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How to Stay Safe When Renting a Room From a Stranger

Image for article titled How to Stay Safe When Renting a Room From a Stranger

Photo: Madhourse (Shutterstock)

Given a large swath Americans have been dubbed “Generation Rent” due to the dwindling chances they’ll ever own a home, the recent economic turmoil—with interest rates, inflation, and rents soaring—is only adding further insult to an already grave injury. More people are being forced to get creative to secure housing. For some, that may mean giving up the lofty goal of renting an entire apartment and settling for renting a room.

On paper this isn’t much different than renting an apartment with some rent-sharing roommates. In reality, it can be very different, because you’re renting just a small space in someone else’s home. While legally your rights as a tenant are the same as if you were renting the entire dwelling, in reality it can be an isolating, privacy-challenging experience, as you won’t control many aspects of your living situation, from the utilities to your access to different areas of the space. Since you’re also likely living with a landlord you don’t know very well, this is a recipe for stress.

One of the biggest concerns when renting a room is security: How do you feel safe when living with (and at the mercy of) strangers? No matter how well you seem to get along, there are a couple of steps you should take to enhance your safety when renting a room.

Do your due diligence

When renting a room from someone you don’t know, safety begins before you sign a rental agreement or lease. Meet with your prospective landlord-slash-roommate—at the bare minimum, have a video chat with them. Don’t hesitate to ask about anything that concerns you; a legitimate and reasonable landlord should be willing to answer any questions you have about the living situation they’re offering.

Check out the property and the surrounding neighborhood and make sure you feel comfortable there, and consider paying for a background check on the person you’ll be living with. Many landlords run potential tenants through services like Rentberry—typically passing the costs on to you—so why not turn the tables and check on the person you’re planning to live with for the next few months or years? Even a simple Google search on an address or landlord name can turn up unhappy prior tenants or other issues.

Add (or improvise) a lock

The biggest security issue when renting a room is the sanctity of your private space. The owner of the property retains the right to access your space at any time, which becomes frightening if the relationship sours.

Legally, you can’t add a lock or change the existing lock to your room without your landlord’s permission, so ask for that right up front, and get it in writing (preferably in the rental agreement itself). It is entirely possible to remove an existing knob or door lock and replace it with one you bought yourself without damaging the door in any way, and the previous lock can be put back into place when you vacate the room.

If your landlord refuses to allow you to add or change the locks, you can improvise a lock on your door that will add some protection while you are in the room. One of the simplest ways to do this requires only a metal dinner fork and a pair of pliers. This will stop anyone from opening your door from the outside without making any changes at all to the existing door or walls, which might help you sleep at night.

Add a camera

Generally speaking, tenants are allowed to utilize security cameras inside their private space as long as they don’t intrude on shared spaces. A simple indoor camera like Amazon’s Blink model can be placed unobtrusively on a shelf and can monitor your room when you’re not there, sending motion-activated alerts. This way you at least will know if your landlord/roommate is entering your room while you’re not there, or sleep better at night knowing that they’re respecting your privacy. Your main consideration here is to use a wireless setup that won’t cause any damage to the walls or require other permanent changes.