Millennials are plodding the well-worn path back to their parents’ house amid high rent and economic uncertainty — raising the awkward question of how to share household expenses when your parents are your landlords.
During the early months of the pandemic, the percentage of young adults living with their parents surged to levels that hadn’t been seen since the Great Depression, according to Pew Research. While the situation has moderated, a recent survey from shows that about 1 in 4 millennials (or 18 million people between the ages of 26 and 41) moved in with their parents this year.

Some parents follow a “my house, my rules” attitude, even if an adult child is closer to 40 than 18. Others may be more hands-off but at the very least expect the child to contribute in some way financially. Sure, high rent and economic strain may be the reason an adult child is moving back in, but that doesn’t mean a parent’s home should be a free ride without any expectations or monetary obligations.

The only way to navigate the situation is with lots of discussion, trial-and-error and healthy boundary setting. Parents are justified in asking the adult child to shoulder a portion of the financial burden, either through paying some sort of rent or contributing to household expenses, but adult children should be able to request a significant amount of space and autonomy, too.

I’d encourage parents to ask for rent. Having another person in the home won’t change the base cost of the mortgage or rent payment, but it will increase utilities and grocery budgets. For those living on a fixed income, such as retirees, that increase could be problematic.

Even if you don't need the money, charging kids rent ensures responsibility and is a sort of forced savings account. Generous parents could return the accumulated monthly rent back to their children when they’re ready to leave.

Regardless of the reason, the conversation about paying rent needs to happen prior to a child moving back home. Parents don’t need to provide a reason about why they’re going to charge rent, but it might be helpful to give some context.

Ideally, the rate should be modest, especially if part of the child’s reason for the boomerang home is due to job loss or being priced out of the housing market. Modest is of course a relative term, but the reason — or goal — behind charging rent should inform the price. Much like a tenant with a landlord, parents should also be open to a child negotiating the price.

Before setting an amount, it’s helpful for parent and child to have an open conversation around the idea of rent and what feels doable. Parents should be ready to explain how the rent money is being used, and the child needs to be honest about what’s affordable based on their current employment and financial situation.

For parents who feel deeply uncomfortable charging their adult children rent, there still should be a discussion around expectations and boundaries. Will the adult child be expected to handle meals on certain nights? Is she buying her own groceries? How much should he be helping with the household cleaning of shared spaces? Will she be expected to walk the dog or care for other pets? Can he invite people over without asking? Is she expected to check in if she isn’t coming home at night? The dynamic shouldn’t just default to the one that existed when the child was younger.

For their part, adult children need to be proactive in having healthy boundary conversations and stating what they think moving back in will look like. Sharing what your life looked like before moving back in could help to establish a baseline of what you’d like to be doing day-to-day. The return home can be particularly fraught if the adult child is actively dating or engages in activities that are legal but may not be Mom-and-Dad approved (like smoking).

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