When a House Guest Becomes a House Horror

Your friend just may turn into a fiend.

Welcome mat on a wooden deck

Before opening your door to guests, do some digging so you know who you're providing lodging for and why they need a place to stay.

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Make enough friends or if you have a lot of relatives, at some point, you'll probably have someone ask if you have the space for a guest to crash at your place awhile, and maybe a long while.

Living with a house guest can be a fun experience – but it can also be a tiring, trying time if it becomes a situation where you're indefinitely paying for another person's room and board. So if you're ever in a position where you want to open your doors to a house guest, here are a few of many issues to consider first.

Ask questions first. Don't settle for the quick explanation given to you. Obviously if your sister, a parent or an adult child requests a temporary roof, it's another ballgame, and you can be forgiven if you open the door and ask questions later. But otherwise, this is not the time to be a good person willing to help anyone. You owe it to yourself to ask the more probing, uncomfortable questions. Why does this person need to stay with me? Why not his or her parents or siblings? Or if a friend is suggesting you take in his cousin or son or whomever, the next question should be – why are you pawning this person off on me, and why haven't you offered your place?

Maybe you won't get the answers you want, but you don't want to later berate yourself for not doing more detective work.

Can you afford to house this house guest if you are broke? Not if your house guest isn't paying rent – and even then, maybe not. Stephanie Freeman, 44, coordinates the arts and humanities program at North Carolina Central University. But a couple years out of college, she was living in a condominium that she could barely afford and working in a part-time job that never materialized into the full-time position she was hoping for.

It wasn't an easy time, Freeman says. "[I was] eating cornflakes every day and using flashlights at night to save on electricity."

That's about the time a friend from her college days walked in.

"I'll call her Ava," Freeman says. Ava, Freeman says was looking for a temporary place to live and asked if she could "stay a little while."

Ava agreed to pay some rent, and since it was going to just be until she found a place, $500 a month seemed reasonable. But a little while turned out to be eight months – and Ava only paid Freeman $150.

The way Freeman later figured it, "she cost me about $7,000 to have as a house guest [with] the extra money for utilities, unpaid rent, damage to my property and burning out my air-conditioning unit trying to stay cool in the southern summer."

[See: 12 Ways to Save Money at Home.]<

Could your house guest have house guests? Does your friend like to party? Or maybe your guest has family members who might want to visit a lot – or crash with you, too. Deb McAlister-Holland, who works in content marketing and lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, says in 2004 she and her husband, Fred, allowed the cousin of one of their grandchildren to stay with them. The cousin was a 12-year-old girl who they had known for years and had no place to stay but in foster care – her mother was in jail.

But in 2006, when the mother got out of prison before Thanksgiving, the mother now had no place to go – and McAlister-Holland and her husband allowed the mom to stay with them through the holidays.

"We didn't know her well before this, and she'd always been super nice to us since we were buying her child things and taking her places she wanted to go," McAlister-Holland says.

But that all changed. It was a tense couple months, and when the mother left, the daughter remained behind with McAlister-Holland and her husband. But, in a way, the mother never left.

"It wasn't long before we realized that a number of small, but pawnable or valuable items had gone missing over the holidays," McAlister-Holland says, reeling off quite a list: jewelry, an iPod, laptop, Bose headphones, antique silver, DVDs and video games.

The mother also ended up getting a driver's license with McAlister-Holland's address on it and violating parole (McAllister-Holland, Fred and the girl were watching TV one night when their house was raided by a SWAT team in full body armor, looking for the mother). Eight years later, "we still continue to get bill collection notices," McAllister-Holland says.