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What is a Rooming House?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A rooming house is a home where the owners rent some or most of the rooms to paying customers. Other terms that are commonly used to describe such an arrangement include lodging house or boarding house, though the latter may create expectation by boarders that they will be fed. Room and board typically means lodging and food. Duration of stay at a rooming house could be a few days to several weeks or years depending upon arrangements with the landlord, and some places deemed rooming houses are really designed for vacations and could be called bed and breakfasts or hostels, suggesting short term stays.

There is nothing particularly new about rooming houses. People will see them mentioned in fiction and history that dates back prior to the Victorian period. From an economic standpoint, renting a room instead of renting a home was sensible. Many landlords or landladies who owned these homes, found that renting rooms could augment income and allow people to either survive on the rent given to them by tenants or improve their living standards. Some people had to work harder to run a rooming house in which they also lived and might have prepared meals or done some degree of housework in tenants’ rooms too. Arrangement very much differed depending upon each homeowner.

Rooming or lodging house has also come to mean homes or buildings that are almost totally set aside for the purpose of lodgers or boarders, and that may not have a landlord or landlady on hand at all times. In present day, there are still many of these homes, and some people are turning to developing property into rooming house style rentals for those who have smaller budgets. These houses may have special features that weren’t present in the traditional rooming house, like cable access, a private bathroom, and privileges to use the kitchen to store and prepare food. This type of arrangement is more profitable to the landlord, who can charge several hundred dollars for a single room and a bathroom, but it may be a good deal for tenants too, who really don’t have much furniture and may make very little money.

While this arrangement is attractive to many, number of lodgers in a rooming house can sometimes be governed by city or state ordinances. Each room may need to meet certain minimum standards before it can be considered appropriate to rent. In some cities, where the rooming house may continue to flourish, issues may arise on how a higher population of adult residents affects local parking.

Regulation is fairly new in the rooming house business, and in both history and fiction people will find some examples of the varying ways in which landlords operated these homes. They could be either true homey residences for people with little money or relatively terrifying places to live with creepy landlords who could essentially enter a room at any time to disturb tenants. Even today, the issue of privacy may be one that has to be clearly defined between a landlord and a lodger, though many landlords observe rules quite similar to those for standard property rental, including giving notice if a room needs to be entered.

Many people think of the rooming house as a European convention and there are certainly fine examples to be had there. America latched onto the idea quickly too, though, and renting rooms to one or more lodgers was not at all uncommon. California teemed with rooming and boarding houses especially during the gold rush, and this tradition continued particularly in the cities like San Francisco, thereafter.

One interesting American example rooming house dated a little later exists in the 1945 non-fictional novel by Rosemary Taylor, Chicken Every Sunday. The novel describes Taylor’s childhood in the early 20th century growing up in a home that was used as a boarding house in Arizona. Though difficult to find, this book is a fun read and illustrates both the difficulties and potential amusement of deliberately creating this living arrangement in a home.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By chicklet123 — On Aug 30, 2013

I have two rooming homes. One has two bedrooms and the other is a 'triple', a three family, in which I provide meals if the residents desire them. I sleep alternately in both of them, three or four days per week. I clean and maintain them myself. I view it as a very interesting job. I do the marketing of the rooms and the bookkeeping myself. Necessity was laid upon me to do this, but it has become quite an enjoyable way of life.

By anon290411 — On Sep 09, 2012

I intend to start a boarding house. It is a three bedroom house with one toilet and one bathroom. I intend to start with 10 students to occupy the bed space that will be available. Do I need an extra shower and toilet?

By icecream17 — On Feb 22, 2011

Sunshine31 - I agree with you that under certain circumstances letting someone rent a room in your home might be a good idea.

I think that the idea of letting someone rent a room in your house also makes sense if you are going to college and live in a college town.

Many college students do not want to live in a dorm and would rather live in a house or an apartment off campus because they will have more room and more privacy.

If you own a home near a college or university then this might work for you.

By sunshine31 — On Feb 21, 2011

SauteePan - That is the downside of having people living in your home especially if it is a friend.

On a positive note, I wanted to say that in the era of the Great Depression many people turned their homes into rooming houses so that they could receive additional income because jobs were really hard to come by.

In that situation it makes sense because you really have no other choice.

People then ran the homes like hotels but I think that they also provided meals for the renters as well.

It was really a great idea a the time to place a room for rent like that because the unemployment rate was 25% and companies were not looking to hire because there were so many regulations placed against them at the time.

By SauteePan — On Feb 18, 2011

I know that in today’s difficult economic climate the idea of trying to rent a room in your house sounds appealing.

I had a friend who did this and the results were disastrous. First, she rented a room in her house to a friend and only charged her $275 per month.

In addition, the friend was very messy and never picked up after herself. Now she wants the friend out but does not want to lose the friendship.

I told her that in the future that she should had a rooming house agreement that ironed out all of the rules and expectations that she had.

Just because you get along with someone does not mean that you can live with them. She learned this the hard way.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor,...
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