How To Follow the SSI Living Arrangement Regs

Robin Mead

Most people on SSI do not understand how their housing situation can make their check go up or down. It’s no big surprise that nobody knows this. It’s super complicated! And nobody tells you!  (Until now!)

This is one of those things you really don’t want to learn the hard way. Here’s how it works:

Before You Read Me: Don’t Read Me

Everything on this page is for SSI. If you are on SSDI, ignore this page. Learn more: How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode

How SSI Looks at Rent and Utilities

At an SSI interview, they will ask you about rent and utilities.

If you are not paying your share of rent or utilities, your SSI check will be a lower amount. If you are paying your share, then your SSI check will not be effected.

If you are paying rent, bring a copy of a lease with you to the interview.

If you are paying rent but do not have a lease, it is a good idea to sign a simple rental agreement. It does not have to be a fancy arrangement. For example, if you are living in a house owned by a family member, you can sign an agreement to pay rent for the room you live in.

If you were just approved and have not started paying rent yet, bring a rental agreement showing when you will be starting.

How SSI Looks at Mortgages and Owning a Home

If you own a home, the rules are the same. Instead of paying rent, you pay your share of the mortgage, utilities and related expenses.

If someone else is paying your share, your SSI check will be a lower amount.

What happens if I don’t pay my share of the rent or mortgage?

If someone else pays your share of the rent, utilities or mortgage or gives you a free place to stay, your SSI check will be lower.

For most people it will be lower by about $3,000 per year.

These rules apply to everyone except spouses. If you are live with your spouse, it doesn’t matter which one of you pays the rent (as long as no one else pays it).

It also does not apply to nonprofit or government programs. If a nonprofit or government program is paying part of your rent or utilities, this does not affect your SSI check.

Does it matter how much rent or mortgage I pay? How much is my share?

Glad you asked! This is an important question! Please look here: How Much Rent or Mortgage to Pay on SSI

What if a government or nonprofit program pays part of my rent and utilities?

That is allowed. That will not make your SSI check go down.

What if I am homeless?

If you are living for free at a homeless shelter, this will not affect your SSI check, as long as you do not stay there for more than 6 months during a 9 month period.

If you are transitional and have no fixed sleeping place, this will not affect your check.

What if I am living on a friend’s couch?

It depends on the arrangement. SSA will consider someone homeless if they are “a person who stays with a succession of friends or relatives and has no permanent living arrangement on the first moment of the month.”

If you plan to stay for an extended time, either you would pay some rent for the spot on the couch, or your SSI check may be lowered.

Will my SSI check go down if I live with a family member, mother, brother, sister, etc?

No. As long as you are paying your share of household expenses, and you are an adult, this has no effect on your check.

If you are under age 18, then your parent’s income will impact your SSI.

Will my SSI check go down if I live with a husband or wife?

Depends. Very often this will cause an SSI check to go down or be cut off. It is difficult for married people to stay on SSI, because they will consider both people’s income.

Will my SSI check go down if I live with a roommate or friend?

No. As long as you are paying your share of household expenses, this has no effect on your check.

Will my SSI check go down if I live with a girlfriend or boyfriend?

Sometimes. This does not happen in all cases, but sometimes a Social Security worker will will ask questions to see if the two people are functioning more like roommates or more like a married couple.

If Social Security determines that two people are more like a married couple, they may treat them as married, even if they are not legally married. In some cases, this means a person’s SSI check may be reduced or eliminated. This is called Holding Out as Married.

Do I have to pay for my children’s rent?

No. Someone else can pay for your children’s share of the rent and utilities. You just have to pay your share.

For example, if you are a single parent and you have 3 children… that would be 4 people total living in the house. You pay your share = 25%. The rest could be paid by child support or another family member, or whatever kind soul wants to pay your kids’ rent.

Can I use child support to pay part of the rent?

Yes and no. You can use child support to pay your child’s share of the rent. If you use it to pay your share, your SSI check will be lower.

How do I pay my rent?

Once you start paying rent, if possible, try to pay your rent by check or some way where you can get a receipt. You may never be asked for this receipt, but it is good to have it just in case.

Learn More

How to Survive on SSI


6 thoughts on “How To Follow the SSI Living Arrangement Regs”

  1. How does it work if you only pay your share of shared expenses— utilities, propane, phone, insurance, taxes, etc. No rent b/c there is no mortgage? Will that make your SSI go down? thank you!


    1. This is a good question. I have wondered about this as well, but have not found a policy that addresses it.

      If you are the owner or co-owner of the house, I think what you are doing is correct.

      If you are not the owner, I really am not sure. It may be OK to do it the way you are, or it may be better to look for “fair market value” – average price in your area for the space you are living in, and pay that amount.

      Sorry I don’t have a better answer. If you (or anyone) finds more info, please comment here.


      1. Thanks for your reply back. This would be for the renter, if you are renting a room, but the owner does not have a mortgage. It is hard to find a clear answer. If a call goes to SSI, I’ll be sure to let you know what I learn.


        1. Thank you. Please keep us posted. The people who answer the phones at SSA often give out wrong information, especially an obscure question like this. If you are able to make an appointment or phone appointment with someone in your local office that specializes in SSI, they might be able to tell you.


        2. ok, I looked it up a bit more.

          The rules are confusing.

          My best understanding at the moment is:

          first: they determine if you are a “shared household” or a “separate economic unit”. The questions they ask to decide this are on this page:
          If it is spouse or minor children, it’s automatically considered shared. For other people, it seems like a bit of a judgement call from the person asking the questions, since no one question determines the decision. If you are clear about being shared or not shared, that may help.

          Second: they decide how to calculate amount you owe:

          * If they determine it is a shared household, they consider whether you are paying your share of: Food (unless food is separate) Mortgage (including property insurance required by the mortgage holder) Real property taxes (less any tax rebate/credit) Rent Heating fuel Gas Electricity Water Sewer Garbage removal. Other expenses don’t matter. I would understand this to mean that if there is no mortgage, there would be no mortgage expense.

          * If they determine you are a separate economic unit, then they look to see that you are paying current market rate (about average rental price for a room and utilities in your area)

          There may be a bit of a catch. A shared economic household could have an impact other benefits. For example, sharing food would almost certainly impact food stamps. Pooling money or sharing bank accounts may impact SSI. There may be a way to do it without causing and impact, but it is just something to be aware of.

          If you want to give yourself a headache, the rules are here:

          Hope this helps ❤


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