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Troubled Economy Means More Extended Families Sharing Homes

Her name is Rose and she has recently become widowed.  On a fixed income, she has opened up 3 rooms in her home that she is renting to her adult grandchildren.  Rose is not unfamiliar with sharing her home with family.  She and her husband shared their home for nearly five years with an adult son, his spouse, and five grandchildren.  She recounts that at one time there were nine people and five dogs all sharing her modest size four bedroom suburban home.


These kinds of arrangements are not always easy.  One issue Rose contends with is the cost of electricity.  She has recently installed a security box over the controls to the air conditioner in her Central Florida home.  She says that she simply can't afford for the grandchildren to turn the air down below 75 degrees.  There are other rules as well.  No eating in the bedrooms, no coming in after midnight, and you must clean up after yourself in the kitchen.  Once a week there is a room inspection and your bedroom must be clean.  I think she has an excellent perspective on this and I really like her rules.

Rose is not alone.  According to a recent report, more than 51 million Americans live with extended family.  Although the most common configuration is younger people moving in with older parents/grandparents into a house that is paid off, that is not always the case.  Many times the elderly find it necessary to move in with younger family when they face financial or health problems.


Some find the trend a refreshing return to living arrangements that were very common not too many decades ago.  I don't think any of our families are as idyllic as the Waltons and so some common sense and boundaries must be considered.

Put Your Shared Housing Agreement In Writing

Not that you plan to end up in court with your family members, but outlining what arrangements everyone is agreeing to can be a great step to avoid misunderstandings.

  • How long will the arrangement last?
  • How will expenses be shared?  Utilities, food, home repairs, etc...
  • How will the maintenance of the home be shared? (dishes, cleaning, yard work, etc...)
  • Will there officially be any payment of rent and how much?
  • What are the house rules?  Better to outline this in advance to avoid a family fight.  This would include any limits on visitors, time for lights out, curfews, parking spots, who gets to control the thermostat, and on and on. 


Check With Your Local Municipality To Be Sure Your Arrangement Is Legal

There may be local ordinances limiting the number of people and/or pets you can have in one dwelling.  You may need to find out if overnight parking on the street is allowed if there are more cars than can fit in your driveway.  Converting a garage or basement into additional rooms will require permits and approval.  This would especially apply to the construction of any stand alone structures, such as so called 'mother-in-law' cottages or apartments.

Check With Your Landlord

If you are a renter, don't just start moving people in without discussing this with your landlord.  Your lease will more than likely address the issue of number of people living in the home.  The good news is that in this economy you will likely get cooperation as long as you are taking good care of the property and making your rent payment on time.  This, of course, assumes some level of common sense.  Most landlords are not going to tolerate unreasonable numbers of people and/or pets regardless of a pristine rental payment history.  The worst thing you can do is to hide this from your landlord and end up negotiating with them after your tribe is discovered during a surprise visit.

Check With Your Homeowner's Insurance Company

Once you begin renting out rooms, the nature of your property may be considered a rental home and no longer a primary residence.  You may need to change your homeowner's policy or modify your coverage.  Other unexpected issues will also kick in.  An auto insurer may require that all members of the household of driving age carry insurance for you to be able to keep your policy in force.  So, when you move in your 17 year old niece you may have no choice but to add her to your auto insurance simply because she is living in your home.

The biggest issue with local authorities for Rose and her extended household has been parking citations.  With more cars than driveway, someone is always left with their car on the street or parked in the driveway blocking the sidewalk.  Her family has been the recipient of multiple parking tickets, but she has had no other issues with her city. 


With the subprime mortgage crisis, the high unemployment rate, the prospect of an extended family sharing one household is becoming simply a necessity for survival.  These arrangements of necessity are certainly not perfect but can become livable with proper planning and good communication.  How you handle things upfront may well determine if you have an Archie Bunker or Andy Griffith style extended household.

Have you shared a home with extended family?  I would love to read your story and get your insight.  Please use the comments section below to share your experience.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
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