First-time landlord in Berkeley

Hi there, collective intelligence.

I have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2k square foot home in the Berkeley Hills. I am exploring renting out the downstairs of my home which has a large space (~14 x 40), a smaller room (~12 x 10), and a large bathroom (~12 x 10). There is a separate entrance to the downstairs. These are the topics where I would love advice:

  • I am someone who wants to dot my legal i's and t's. Where would I start in terms of good resources and I assume counsel to draw up a meaningful lease agreement as well as to give advice?
  • I have a 4 and 6 year old who live with me half the time. Any advice on how to best rent when I have small children? I am looking of course for how to have this be healthy for my kids and also considerate to a renter.
  • Any advice on where to find someone responsible? One thought I had was that a graduate student who has a timeline may be a good place to start since I am close to Cal and then would have a natural timeline for a "trial run" of being a landlord.
  • Any meaningful "upgrades" you would recommend? For example, I am already thinking to put in a mini-fridge and freezer and could do more kitchenette items in addition to the person having access to the full kitchen upstairs.
  • Is there a price range or good way to determine a price range?

Thanks in advance for your time and thoughtfulness!

Parent Replies

Parents, please Sign in to post a review on this page.

So if what you are proposing is a living unit, it would be uninhabitable without a kitchen (sink, stove) thus an illegal unit. You couldn't get it permitted through Planning or the Rent Board so it would all be underground, subject to heavy penalties when (not if) the tenant or your neighbors file a complaint. Also it's illegal to only rent to graduate students. I think you are in need of a lot of education on being a landlord way before you get to consulting an attorney.

Maybe if you are desperate for the income, market it as a "work from MY home" space for daytime use only.


This situation sounds more like renting a room in your house than renting a unit. The other poster is correct that you need a full kitchen for it to be a legal unit, but if you are renting a room and giving the renter full access to your kitchen then it is different. If it is a room in your house that you live in there are not the same renter protections. If you're sharing the space you are essentially choosing a housemate and you are allowed to use some discretion in who you rent to. If it is a separate unit, you must rent to the first qualified applicant.


Sharing a kitchen means that most rent control laws don’t apply. Therefore, you can probably use any roommate agreement you find online. Just make sure that the lease states that the kitchen is shared. 
Look for roommate interview questions online. Never leave your kids alone with the new roommate. 

Where to look? Perhaps a Facebook group or craigslist or Cal Rentals. Pros and cons to every spot. 
Upgrades? Make sure the space is completely clean and smells like nothing. 
Price? Check ads for places with similar location and space. 


I'm assuming you're in Berkeley proper.  A handful of considerations....

* Contra the 2/1 respondent, you can in fact rent a room in your house without a separate kitchen, since they'll have access to your kitchen.  A roommate isn't the same as someone renting a separate living unit.  The more kitchenette stuff you add the more it looks like a separate unit, which would create different rules. 

* The rules for a "lodger" are more owner-friendly than the rules for a tenant, so I would try hard to stay on that side (aka, no kitchenette items).  You'll want to consider actual legal advice from a lawyer on how to stay there, what your screening/fair housing obligations are in that situation, and what exactly would be involved in terminating a lodger situation.  

* Generally be aware that evicting someone is really, really hard in Berkeley and can take a really long time.  There've been scenarios where roommates stop paying and make problems in the common space and it *still* takes months to get them out, if you can at all.  Some family members had to do an eviction during the COVID moratorium and it was a hot mess, even though the roommate was sexually harassing and threatening other residents and neighbors.  (Obviously eviction is really hard on the evicted and should be rare, but this situation didn't really have a viable alternative.)

* Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover issues created by a roommate/lodger.  

* Berkeley Property Owners Association has documents (lease, disclosures, etc) you can use.  I find them as an organization very irritating, but those docs are quite useful.  

* With kids in the mix and shared space, I would take screening extremely seriously.  Background check (criminal record checks should still be allowed for you given that you're sharing space), credit check, references from current and former landlords, etc.  You might consider advertising your spot primarily via closed list-serves for communities you're part of.  

I've had largely very good experiences renting out our basement, plus one extremely bad one which made me acutely aware of the high risks of taking this on in renter-friendly jurisdictions like Berkeley or Oakland. Make sure you go in eyes open.  


You want to join BPOA - the Berkeley Property Owners Association. If you advertise on CalRentals, you will get University-affiliated renters (but being close to Cal you will likely get them anyway). There is a LOT to learn about being a landlord in Berkeley  - thus, join BPOA.  Good luck. 


Hi there, it sounds like what you are proposing may be more akin to renting out a room within your home rather than renting a separate unit. Renting a room within a home is legal and very common. This does come with different obligations and opportunities than renting a complete, independent rental unit. 

For resources, I recommend looking for a Berkeley specific landlord advocacy group. These types of groups exist in many Bay Area cities. Often, they have an advice line that can answer questions. They will be the most knowledgeable about options and requirements for your situation. They will also be likely to make trustworthy referrals.

To research pricing, simply search what is available in your area and weigh it against what you can offer. My understanding is that Facebook Marketplace is popular place for room rentals in particular. Craigslist may be worth looking into, but I don't believe it's as popular as it once was. I also think Zumper offers room rentals. This will also give you an idea of where you could eventually list a room for rent. It also seems like that UC Berkeley may have some dedicated housing forum or marketplace that could be useful to you. 


Being a landlord here is not for the faint of heart. Particularly in Berkeley. What about leasing it out as an Air B&B? You wouldn't have to necessarily add a kitchen (though a nice mini fridge and coffee maker would be a perk) and you can control when, and to some extent, who, is in your space. Take a look at the site to see what your neighbors are charging and run some numbers to see if it makes sense. Good luck!


Just a suggestion: you might try renting through social networks the first time around before posting it online. For example, your friends, NextDoor or here! I know someone who I think may be interested and is super responsible! I can't send you a message bc you posted anonymously, but I think you can contact me if you want.