Renting to friends

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” was published last summer by HarperCollins.Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Dear Nicole,

I just told good friends that unfortunately this summer they couldn’t stay with us, because we are turning our guest room into a rental, and they said they totally understand but they still want to stay with us, and would be happy to rent the room. I cannot imagine renting a room to close friends, friends we value, who have visited us for years. On the other hand, I don’t want to not have our guest room available for rental in the middle of the season. What do you recommend I do?

Confidentially yours,
Room for rent

Dear Rentroom:

I can see a couple of solutions to this. Since your friends sound understanding, the simplest thing is to explain to them what you’ve just explained to me (and the entire readership of this paper), and ask them to consider renting somewhere else. They rent from others, you rent to others, and everyone’s happy without any weirdness.

But perhaps they are adamant that they want to rent from you, specifically. Perhaps they want easy access to you 24/7, and you’re OK with that (either because you’re a seasonal masochist, or you really do love them that much). Perhaps they can’t find another place to stay that meets their needs. Perhaps they share your lack of imagination, and just as you can’t imagine renting to close friends, they can’t imagine staying anywhere else.

Whatever the case, if they lay down an ultimatum that they either stay with you, rent or no rent, or else they don’t come at all … you have three options.

First: You could tell them not to come at all. But that’s no fun, and makes you sound sort of bratty, so I hope you don’t choose that one.

Second: You could rebrand the situation as a barter arrangement. Instead of actually paying you rent, they could provide all the things such rent would cover: They could buy groceries, pay the house cleaner, mow the lawn, do a dump run, maybe clean the gutters. You don’t generate actual income that way, but instead you get a bunch of free stuff, and they get to feel like benefactors. That’s a win-win in my book.

Third: You could graciously accept their offer, with the understanding that friendship is like the ideal of socialism — it operates on the premise “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” You have the ability to offer a place to rent, and they have the need to come to the Vineyard and rent someplace. They have the ability to pay rent, and you have the need of rent paid. It’s kind of awesome, really. Bernie would totally approve.

That’s my take.