Connie has a small room in her flat and as she's lonely she's thinking of letting a small room to a lodger. They'd have to share the kitchen and the bathroom. What are the pitfalls? Is it a good idea?
THE old-fashioned words for lodger were "paying guest", or PG. Those were the days when lodgers had zilch rights, and had to behave like pretty good guests or they were out. There was no onus on the landlady to behave like a hostess, either.

It was a one-sided arrangement, with marks on the bath, to show how far the water was allowed to come up, and timetables for actually having one - usually once a week. And there were always lists of rules: "No whistling in the corridors"; "Please make sure at night that the front door is LOCKED"; "Please leave this lavatory in the state you would wish to find it". And, by the cistern: "Pull sharply and release slowly."

Today no lodgers would abide by such rules and as long they pay their rent on time feel they have rights - at least until the lawyers are brought in. Of course, Connie can get them to sign an agreement before they come, something that, after years of being abused by lodgers, I finally learned to do. Eventually, my lodgers were hardly allowed to do anything.

But there's always a clause you forget. For instance: "Do not allow strange dogs to wander around the house at night" is not one that would immediately spring to mind, but after I found my two-year-old son pottering around with a huge Alsatian at his heels one morning, the clause went in, batty though it sounded.

A foreign student could be a good idea, particularly one who barely spoke the language. Sheer terror and anxiety usually makes these lodgers good guests. Or businessmen who always go back home at weekend and who are hardly ever there.

But these would hardly be company for Connie. And there's the rub. Connie seems to be looking for someone to stop her feeling lonely. And yet in my experience, once you've got a lodger in the house, alone is something you're quite desperate to be.

I once looked for lodgers who could also be friends and advertised in Loot. I soon found myself in the middle of my house, sandwiched between an unemployed drug-dealer and a girl who, when I asked, as she moved in, what had happened to her last place, revealed that she had a habit of burning candles at night. "And unfortunately my last flat, as a result, was destroyed in a fire," she said, sipping coffee in my kitchen.

Connie should get a man in a suit, or a young girl who comes with her nervous mother, who leaves her the family phone number in case of emergency. Or an exhausted nurse who only has time to sleep. Or she should let the room cheaply to visiting Americans on very short-term lets (but remember their standards of hygiene are obsessive and they'll need new soap and fresh towels daily, and not a spot on the corridor carpet). She should put in a separate phone line, and preferably squeeze a tiny fridge and cooker in the small room.

The sad thing is that you can be just as lonely with a lodger as you can without a lodger, as I know myself. The ones who have lots of friends themselves are out all the time, so you feel neglected. The lonely ones with no friends are like that for a reason, and Connie doesn't want to be stuck inside with a loser night after night. If she's desperately looking for some extra money, yes, a lodger's the answer. If she's looking for frequent, friendly company, no.

readers' replies

Years ago I was lonely and miserable and took on a lodger. I used his presence to assuage my loneliness and eventually married him. He is a boorish workaholic and we have no shared interests. I stay with him because we have three young children.

Beware, Connie! Deal with your loneliness by going out, reaching out, not by inviting in. Go to any group, club, society or event whose activities interest you.

Mary, Edinburgh

The essential thing is to have a few simple ground rules.

Talk to the would-be tenant and say quite clearly when you want to have the kitchen to yourself, when you want to have your bath, wash your hair, use the washing machine and mention anything you feel strongly about - like un-done washing-up and a scum-line around the bath.

Then ask her (or him) what she (or he) feels strongly about, wants to do, can't do, and so on. The discussion must be friendly but also frank and must end up with a few mutually agreed rules. Just feeling your way and trusting to the belief that you're both nice people doesn't work.

And one more thing. My first landlady said the first time we met: "If there's anything that annoys or upsets you, say so. I shall." She and I were as different as chalk from cheese and we got along fine for five years and remained friends when I went to work abroad.

Caroline Palmer

I have had lodgers for about 10 years and before that I always lived in a shared house. However, Connie appears to be doing it for the wrong reason - loneliness - whereas I have always done it for financial reasons.

In 10 years, many people have come and gone in my house. Of those, five remain life long close friends and only two have left with bad feelings, but they didn't steal anything.

Go for it, interview everyone and unless you really hit it off, say you can't make a decision until you have seen everyone, and always make it clear that there is one month's notice on each side.

Don't expect too much. If they are worth living with they are almost certain to have a life of their own outside and however much you love your lodger you can find it tiresome when you hear the clunk of the front door just when you wanted some peace and quiet and they want to chat.

Greg Sherman

Make sure initially that you like, and feel that you could live with the person.

Draw up a list of dos and don'ts so that there are no misunderstandings to sort out later - and have the rent paid by direct debit. The best of luck to you.

Shirley Currie

next week's dilemma

Six years ago my husband of twenty years left my teenage daughter and myself in the house, never to return. He didn't even kiss me goodbye.

A week later his body was found in his car, 10 miles away, in a field with a tube attached from the exhaust. He left no note, and to this day I have no idea why he did it.

He had been rather bad-tempered for the six months previously, but apart from that, nothing. I cannot get over it. I ask myself: "Why, why why?" all the time.

We had a good marriage and a lovely daughter. It has affected her very badly.

I feel like a zombie most of the time and in spite of counselling, I feel I will never get over him. We loved each other so much, I thought.

I just go over that last day again and again. How could he have done it to us? How can I cope? - Monique

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