Six months after buying her house in Gainesville, Va., Tiffany Melton, 31, chose to lease one floor of it. The rent covers a big part of her mortgage. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

When Tiffany Melton bought her own place — a three-bedroom home in Gainesville, Va., about 30 miles west of D.C.— she didn’t think she’d ever have a roommate again. But after talking to a friend who rented part of his home, the prospect of having a roomie who paid rent was too enticing to pass up.

“I figured, hey, why the heck not, I’ll give it a whirl for a year,” says Melton, 31, a meeting planner. “I’m hardly home because I travel so much, why not earn some income?”

So Melton moved into her place in April 2013 and found herself in the landlord business about six months later. She rents out the upper floor of her home to a single tenant for $1,000 a month (including utilities), which covers a big chunk of her $1,500 mortgage payment. The rental space contains two bedrooms, a loft and a bathroom. Melton and her tenant share an entrance and the kitchen, although “he never uses it,” Melton says.

Buying a home with a space that can be rented out — say, a separate floor, a basement or just an extra room — is a great way to ease the financial pressures of owning a home, real estate experts say.

“A lot of owners take advantage of our strong rental market and are able to offset a good portion of their monthly payment,” says Andrew Turczyn, a broker at D.C.-based Slate Properties (1810 Florida Ave. NW; 202-559-9357).

But before diving headfirst into the landlord business, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Do Your Research

The laws that govern renting part of your property vary, so research what applies in your area.

The rules are pretty strict in D.C., Turczyn says, where guidelines dictate what spaces can and cannot be rented, including the minimum height of the ceilings and how many exits the space must have.

D.C. requires landlords to have a business license, too. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issues a two-year license for about $190. DCRA also has to inspect the unit, and the application for that can be completed online.

“They’ve made the process a lot easier,” Turczyn says.

In Maryland, the rules vary by county. For example, Montgomery County requires a residential license. Rules also vary by jurisdiction in Virginia: Arlington County requires homeowner-landlords to pay a business license tax, for instance.

Think Before You Commit

Figure out if you really want a roommate and what type of personality will work for you.

“Get clear about what you must have, and what you can’t live with,” says Annamarie Pluhar, author and founder of Sharinghousing.com, a website about finding what she calls a “home-mate.”

Think about your own habits and routines, your policy on guests and anything else that’s important to you, says Pluhar, who had housemates in her four-bedroom house in Silver Spring for 10 years. She now lives in Vermont — with a housemate, of course.

“It’s … somewhat like dating,” she says. “You are looking for somebody who feels good to you.”

Do your research on prospective tenants, including credit and employment checks, and ask for references, which is what Melton did.

Once you’ve found the right tenant, make sure you have a good lease. Basic lease agreements can be downloaded at sites like Lawdepot.com and Mrlandlord.com. Melton had a lawyer friend review hers.

Then consider how much “landlording” — like managing rent collection and responding to maintenance requests — you want to
do.

A lot of homeowners hire a property management firm to handle their rental space, even if they live alongside their tenant, says Lisa Wise, owner of Nest DC (3634 Georgia Ave. No. 3; 202-540-8038), which manages rentals for many such clients.

“Some owners don’t want the hassle,” she says. A property management company would handle any issues with the rental space for a fee of about 7 to 10 percent of the rent, she says.
Do the Numbers

As much as having a renter helps financially, Melton says she made sure to buy a place she could afford on her own. “I didn’t want to be house poor to begin with,” she says.

It’s also important to keep the property well-maintained and price the rental carefully, says Wise. To help with calculating your potential rent, check out sites like Rentometer.com which let you compare your rent to others in the area.

“When you have happy tenants, everything runs more smoothly,” Wise says.

Certainly, being a landlord who lives with a tenant or two isn’t for everyone. “You have to think long and hard about it,” Melton says. “But for me there’s very few downsides.”

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