"Friends" or "Rising Damp"?! Houseshares are as Different as the Occupiers.
The term "lodger" isn't a legal definition - but it is a useful way to talk about someone who rents part of someone else's home, without being a joint owner or tenant (if the live in landlord rents).
However, nowadays, many people are using the terms "flatmate" or "housemate" to mean someone they share a home with who is technically a lodger. These are generally 20 and 30 something live in landlords. In fact, it's also used to mean a live in landlord, co-owner, or co-renter (where both parties are joint tenants).
In the US, lodgers are almost universally referred to as "roommates", as is anyone in shared accommodation, in whatever capacity.
Although it might be more confusing, if you're a lodger and you're described as a flatmate in the UK, it does suggest your landlord sees you as an equal in the home, at least in day to day terms. Ideally, you might even share meals, cooking and going out, rather than just being expected (however tacitly!) to stick to your room and stay out of the landlord's way.
In my experience, in any type of house share, it comes down to how comfortable the occupants feel and how much of their own space they want. As I've already said, I've come across lots of situations where someone is renting a room from a live in landlord, but in practice they fully share as equals but also the opposite, where people are sharing a property as equals, but tend to stick to their own room and don't share, or even more extreme, where they are technically equals but subject to one or more very domineering housemates - there is an emerging phenomenon of the cuckoo tenant in multi occupied houses and flats (officially known as HMOs) and houseshares who pushes other tenants out.
If you see your lodger as your flatmate, you're more than halfway to being a very good live in landlord, but you will still benefit from checking through this site - if only to ensure you get a decent flatmate to begin with. When you're ready to find your flatmate/lodger, plus more tips and innovative ways to find a flatmate, check Spareroom.
Although one of the main aims of this site is to encourage people letting their spare rooms to think of and treat their lodgers as equal flatmates in day to day terms, throughout the site I've used the terms "lodger", "live in landlord", "resident landlord" and "lodger landlord", both to avoid confusion and because these descriptions are used in the UK when talking about room letting for tax and financial purposes.
I've also spoken in terms of lodgers and live in landlords as there are still many, many people letting rooms or thinking of doing so who would have a very hard time accepting a lodger enough to consider them in any way an equal resident in their home - read on below.
But it's just semantics, right? What's in a name?!
Well it seems, a lot! Usually, the day to day realities of sharing living space with your landlord can be quite different to sharing with a flatmate. Whereas sharing as flatmates is pretty much equal, insofar as you have equal or at least similar rights in the home, and you negotiate and compromise over how things are done, how things are shared, etc, as a lodger, you are often in a different position.
As a lodger, you are legally very much subordinate to your landlord, and at least in part because of this, subordinate to them in a practical sense too. In both legal and, often, practical day to day terms, it is the landlord's home, but not the lodger's. If a lodger feels unfairly treated, raising an issue, however politely, can cost them their home! But, I hear some readers thinking, this also happens with tenants where a house or flat is let. While there is likely to be a small minority of rogue or "accidental" landlords who carry out retaliatory evictions (i.e. asking tenants to move out when they raise issues), knowing they will soon find another disadvantaged tenant who can't afford the fees or rents required to rent on the open market, or they decide they really want the property back anyway, a good landlord will only evict where there's a good reason because it just isn't in their interests. No reasonable landlord wants to lose a good tenant who rightly brings up repair issues (as opposed to someone who rings their landlord every time a light bulb needs changing...). It is much easier for a good landlord to do repairs, than to have to go through the expense and hassle of getting another tenant, and lose rental income. However, with a live in landlord, this doesn't apply, as the lodger doesn't have the legal right to expect repairs to be done, and is moreover at risk of eviction for any small thing, simply because they share their landlord's home. A live in landlord only needs to give a month's notice to terminate the agreement, sometimes less (e.g. where contract runs from week to week and rent paid weekly).
As a householder, you will naturally and rightfully have a sense of ownership and feel protective toward your home, possessions, and living space which you would feel a lot less with regard to the lodger if you had set up home for the first time with them as equal flatmates.
In practice, more professional live in landlords will treat their lodger as a flatmate, only pulling rank if the lodger's behaviour is out of order. However, we can be very jealous about our living space. There seem to be a lot of resident landlords around who can't accept that while their lodger is paying the rent on time and behaving reasonably and respectfully, it should be their home too! Penny Anderson, A.K.A. Renter Girl makes this point very clearly in her blog, which also has some interesting and helpful comments from both lodgers and live in landlords, sharing both positive and negative experiences.
Ok, I'm not saying here that a brand new lodger the landlord barely knows should necessarily have an equal footing in the home from day one - the landlord should quite rightly be friendly and welcoming but a little reserved and cautious at first - but once they get to know the lodger, and they see that that person is someone they can trust and get along with, they should hopefully relax and think more and more in terms of "our home" and not simply "my home".
You would think that this is what normally happens, but I'm afraid it doesn't always - my own experience and my research bear this out. For example, when I rented a room from a friend I'd known for 20 years, even after eight months she was still asking me if I was going to be at "her place" at such and such a time (as opposed to would I be "at home" at such and such).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, tense landlord/lodger relationships seem to crop up mostly with inexperienced landlords, although there are some established ones who don't always make their lodgers feel at home either. Needless to say, in a lot of these cases the landlord is in the arrangement purely for the money but doesn't value the extra income enough to feel any gratitude toward the lodger, who they come to regard (at least subconsciously) as an intruder in their home. However, this is more likely to happen with an inexperienced landlord who has tried to be too generous or lenient, trying to swallow their own hang ups at the start of the let because they think they "should" permit their lodger to have or do something, which then becomes so onerous to the landlord they can no longer stand it!
If, as a resident landlord, you're less than committed to having a lodger, no matter how well behaved and respectful that person is, before long you will come to resent them and see them as an unwanted intruder in your home.
You therefore must first decide if this is really for you and if not, whether you can get by without the lodger's rent money. If you decide you really do need that money, remind yourself of this fact, do your homework first and ensure you let to the right person.
Once the lodger has moved in, adopt a courteous and professional attitude toward them - consider how you might feel in their place, if you were to lose your home and were depending on someone else to house you?