Rooming and Boarding Houses

SIC 7021

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in renting rooms, with or without board, on a fee basis. Rental of apartments, apartment hotels, and other housing units are classified in Real Estate Operators (Except Developers) and Lessors industries. Rooming and boarding houses operated by membership organizations for their members only are classified in SIC 7041: Organization Hotels and Lodging Houses, on Membership Basis. Homes for the aged, children, and the handicapped that also provide additional services, other than nursing care, are classified in SIC 8361: Residential Care, and homes that provide nursing care are classified in Nursing and Personal Care Facilities industries.

Industry Snapshot

Rooming and boarding houses provide generally low-cost lodging on either a temporary or a long-term basis. Although the distinction between rooming, boarding, and lodging houses is not always clear, a rooming house is typically an establishment that provides only for the rental of rooms, while a boarding house provides meals and may offer such amenities as maid service and laundry service. At one time, rooming and boarding houses were a common, and often desirable, form of housing that catered to members of a wide range of social classes and professional occupations, but this sector of the lodging industry has generally been in decline. A Engineering News-Record report on a housing alternatives symposium characterized rooming and boarding houses as "bygone housing styles." Commercial rooming and boarding house establishments, while not "bygone," have undeniably become associated with the less fortunate classes. Nonetheless, rooming and boarding houses play an important role within the lodging industry and, as New Jersey architect Michael Mostoller argued in the course of the Engineering News-Record symposium, "the boardinghouse and roominghouse . . . must be reconsidered" as an economical and potentially convivial form of commercial congregate housing.

By the late 2000s and early 2010s boarding houses were primarily located in heavily populated urban areas where affordable housing was difficult to find and there was a high demand from transient and migrant workers. Housing and zoning reforms of the 1990s and early 2000s primarily worked against the industry as many communities cracked down on illegal boarding houses, which also made business more difficult for legitimate establishments. According to Dun & Bradstreet's (D&B) Industry Reports, about 2,505 rooming and boarding houses operated in the United States in 2010. Together these establishments employed 17,570 people and generated $557.5 million in revenues. The industry was highly diversified, with the top 100 firms accounting for just 4 percent of revenues.

Organization and Structure

The rooming and boarding house sector of the lodging industry includes nonorganizational rooming houses, lodging houses, boarding houses, and dormitories that do not provide for such special services as nursing or personal care. Rooming and boarding houses can offer single rooms, shared double rooms, efficiencies, or suites; private, shared, or communal living and eating areas; and private, shared, or communal bathrooms. Approximately two-thirds of commercial rooming and boarding house establishments are owned by sole proprietors or partnerships rather than by corporations. Most rooming and boarding houses are relatively small operations.

Rooming and boarding house establishments are subject to Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Housing Administration, and other federal or local building codes and standards, which effectively limit design options for new establishments, plus state and/or local licensing and inspection. A related concern for rooming and boarding house owners is insurance, which can be difficult to obtain for multifamily dwellings.

Background and Development

In a study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, John Modell and Tamara K. Hareven assessed the nineteenth century heyday of lodging in both domestic and commercial establishments, noting that "these two categories (from the point of view of the lodger) essentially competed within a single market." Modell and Hareven found that the nineteenth-century prevalence of rooming and boarding can be associated with rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, coupled with increases in the number of manufacturing employees; of young, unmarried working men and women in the cities; and of foreign-born urban residents--although the authors stressed that lodging was far more characteristic of American and migrant cultures than of foreign cultures who generally turned to lodging only as an expedient. Modell and Hareven proposed that "in an industrializing, rapidly urbanizing society," rooming and boarding "was so widespread as to be reasonably considered indispensable."

Mark Peel, in the Journal of American History, focused on the lodging house in Boston in the second half of the nineteenth century. Peel elaborated on the cultural distinctions between the often genteel boarding house and the generally working- or lower-class rooming house, which was less socially structured and less supervised by landlords or hosts. Peel concluded that the rooming house "was not just a place where thousands of migrants and immigrants first met the American city," but a potentially radical housing alternative where "some urban dwellers explored a very different social trajectory from those who entered through the boardinghouse, the tenement, or the suburban home."

