How to Live Rent-Free

Jim and Lou Hammill offer tips on how to search for a rent-free home in the country.

| January/February 1977


Jim and Lou Hammill live rent-free in The Smokies, in a house they fixed up themselves.


For years, we sat on our backsides and flapped our gums about getting back to a simpler, more agrarian, more rational way of life. But — like many folks — we hesitated to "take the plunge."

Then one day the apartment house we were living in changed hands and the new, money-hungry landlord doubled our rent. And that was our cue to stop talking and start doing.

About the same time, we "discovered" a little-known (to us) way of getting back to the land that'd been right under our noses for years! You see, in the course of our previous outings to the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, we'd noticed hundreds of dilapidated and (apparently) deserted old houses scattered across the countryside ... yet, we'd never (until we were forced to move out of our apartment) thought to ask the owner of one of these places if we could live — rent-free — in an abandoned house, in return for fixing it up.

After deciding that we didn't have anything to lose, we went out and started knocking on doors. And — to our surprise — each of the 30-odd landowners we approached welcomed us, literally, with open arms! Most of them were only too glad to find someone who wanted to maintain and protect their vacant dwellings.

We were swamped with offers. In addition to shelter, owners offered us such "extras" as free building materials ... part-time employment ... even financial assistance! (In every case, we were told we could have at least a half acre of ground for gardening.) We found it a pleasant task to select a domicile that would be suited to our own personal needs, yet could be easily repaired and winterized.

Ultimately, we chose a one-bedroom, single-story house with a large attic (for future family expansion), situated in the midst of 20 acres of forest and pasture. (The structures we turned down ranged from a one-bedroom, hand-hewn oak cabin all the way to a three-story-tall, eight-bedroom mini-mansion built before the turn of the century.)

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