(S)extra Room: The Cost Of A “Non-Private” Living Arrangement

by Beatrice Hogg

After spending the last three months looking for a new place to live, I was starting to feel desperate. When my friend of over twenty years indicated that it was no longer acceptable for me to live at her house in spite of my fruitless search, I knew that I had to do something quick. But with only a few months at my job and an eviction on my rental history, no one wanted to take a chance on me.

But a search online for cheap, quick housing turned up a category that I never knew existed: roommates with benefits. Potential predators were out there taking advantage of people who were probably just looking for a roof over their heads as the weather turned cold.

“Free room for attractive/intelligent girl.” This “gentleman” wanted a “girl 18 to 35 as live-in girlfriend.” The ad also mentioned that he was willing to pay the college tuition of a girl who could “help” around the house. But because he considered himself a “gentleman,” he was “not seeking solely FWB but true friendship.” Nothing says romance quite like paying for the services of your new true friend.

Thankfully, I am several decades away from girlhood. But who would answer this ad? I have no problem with a person who chooses to be a sex worker, but being under someone else’s roof and obligated to provide services sounds dangerous. Would it really be consensual?

I thought that the ad was an anomaly, but as I scrolled down the page, I encountered “free housing for the right person who is affectionate.” An “older gentleman” offered a non-private room for $250 “with benefits wanted.” Not only was the new roomie expected to pay rent, but she was also expected provide benefits. All respondents were asked to text their picture and phone number. It made me wonder if there was even a room available for rent. Maybe he just wanted a way to collect photos and phone numbers of younger women.

Several other ads, none of which included photos of the available room or the potential “landlord,” requested photos to weed out scammers. Roommates were asked to be “artistic,” “open-minded” and “functional.”

Young men were not immune to the attentions of men with “(s)extra room.” One man, who claimed to be from Sin City, offered free rent to men 21 to 25 who were interested in “laying around together watching TV.” But an upper body photo with face had to be sent first. Looks are very important when selecting a “TV buddy.”

With so many entertainment options available in Vegas, who would want to lay around and watch television?

I’m sure that for some people, this would be a perfect way to get a free or cheap place to stay. Others may answer the ads because they are desperate and have no other collateral than their bodies. Having sex with someone should be a choice, no matter your rental history.

I was also curious about the men who posted the ads. Is offering your home to a stranger who is willing to have sex with you on a continuous basis a wise choice? Despite what I’m sure these men have seen in porn videos, I doubt if this scenario ever turns out well.

Unfortunately, these ads made me apprehensive about answering any ad that was posted by a male. Every time I read an ad, I wondered, Was he sincere? Was this a scam? Would I have to provide “benefits” beyond the usual payment of rent? At my age?

Still, two weeks ago, I did answer an ad about a studio apartment for rent for $550 a month. Even though the person I spoke to on the phone was male, I made arrangements to look at the place.

When I went I got there, I discovered that a one bedroom apartment was also available for $610 a month. The units were part of a 22-unit complex that was owned by the man I spoke with and his wife. The area seemed quiet and I could even walk to downtown Sacramento. The apartment wasn’t large, but the kitchen, living room and bedroom were just the right size for one person. Of course, the closet was too small for all of my clothes, but I could buy a garment rack.

It was unlikely that I would find another place at that price, so I explained my situation to the landlord and completed an application. I was accepted, as the landlord stated that he understood that I was trying to rebuild my life after past mistakes. Last week, I moved in. Finally, after almost four years, I have my own apartment again!

This apartment search taught me some unforgettable lessons. Be wary of ads that sound too good to be true. If a room for “rent” is to be shared; if you must be “open-minded” and “functional;” or if you are asked to provide a photo before seeing the place, you might be expected to provide “benefits.” There is no such thing as “free rent.”

Financial Graffiti is a column about middle age monetary misadventures — with a beat.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.