In “Rent,” the classic Broadway musical, one of the songs asks “How we gonna pay the rent?”

If you own your home, but temporarily can’t afford the payments and can find a cheaper place to live, the more appropriate tune is “How you gonna pay the mortgage?” The answer? By renting your own home.

If you can’t stomach the thought, consider that the demand for good rentals are on the rise, and significantly so. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, the number of renter households is expected to increase by 1.8 million by 2015.

Make no mistake, renting your own home definitely resides in the homeowner’s “last resort” category. Aside from the often-uncomfortable feeling of a perfect stranger residing in your family home, becoming a landlord has its share of potential pitfalls.

For example, landlords who rent their homes are still responsible for paying property taxes and home insurance, and should be adept at handling household repairs, since you’ll be responsible for them.

If renting is an option, consider these key steps, and potential pitfalls, from turning your home into a rental situation.

Only rent to quality tenants. The last thing you need as a newbie landlord is a renter who doesn’t pay his or her bills, or worse, turns your beautiful home into Animal House. To avoid that nightmare, make sure to run a credit check on any potential renters. Any of the three major credit report agencies (Experian (Stock Quote: EXPN), Equifax (Stock Quote: EFX) and TransUnion) can easily walk you through the process. Also, make sure to check references and contact previous landlords to verify that you have a quality renter on your hand. Best bet: Make every attempt to find renters from trusted sources, like family or friends.

Line up quality contractors. If you’re a plumber, carpenter, electrician or other household maintenance specialist, go straight to the next tip. If you’re not, make sure you’ve vetted a good contractor – you’re going to need one sooner or later. Emphasize contractors who are quick to respond, work fast and charge a fair price. Check out – it rates local contractors and doesn’t accept payments from them to be on the Web site’s list.

Get an airtight lease. When you rent something as valuable as your own home, you’ll want to put everything on paper. That means a written agreement spelling out the exact terms and conditions of the rental agreement (especially the length of the lease term, security deposit amount and conditions, and what happens if rental payments are late, including eviction “triggers”). To download some sample lease forms, visit a Web site like The Landlord Protection Agency. Keep in mind, though, you need to be aware of rental laws, which vary from state to state.

Also, check with your home’s insurance company to see if you need special insurance now that you’re a landlord (chances are, your state will make you do so).

All in all, renting your own home may not be your first choice (or even second or third), but if you go that route, at least use the tips above to protect you – and your home.

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