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The Moneyist: ‘I would feel guilty charging her $600’: One of my two roommates moved out, and my girlfriend is moving in. Should I charge her the same rent?

I asked my girlfriend to move in with me and am having a moral personal dilemma when it comes to rent. 

She has said she would not move in with me if she wasn’t paying, so nothing isn’t an option. I bought the house in November 2019, and up until a few months ago I have always had two roommates paying me rent. One just moved out to live with family as a result of health complications. The other roommate moved in a few months ago.

Despite not having a lease, I would feel bad asking my remaining roommate to leave so soon. He is almost never in the house and is always in his room when he is around. When my girlfriend and I casually mentioned living together, she said the other roommate wouldn’t be a problem. I would probably ask him to leave after he lived here for a year.  

I plan to pay the early-termination fee for breaking her current lease, which is two months’ rent, because I want her to move in with me. Her current rent and my mortgage are both about $1,300, respectively. She currently lives alone, but my house is nicer and bigger than her apartment. 

My current roommate is paying $500, and the old roommate paid $600. Both are well below market rate. They also paid an equal share of utilities. So I had about $1,300 coming in every month with utilities before the first roommate moved out, and now have about $650. I make about $70,000 from my job and I think she makes close to $60,000.

‘I could pay for the mortgage completely alone, but I would have to cut back on other parts of life and it would almost eliminate what I have been putting into savings.’

I could pay for the mortgage completely alone, but I would have to cut back on other parts of life and it would almost eliminate what I have been putting into savings. I currently pay for 80% of food, travel and entertainment expenses when my girlfriend and I are together, which I am OK with, but that is harder after my first roommate moved out.

So how much should I charge her? I would feel guilty charging her $600, the great deal my old roommate was getting. Despite it being more than fair, and it being a huge savings based on her current rent, it would be more than I am paying compared to my mortgage when you factor in the rent from the roommate.

But that obviously doesn’t factor in things like the roof I am going to have to replace this year, or anything else that goes wrong that I am responsible for. Also, should my girlfriend’s rent change once the other roommate eventually moves out? He is never here, so her quality of life would not change, but my supplemental income will drop. 

Should I be taking a monthly financial hit when she is saving a lot of money with our living together, when the alternative for me is finding another roommate? Ideally, she would use savings so we could buy a house together in a few years, and this will be a moot point soon enough.

A Boyfriend with a Dilemma 

Dear Boyfriend,

What’s notable about your letter is you want to make your girlfriend’s life as easy as possible: pay two months’ rent for breaking her lease, ask her to pay just a small amount of money because you don’t want to end up paying less out of pocket for your mortgage than what she would pay in rent.

And then there’s the other part of your letter, the part I believe you should pay more than lip service to now. It’s the cold, hard reality of being a homeowner and having a 30-year mortgage ahead of you. That part acknowledges that you do need rental income, and that you already pay 80% of shared expenses with your girlfriend.

You are acting impulsively and also from a good place, and your role as caretaker/boyfriend appears to be playing a role in wanting to make grand — and generous — gestures toward your girlfriend. But I don’t believe you should be making serious financial decisions based on romance, which you could (and likely will) regret later.

‘You are acting from a good place. But I don’t believe you should be making serious financial decisions based on romance, which you could (and likely will) regret later.’

So I am going to suggest three things, and I don’t think you are going to like them. First, wait for your girlfriend’s lease to expire. It’s good practice to honor a lease. She signed the contract, and I believe she should stick to it. If you have waited this long, you can wait a little longer, and enjoy dating. You can try to find a roommate for the intervening time.

Your girlfriend is set to financially benefit quite substantially from this relationship. That gives me pause. Not only do you pay 80% of your combined expenses, but you are reluctant to ask her to pay even half of what she is currently paying in rent, even though you would be losing income from an extra roommate. 

I know you want to help her buy a house, and that is an admirable task. But it’s a slippery slope to put other people’s needs before your own. Let’s talk about you: You have insurance, property tax, a roof to fix, savings to build, retirement to plan for, vacations to save for, and emergency funds to secure. That’s a lot of responsibility.

That brings me to my second suggestion: Ask your girlfriend to pay half of her current rent, which will help her save for her own home, and forget about how much money you will be paying out of your own pocket for your mortgage. The bottom line is you must come up with $1,300 every month. And that’s before all those other financial goals are met.

Third, don’t ask your roommate to move out. Tell him what’s happening and see how it goes. It may be that having him there is not so bad, after all. And I agree with you: It’s not wise to give up that extra income. You’re already giving your girlfriend a financial break if/when she moves in. It’s time to give yourself a few breaks too.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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