Mother Jones recently ran a horror story article on renting a house out through SabbaticalHomes.com.  They trained their sights on California eviction laws, demonstrating how difficult it is to get a tenant out of your house after they move in, even if the rental term is quite short.

As someone who has rented my home through Sabbatical Homes without incident, however, I see a couple of other cautionary tales here.  The professor renting her house out didn’t request references, missed obvious warning signs (no home address on his cheques), and didn’t bother to meet all the tenants beforehand. Now, granted, references can be faked or massaged, and a personal meeting isn’t a guarantee of anything, but these steps do help with due diligence, and she skipped them entirely.  In this case, given the tenant’s chequered history, I imagine he would have moved on the moment she requested a reference.

After reading this article, I wanted to highlight a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about using SabbaticalHomes.com to rent out your permanent house while you’re on sabbatical:

  • Despite whatever Sabbatical Homes’ press releases may imply1, possession of a Ph.D. is no guarantee of personal integrity. As with any profession, there are honest people, there are dishonest people, and there are honest people who wouldn’t make good tenants.2 Studying an esoteric subject in-depth for three to six years, graduating with a degree, and getting a job doesn’t assure basic trustworthiness any more than it does in any profession.
  • Not everyone looking to rent through Sabbatical Homes is an academic. I was contacted by students, medical doctors, government employees and businesspeople on temporary assignments. So even if you believe in that “implicit degree of trust amongst academics” that Sabbatical Homes cites, you still need to do your due diligence, because not everyone you encounter on the site is going to be an academic.
  • Get references.  Get a salary verification.  Take as high a deposit as you can under your local laws. Meet the tenants beforehand, even if by FaceTime — and meet the whole family.  If the renter says s/he has a spouse and children, meet at least the spouse and preferably the children as well. Look for signs that they aren’t what they say they are.  Do everything you’d do if you were renting your home to someone answering a classified ad or coming through a general rental agency.  Don’t turn a blind eye trusting that because one of them is a professor or doctor, it’ll all be fine.
  • Have neighbours keep an eye on your house. In the case of the professor in the Mother Jones article, her neighbours started alerting her early on to suspicious behaviour. In my case, I live in a small, close-knit group of townhouses, and I’d have heard pretty quickly if anything seemed off. We also tried hard to find a family who would fit in well with our neighbours, and made it clear to the tenants that they were moving into a small community with kids who played together — one of the pluses of our home.

There are no guarantees, but take basic precautions, and you’re more likely to have a good experience. We had a very good experience with SabbaticalHomes.com, as have our colleagues, and I feel comfortable recommending them.  But use common sense in renting your home out, too.


1 To be fair, that press release Mother Jones dug up with the quote about an implicit degree of trust among academics was 13 — almost 14 — years old.
2 In fact, there are probably more of this last category — I know more very disorganized, messy academics, because you can get away with absentmindedness as an academic.

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