Independent lives, shared living

Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA)
Tag: 727226
Section: A
Page: 04

More elegant than a Western-movie boarding house. More companionable than a solo apartment. Shared living gives homeowners some income from tenants without subdividing the space. It gives tenants the use of a full house without the responsibilities of home ownership. In shared living situations that seem to work best, each party enjoys independence and has someone to talk to — or not — at the end of the day. Sarah Handstet had always lived with her parents in Whitehall, in the Lehigh Valley. When she got a summer role as a jester at Renaissance Faire she supported it with a job at a restaurant, also near Lancaster. “I wanted to experience life without the shelter of my family, “ said Sarah. “I’m setting aside money for college, but I want to get life experience first.” Sarah went to and found a posting from , whose daughter had recently vacated a two-room suite on the top floor of Lancaster city house. Although 20 years separate them in age, they quickly struck a match and a contract — and soon, a good friendship.Sarah’s father is a fireman. He visited, inspected, gave them some fire extinguishers, insisted on fire-detection units and gave his blessing. Sarah, the younger roommate, likes to cook. manages neatness and house rules. She stresses the need for clear understandings before the renter moves in. She wrote a three-page letter to Sarah, setting down limits and giving explanations. “This is a business contract between us,” she wrote. She listed the rent, the due date, the security deposit and the need to be “frugal with utilities.” She suggested a housewarming party, soon after Sarah moved in (although they are still getting around to that, they said.) set clear boundaries about pets, since both women owned cats. When the house cat became territorial, the visiting cat had to go back home. There are compromises and boundaries for privacy and quiet and courtesy. They agree that the white board in the kitchen is an important communications tool to making this work so well. They wish their third roommate, Richard, was around more often. Richard is a good example of the reasons behind the new trend to share living with strangers which has spun off several Web sites. Richard lives in New York, but works four days a week as a computer specialist for a company in Lancaster. “He has one of those new kind of jobs,” said “He works hard on a computer system, around the clock, then takes the rest of the week off. He goes to his other house in New York, but we wish he were here more often.” Both Sarah and Richard have other houses to turn to. The fact that most people cart around “a lot of stuff” has been the deterrent for Nora and Paul Stark, who let out a room in their historic house in Columbia. Their first tenant was coming out of a military career and just kept her belongings in storage, they said. Now they are looking for a new tenant. “The house is big enough for everyone to have privacy,” Nora said. Women can be territorial about kitchens, she acknowledges. “The level of cleanliness could have been better with the most recent tenant,” she said. “But putting things back where they come from is about sweating the small stuff,” she said. “I don’t mind that, because I am grateful to have a tenant who will help us pay for the restoration of this fine old house.” “It’s an opportunity to meet people from all over the world,” Paul said. “ Part of our selection process is finding someone who recognizes the signifigance of the structure and the contribution they are helping to make to the preservation of the building. “I rely on my instincts,” he said, “to be selective. By putting the ad online you are not revealing your location. You simply list the size of the space, whether it is a shared bath, public transportation, pets, and you get to know the other person through e-mail.” Landlord/tenant problems can be avoided by a good contract, according to attorney Richard Nuffort, whose general law practice includes real estate as a specialty. “Most often I see co-habitation agreements when people live together in a romantic relationship with no legal status to protect them,” he said. “Let’s say a man moves in with a woman. He’d like to see a new deck on the house. He buys the materials, supplies the labor, buys picnic furniture and brings value to the property. But they have no agreement or understanding. “The tenant who makes improvements has no more right to get his money back than the next-door neighbor who comes over to help you put a deck on your house. You give him a beer and he leaves, without expecting to get money back. “Or perhaps Granny moves in, puts some money toward improvements, then wants to move to a place of her own. “There are a lot of issues in which people make assumptions that they have gained an interest in the property. In Pennsylvania, they can presume no interest in the real estate unless it is in writing.” The trend for strangers to live together is apparent, however, in the growth of online sublet and roommate sites, in addition to the constant newspaper classified ads for shared housing.On a monthly basis, the site for gets five to six million visitors per month, especially in the March through July period when people most often move. Dan Miller is chief operating officer of Nestpick, Inc. which since 1999 has created, and The online matching of tenants and landlords has grown from a site matching sublets in metro New York to an international market in the past six years. Probably 75 percent of the people seeking a sublet will settle for a roommate, said Miller, if the conditions are right. “I may be looking for a sublet,” he said. “But if I find a private room with a veranda and a bath, in a shared housing offer, and the price is right, well, sure, I’ll be your roommate.” Roberta Strickler’s e-mail address is [email protected]