Dear Amy:

We own a vacation home that we occasionally rent out. It's not a rental machine, but we try to rent it a few times a month to help with the mortgage. We rent it for $165 a night plus a cleaning fee - three-night minimum. The expenses run $1,000 a month.

A few years ago, our neighbors asked if they could rent it for a long weekend with another out-of-town couple. We gave them a reduced "friends and family rate" of $100 a night, and all was good. The next year, they asked again but asked if they could "use it" - not rent it. We felt obliged to say OK but asked them to pay for the cleaning service.

The third year, it was again "use it" and not rent it, and they bought us something for the bathroom.

Several months ago, the fourth year, they asked again; this time it was for four nights. They paid for the cleaning lady.

We really do like our neighbors, but at the same time it seems this has eroded to an expectation that it is simply there for the taking.

We are not wealthy people, and the rental income, even for friends at the reduced rate, would be nice to help pay the mortgage and utilities.

Should we suck it up or say the house is not free?

Have we set a precedent in not dealing with the issue from the start?

- Unlucky Landlords

Dear Landlords:

Unfortunately, you have set a precedent - and your neighbors have galloped away with it.

Now you should establish a new precedent - and behave like landlords.

You should now do what you should have done all along, which is to charge your neighbors to use your home. They obviously love the place and so should be willing to pay a reasonable fee to use it.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.