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.