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Would you rent a room in an apartment with a stranger? This development is betting on it

By Chase Jordan, The Charlotte Observer
Published: May 20, 2024, 5:23am

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Many renters in Charlotte pay to have a bathroom, living room and kitchen all to themselves — but for some people, one room is enough.

Now an apartment company is trying something new, where people can rent a bedroom for less than paying for an entire apartment, but share common space with a stranger. It’s kind of like getting assigned a roommate for your college dorm.

Foster Flats in Charlotte’s South End believes it will be the first co-living apartment community in the city, according to property owner Common, a real estate group owned by Germany-based firm Habyt. Apartment manager Brettany Robbins is setting up rental leases for the property. She believes it may be a first for North Carolina.

As more people move the Charlotte region, the concept of living with strangers may become a growing trend real estate professionals and economic experts told The Charlotte Observer.

Foster Flats wants to build a community where people get to know each other and make new friends, Robbins said.

The complex is introducing the co-living concept at 201 Foster Ave.. Sections of the apartment complex are designed for people to rent a private bedroom and share common space with others in two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

Foster Flats will have more than 100 apartments, and about 70 will be standard units. The remaining will be split up into the co-living concept. Each bedroom has it’s own access code for privacy.

Some of the amenities at the complex include a rooftop patio and movie room. Foster Flats is providing furniture for the shared spaces, Robbins said.

Monthly rent for co-share apartments are between $1,115 and $1,340, based on unit size. The costs for private units are between $1,450 and $1,735. Robbins said it’s a cheaper alternative for the South End area where the average rent is more than $2,500, according to Realtor.com.

The apartments will open in July. Planning and construction for the project began a couple years ago, Robbins said.

First come, first served

The complex wants to catch the attention of young professionals, people who recently graduated from college or people in a transitional period, Robbins said.

Roommates are not matched through the application process.

Qualified tenants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Prospective tenants can’t make requests for roommates with certain characteristics, such as non-smokers or people of the same gender.

Although Robbins is optimistic about the process, she said putting strangers together may come with challenges as well. “There will be some conflicts here and there,” she said. “But we’re trained to address those appropriately and handle them in any form or fashion we see necessary.”

Becoming roomies in houses

The communal living concept is pretty well established inside single-family houses throughout the Charlotte region.

Private landlord Dawnette Walters recently renovated a home on Ridgevalley Drive in the Westchester neighborhood. Each room has new beds, furniture, televisions and refrigerators. Some rooms have private bathrooms, which cost a little more for renters.

It will cost less than $300 a week for the next tenants to live there. Rates per room vary depending on size and amenities. Renters come from all walks of life, with jobs such as pilots, crane operators and travel nurses, Walters said.

“It’s not about so much who lives in the house, but where the house is located in proximity to their job,” she said.

She works with a community of private landlords to find tenants. About 300 rooms are in their rental network of more than 60 homes.

The homes they rent are mixed-gender. Applicants may ask questions about who they will share a home with, but Walters said it’s usually not a determining factor for most renters.

Along with background checks, questionnaires help the landlords get insight about an applicant’s personality to find a good fit for things such as overnight guests.

B.J. Henderson, an insurance adjuster, began renting a room from Walters about a year ago. The Charlotte house has four rooms and two were previously occupied by a pilot and a basketball coach.

“Of course I could afford to get a house or an apartment,” he said. “But why do all that when I got everything I need right now? At the end of day, you save money and everything you need is right there.”

The Mississippi native has lived in Charlotte for two years after relocating from the Washington, D.C., area for work. So far, he hasn’t had any problems with his roommates.

“Mostly everybody is busy working, doing things and going places,” Henderson said. “It’s not like you’re in a house all day with folks that you don’t know.”

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Henderson is thinking about getting involved in the rental room business himself. He’s making plans to own property when he moves out, after experiencing communal living.

A fresh start

Credit scores for prospective tenants are not checked by Walters and the private landlords in her circle, she said. They use a commonsense approach when checking finances. It helps people unable to rent apartments because of their credit score or financial background.

One tenant makes more than $100,000 — but identity theft damaged her credit, according to Walters and the landlords.

“A lot of people are trying to get back on their feet,” Walters said. “We have other people who are not down-on-their-luck, but they need a new start.”

Filling a void

Many of the people moving to Charlotte are young, single professionals, according to Yongqiang Chu, director of the Childress Klein Center for Real Estate at UNC Charlotte. They are looking for smaller spaces instead of houses and apartments with three bedrooms.

“The Charlotte market has been struggling to provide a supply to match that demand,” he said. Co-living apartment complexes may be a good thing if it can help fill a void, Chu added.

He said the new concept could benefit Charlotte. It’s a growing trend in high-cost cities like New York, according to Chu and Robbins.

“I think this will be kind of short-term solution until the city finds a long-term solution to be able to provide smaller-size apartments or houses in the long run,” Chu said, in dealing with affordable housing issues.