by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: We own a vacation condo we’ve always been happy to lend to friends. Lately, though, we’re constantly being asked for it, which has begun to interfere with our own plans. Plus, the wear and tear from these visits is taking its toll. Would we be wrong to charge rent in order to discourage friends from abusing our hospitality?
Answer: Not at all. Look, there’s a name for friends who systematically help themselves to what others have paid for, and it’s freeloaders. Whatever these folks who are imposing on you may imagine, you’re not obligated to provide them with a vacation getaway. On the contrary, asking them for some rent is ethical, fair and honorable - unless, of course, you’ve invited them there as your guests.
Presumably, of course, you neither want to overcharge your friends nor offer a bargain that’s irresistible. So talk to a realtor about what condos like yours rent for and what the typical “family and friends” rate is. Then think about whether you want to charge different people different rates based, perhaps, on how close you are to them or how much they can afford. Be forewarned, though, that while there’s nothing unethical about a sliding scale, it could lead to friction.
And brace yourself for another source of friction as well: Nobody likes a take-back. Instead of being as appreciative as they should be of your generosity, some of your pals - the true freeloaders - may get angry when you ask them to contribute. Of course they have nothing to complain about - but when did that ever stop anybody?
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.