Money issues among family members are difficult, to say the least. A reader named The Lessor wrote to us recently about his sticky family situation:

I have a brother-in-law who decided to pursue ministry work overseas. He is married to a European girl and they live with her mother most of the year. Each year they return to the U.S. to keep citizenship/residency, visit with family, and fundraise for additional money to keep them living overseas. They usually spend three to four months in the U.S., living in my spare bedroom.

My wife misses her brother greatly when he’s gone and likes for him to stay with us. I, however, can become annoyed when guests stay for an extended period, especially since they eat a lot of food, use a lot of utilities, are often messy, and generally put a lot of wear and tear on items in my house during these long visits. For the first time in over five years, they have offered to pay us some money to offset the costs associated with their stay.

My question to you is how can I calculate an amount that is reasonable for them to pay? I feel like there are a lot of unseen costs (such as my constant need to clean up after them). If the amount I charge is too high, they may choose to stay somewhere else next time, leaving my wife heartbroken. Any advice is appreciated.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked, “Fish and houseguests smell after three days.” (Happy birthday, Ben! He would have been 307 yesterday.) So, The Lessor, you are not alone in your uneasiness with long-term houseguests, even if they are family.

My advice would be to figure out how much their annual visit adds to your budget. How much additional money do you spend on food during the months they stay with you? How much does your utility bill go up? The wear and tear on the house as well as the value of your time spent cleaning up after them are trickier to put a price on. A housecleaning service charges between $20 and $40 per hour (of course, this depends on the size of the house, the region of the country, and so on). Maybe if you charge them for cleaning up, they’ll actually do it themselves.

So, Readers, what do you think The Lessor should do? How much should he charge his brother- and sister-in-law for their annual stay?

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