or you are endangered and the landlord has not addressed the problem, you should set up an escrow account and notify your landlord you will pay rent into that account until the problem is fixed.

If you do not have a lease agreement, you unfortunately may have no guarantee of any rights. The lease is a legal document and both parties have responsibilities therein. If you fear for your safety because of a roommate or landlord, contact the police.

Rights of Lodgers

In some states, like California, someone who rents a room is referred to as a lodger. Your rights are spelled out in your rental agreement. Even without a lease, landlord-tenant laws apply to both parties in California.

Lodgers may be roommates in an owner-occupied house and do not necessarily have the same rights as tenants. Roommates of this sort may not have the same privacy expectations as tenants, depending on the laws of their jurisdictions. In addition, eviction proceedings may differ depending on both jurisdiction and any legally binding written agreements between the lodger and owner of the home.

There are many resources available to you if you need to file a complaint against your landlord. Fair housing laws and advocate agencies can help you if you need to file a complaint about your landlord. These agencies help you navigate difficult situations with landlord-tenant or and landloard-lodger issues. Small claims court may also be a good resource to address concerns with your landlord while protecting your rights as a tenant.

Paying Rent Without a Lease

A tenant living with the landlord’s permission but without a lease is called a tenant at will. Typically, when you have this type of living arrangement, you pay rent to the landlord each month and it’s considered a month-to-month tenancy. While the lack of a contract may feel freeing, this arrangement affords you little protection under the law if there is a problem. In some instances, a landlord may simply ask you to leave or otherwise notify you that they want you gone, and you must leave in a matter of a few days. In other cases, state law protects tenants at will and requires that they receive notice equal to the term of their lease.

You should consider carefully entering into a housing situation where no lease is suggested or required. Renting a room with no lease does not protect you legally in most situations that could arise. If you are renting a room in someone's house, ask about signing a lease before you move in. Some landlords may not want to use a lease because the living unit is not a legal residence or up to required codes to serve as a rental unit. You will be at a legal disadvantage throughout your tenancy here. If there is a problem, there’s no way to legally compel the landlord to resolve it.

Taxing a House for Lease

Whether you rent out a room or an entire house, the income from the rental is taxable and must be reported to the government. Conversely, you get to claim a portion of expenses on your tax returns. For example, if the tenancy involves a shared space, such as renting out a room in your home, but you both use common areas, you can deduct a portion of the expenses for the shared spaces on your taxes, and can fully deduct expenses related to the portion of the property that’s devoted to the tenant/renter.

If you rent out part of your property as a place for people to stay via a service like Craigslist or Airbnb, you will most likely also need to report that income as rental income, depending on how heavily it is rented each year. Generally speaking, any rental income, whether to a roommate with no lease, a tenant or a lodger with a rental agreement, or as a short-term rental property through Airbnb or a similar service, should be considered taxable income and must be reported. However, if you are incorporated, renting a room may be a pass-through business offering you a tax break.

Always consult an experienced tax professional to be sure you understand the benefits and potential negatives of renting a room in your home. Whether you are a tenant or landlord, properly setting up the arrangement legally from the beginning will afford you the most protection.

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About the Author

Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. In addition to being the content writer and social media manager for Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, she has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com), and she enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.