Do you have extra rooms to rent in your home? Here’s a guide to master the subtle art of choosing a housemate including some need to know information before starting the process.
Finally, renting a place of your own and realise you have a little too much space? Thinking of subletting a room out for some extra cash? You’re not the only one! Since the dawn of time man has always lived in communities and groups. Back then, this meant safety in numbers. While today we are less likely to be ambushed by a sabretooth tiger, we still welcome this mutual benefit of having housemates, either to generate some extra cash on the side or to make new friends.
But, wait! How to ensure that the housemate you choose isn’t going to end up being the worst mistake of your life?! Easy, use these magical six questions!
Before diving into these questions, here are a few things you should know before subletting property:
Is it legal to sublet rooms?
Step one, check your tenancy agreement. If one is unable to find any information about subletting in the tenancy agreement, then the next step would be to ask your real estate agent or the landlord. It is important to get the approval in black and white so that there are no misunderstandings in the future.
How do you sublease a room? Should I use a platform like Airbnb or go the traditional way?
If you are wondering whether there is a difference in putting out an advertisement on short term rental accommodation platforms or searching for a long-term tenant – the answer is, Yes! This part gets a little technical but in short, different local councils have different rules about it. For instance, Sabah has recognised Airbnb as a ‘Lodging house’. This means it is governed by the Hotels and Lodging Houses By-Laws 1966 and therefore you are required to obtain a license and to check if your home is eligible.
In Kuala Lumpur on the other hand, any property is legally allowed to run as an Airbnb. However, for condominiums and apartments, you will have to refer to the house rules or the strata building management by-laws. This is because you own a strata title which basically means a plot of space in the air. Magical, I know. But the common areas such as pools, lifts and hallways are shared by your neighbours which is why the JMB (Joint Management Body) could enact certain by-laws which could prohibit short term stays.
In short, check with your condominium property manager, house rules, JMB or Local Council.
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What about the deposit? How much do I charge?
Most commonly, the deposit is for security and utilities. Both of which will be refunded in full at the end of the tenancy provided that the premises is given back in their original form (you will need to define this in your tenancy agreement). Any damages will lead to a deduction from the deposit.
As a rule of thumb in Malaysia, the Security Deposit is equivalent to two months’ rent (to cover any large damages to fixtures & fittings) and the Utility deposit is half a month’s rent. Interestingly, this isn’t a rental law in Malaysia yet, so the terms of your agreement really depend on your property and what makes you feel secure!
What do I need to do before subletting?
If you’re using a rental platform, it’s straightforward as the platform will take care of the contracts, collection of deposits and rentals.
But if you decide on the traditional method of finding your own housemate, you will need to prepare a tenancy agreement between you and your housemate. This is a legally binding contract that includes things like the method of payment, tenant obligations and the period of the tenancy.
This tenancy agreement does not involve the landlord of the property because you are renting it from the landlord, and you (not your landlord) have decided to sublet to someone else. That means, if your housemate breaks a door in your house, you can’t tell your landlord it’s not your fault.
“New Housemate: Oh, I am sorry. I broke your door when I was breakdancing in my room last night.
Main Tenant (You): Omg! I don’t want to get involved in this. You have to speak to the landlord.
Landlord: I am not going to speak to anyone except for my Main Tenant!”
This is where the tenancy agreement comes in handy. Once you have the agreement signed by both parties, you will be charged a Stamp Duty in accordance with the Stamp Act 1949 First Schedule Section 49 and this amount can vary depending on your rental. This is so that the document is recognized in a court of law.
What are some good questions to ask a potential housemate?
PHEW! That was a lot of information. But trust the process and the process won’t fail you. Now let’s start asking your potential housemate some important questions!
If you ask a stupid question, you may feel stupid; if you don’t ask a stupid question, you remain stupid.” -Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond-
What is your lifestyle like?
You have to be honest about who you are and who you want to live with. Are you looking for an extroverted or introverted housemate? Would you like someone who joins you while you are cooking, planning house parties or even having living room slumber parties? Or would you like someone who is quiet and gives you space, and only comes out once in a while to obtain sustenance?
Start with questions such as “What do you do for work and how long have you been working there?”. Slowly proceed to more intimate questions such as “What do you do in your free time?”. This will help gauge if he/she/ze could compliment your lifestyle.
How do we compromise on ground rules or house rules?
It also helps if you set a few ground rules or maybe even negotiate on these rules beforehand. For instance, no noise after 11 PM at night.
For some people, this is acceptable as they might have to get up by 6 AM the following day for work. However, if your housemate says that they usually work at odd hours, you’re going to have to bend a bit. Don’t be shy, ask about their usual daily schedule and how they like to spend weekends.
These ground rules will go both ways. Ask your potential housemate if they have any ground rules for you!
Can you share your religious practices and beliefs, if any?
Being in one of the most dynamic and multi-religious countries in the world, it would be a good idea to note down your housemate’s religion so as to be ready and respectful. Knowing if they do not eat pork or beef (or maybe they’re vegetarian!) can help with food arrangements.
Asking questions such as “What is your ethnic background?” followed by introducing yours as well will make it an open dialogue and keep things friendly. This can be followed up with questions such as “What is your mother tongue?” and maybe even “Can you teach me how to cook something from your culture?”. You’ll want to jump to the important questions like, “Do you mind that I eat pork?”, etc. right after that.
How will we split utilities?
Splitting electricity, water and gas bills can be a nightmare! Having this out in the open as soon as possible will help mitigate any future disputes. Will you and your housemate go 50-50? 60-40? While some people are not extremely calculative, there are those who appreciate a detailed breakdown.
Decide in advance or talk it out and ask questions like, “Do you have any extra electrical appliances like a TV or a mini-fridge?”, as these could affect the monthly electricity charges. Other questions that could affect the bills include “Will your partner stay over during weekends?” and think about whether they should pay for utilities when they are away for a long holiday.
Who is your emergency contact?
Your housemate just had a bad accident and the ambulance is on the way. Who do you call next?
I know this is dramatic, but hey, what if it happens? Especially after the year we’ve had with the Covid-19 pandemic, just having loved ones informed is a huge deal. So, remember to ask for at least two emergency contacts, just to be safe.
Do you vibe with them?
Lastly, do you get along with them? Even if you aren’t spending time with them, you’re sharing a home so the vibe matters. Here are some tips; Remember to pay attention to their body language on your first viewing/meet up. Understand that they come from a different background and have different interests and humour. Ask yourself if you can handle their energy for the next couple of months or years. And ask them as many questions as you want, without being rude of course! All these questions will help you answer one big question for yourself: “Can I live with this stranger?”
And sometimes, this might be the only question that counts.
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