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Cohousing: Sharing Space and 5 Tips for Choosing the Right Tenant

I took pictures of this shared single-family house in Naples, Florida a few months ago. I guess there are lots of terms for homes like this: cohousing, shared housing, duplex, mother in law suite, etc. Can you think of any more?

I like the way space is split up between the floor levels on this one. The first floor is one unit and the second floor is the other; and they each have their own private entrances–a big plus!

Since there are already so many oversized houses in the market it’s a smart and environmentally friendly way to split a house up into more than one unit. Some people might decide to split their house in two.

Families might want to just create an in-law type of studio within their house. That’s what my Dad is doing. So here’s a quick pro/con list to renting part of your home’s space out.

duplex house


  • Rental income to help pay bills
  • Less space to clean and maintain
  • Share utility bills
  • Create a community
  • Can exchange rent for an expensive service that you need
  • Someone to talk to
  • Have someone around to help each other out
duplex house


  • Loss of some privacy; you might not want anyone there
  • Money and time to restructure house
  • Dealing with a tenant
  • Responsibility to choose a good tenant

Issues to debate

  • Will I just rent out an extra room?
  • Or will I build/restructure for more privacy?
  • Can I really share my kitchen with someone else?
  • Bathroom?
  • How much will it cost to restructure and purchase extra appliances?
  • How much rent will I be able to get if I did this? (Check craigslist)
  • How long will it take me to get my money invested back?

It’s obvious that for the right person the pros will outweigh the cons. I think the most important part is probably choosing the right tenant.

So, here are some helpful tips on choosing the right tenant the first time:

First and foremost grab a piece of paper and pencil, or a blank word file and start describing the type of person you’d like your tenant to be. This will help you attract the right person.

Think of all of the qualities you’d appreciate and that will work with you, and then you’ll be able to easily look for these qualities in the people you interview. So, here are the tips…

1. Find out where your possible tenant works

  • Is it a permanent job?
  • Call the employer and find out about him/her
  • What position?
  • How long has he/she been employed there?

2. Go visit their current home

  • This will give you a chance to see how clean they are
  • And exactly what type of person you are allowing into your home

3. Call their references

  • Call all of the references that they provide to you
  • They should at least have one person who says they’d be a good tenant

4. Get their credit score

  • These days this can be harsh, but it’s still an indicator
  • Gives you a way to check for honesty
  • And you can use the tips above to determine how much this one matters

5. All in all — summary

  • You want to find that special tenant that…
  • Keeps clean and organized
  • Makes minor improvements when necessary

My father is finishing setting up a nice “in-law” type apartment studio within their house and they’ll be using some of these tips to get their tenant.

If anyone else has any helpful tips please share them in the comments.



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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 2 comments… add one }
  • sesameB
    January 30, 2012, 10:24 am

    I lived like this long ago, in a restored mansion in Colville, WA., with other folks.

  • Roseann
    January 6, 2013, 11:26 am

    This type of living arrangement is very common in Chicago where such houses are called two- or three-flats. Each tenant has the entire floor of a several-story house. In smaller areas where I’ve lived, they’re called duplexes but the concept is the same. I’m actually kind of surprised more people don’t do this sort of thing, especially older folks whose kids have moved out and are now stuck with a house too big to maintain.

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