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Shared Housing Advice for Older Gays and Lesbians

Here’s how LGBTs can find housemates after 60 — and avoid legal problems and personality conflicts

By Joan M. Burda | February 4, 2013
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Joan M. Burda is the author of Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples and Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Clients: A Lawyer's Guide.

Social isolation is a major problem facing many older LGBT adults. Most lack the family support systems enjoyed by heterosexuals; they’re twice as likely to be single and three times as likely to have no children. Retirement communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior centers often don’t welcome them.
 
That’s why shared housing has become a viable alternative for single gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in their 60s and beyond. This arrangement lets you live in a community setting or a senior housing facility while renting out your home to one or more people.
 
Saving Money With a Housemate
 
What’s more, shared housing is cost effective.
 
(MORE: LGBT Senior Programs: Targeted Support for the Gay Community)
 
Americans over 60 who live alone spend almost 35 percent of their income on housing, on average, compared with 22 percent for those who share, according to the National Council on Aging.
 
The National Shared Housing Resource Center, a clearinghouse of information for people looking to find a shared housing organization or to get one started, says the arrangement “makes efficient use of existing housing stock and preserves the fabric of the neighborhoods.”
 
Shared housing isn’t like the communes of the 1960s that you may recall, though. In those places, residents shared everything: income, housing and chores.
 
Today’s shared housing, by contrast, simply means that two or more people live together in a home and share the common areas, like the kitchen, living room and yard. Each resident has a private living space.
 
Home-Sharing Match Programs
 
Lately, programs have popped up around the country to help older LGBT homeowners find compatible housemates. Today, there are roughly 65 formal home-sharing match programs, according to the National Shared Housing Resource Center, whose site has a directory of such arrangements, shared living residences and resources.
 
The nonprofit Center on Halsted in Chicago was the first to design a shared-housing match system specifically addressing the needs of LGBT seniors, in 2010. “Most of the homeowners are gay men,” says Britta Larson, senior services director for the Center on Halsted. So far, Center on Halsted's free home-sharing program has made 11 matches.
 
(MORE: Where Single Women Might Want to Retire)
 
Finding a Share on Your Own
 
Most LGBT seniors rely on old-fashion networking to find housemates, though.
 
For example, when Rachel P., 70, was ready to move to Berkeley, Calif. but uninterested in living alone, she posted a notice on the Old Lesbians Organizing for Change listserv and found a home-sharing arrangement with a woman she knew. “We were in a large women’s group,” she says. “I paid a fixed amount that included utilities and had use of the whole house, except for her office.”
 
Deb, 63, found her Maryland housemate in 2002 by putting up fliers on a local co-op’s bulletin board, including specifics such as the monthly rent and shared utilities. A casual acquaintance responded and the two women shared the home for 10 years. They ended the arrangement by mutual consent because the housemate had acquired too many pets for Deb’s liking.
 
Deb, who today has two housemates, says the financial benefit of home sharing is “a given.” But she believes the best part is that “it’s nice to have someone else around.”
 
(MORE: Estate Planning Essentials for Gay and Lesbian Couples)
 
Avoiding Legal Problems
 
Regardless of how you’ll find one or more people to share a home with you, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer who is experienced in your state’s landlord-tenant laws. You’ll also want to contact city hall to learn about local ordinances restricting the number of unrelated people who can live together.
 
Be sure that each person who’ll be living in the home has a lease agreement. This document will ensure that everyone understands his or her rights and responsibilities.
 
You can draw up a lease agreement at the RocketLawyer website. And the Nolo site is an excellent resource for home-leasing information.
 
Rachel says it’s especially important for prospective home sharers to put in writing the ground rules about common areas, like how and when the kitchen and bathroom will get cleaned.  
 
But above all, when you’re ready to share a home with someone, try to take a relaxed attitude. It might help to think back to your days with your college roommates. “Be creative and don’t get angry,” Rachel says.

RELATED VIDEO: "LBGT-Friendly Senior Housing," Encore.org