Commercial rooming and boarding house establishments could readily adapt to such variant and shifting "social trajectories." Lisa F. Fine, in a study published in the Journal of Social History, described five particular boarding houses in Chicago that catered to women. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, these boarding houses "provided safe, respectable, home-like, low cost housing, and a vast array of social services that allowed white-collar women to lead relatively independent lives." Among the residents of these boarding houses in 1915, 233 were classified as stenographers, clerks, bookkeepers, or secretaries; 132 were listed as students; and 32 were teachers.

During the course of the twentieth century, however, the rooming and boarding house sector of the lodging industry gradually eroded. In the Journal of Social History, Richard Harris summarized the scholarly consensus on the factors that led to the "social marginalization of lodging." By the late nineteenth century, increasing levels of prosperity, along with essentially middle-class concerns about a lack of space and privacy in congregate housing, gradually made boarding or lodging in private residences less common, although it persisted as a source of supplemental household income well into the twentieth century. As the economic tie between homeowners and lodgers was broken, and as single-family housing became entrenched as a cultural ideal, lodging became less respectable. This led to the decline of boarding arrangements for the economically prosperous, whether in domestic or commercial establishments. Inexpensive rooming houses, with lodgers eating, socializing, and securing such services as laundry outside of the rooming establishments, became the predominant form of lodging house. Beginning in the 1920s, a boom in urban housing construction and the proliferation of inexpensive apartment blocks undermined the already narrowed market for rooming houses. In addition, beginning in the 1930s, the gradual establishment of the welfare state further lessened some of the economic bases of the rooming and boarding house sector of the lodging industry.

By the second half of the twentieth century, commercial rooming and boarding house establishments had become associated with housing for new workers or for the transient, poor, aged, or disabled. Of particular note was a 1977 incident in Sea Bright, New Jersey, in which four mentally retarded boarding house lodgers were killed in a fire that may have been set by hostile neighbors. This incident created a national scandal and triggered congressional initiatives for the licensing and regulation of rooming and boarding house establishments.

These developments contributed to a steady drop in the number and profitability of rooming and boarding establishments through the 1990s. Although rooming and boarding houses have proven their flexibility in the past, the fate of this segment of the lodging industry remained subject to fluctuations in cultural, political, economic, demographic, and regional factors.

The national revenues for the rooming and boarding house sector of the lodging industry amounted to approximately $294.6 million in 1997. This figure represented an increase of 19.6 percent over 1987 but was far less than the average 56 percent increase in revenues during that period for taxable service industries in general.

During the 1990s, the industry experienced negative publicity that focused on initiatives for the inspection, regulation, and reform of substandard or illegal rooming establishments. The New York Times reported on the "growing number of one-family homes illegally converted to single-room occupancy." In such cities as Chicago, neighborhood associations were organized to combat illegal conversions in areas zoned for one-family or two-family homes. These neighborhood associations protested the loss of neighborhood integrity and the decline of property values. They also feared problems related to congestion, security, fire, pollution, sanitation, and noise for themselves as well as for the occupants of illegal rooming houses. Further, some establishments also became centers of drug activity, as allegedly happened in the case of Peck's Row, a historic row house in Milwaukee that had been converted into a rooming house and then became the subject of controversy over its preservation.

As in the past, many illegal rooming establishments remained inhabited by recently immigrated populations, whose vulnerability to exploitation was potentially aggravated by a lack of language and cultural skills and/or by illegal immigration status. The New York Times quoted Bill Apgar of the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies on this specific problem: "There are a lot of illegal conversions where . . . people are being allowed to live in unsafe conditions while paying rent which is disproportionate to the service they receive . . . . The fear of being deported is the leverage that the landlord holds over the tenant." Even so, city inspectors are often reluctant to take action against illegal rooming establishments. The landlords may be subject to only limited and temporary penalties that provide little deterrent, while the socially and economically disadvantaged tenants might suffer greatly from attempts at governmental intervention or control. Some municipalities took a more positive approach to this problem by considering conversion of rooming houses into low- and moderate-income housing units.

While traditional boarding houses had become almost solely associated with lower-income tenants by the mid-2000s, the hotel industry developed a new hybrid form of housing, "extended-stay lodging," which provided hotel-like accommodations for business travelers for periods of weeks or months, sometimes with meals included. HVM LLC, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for example, operated about 685 extended-stay properties in 2010, including Homestead Studio Suites and Crossland Economy Studios. In 2005 HVM introduced Extended Stay Deluxe, which offered larger rooms, fully equipped kitchens, and larger guestroom/work spaces. Most featured wireless Internet services and other amenities such as swimming pools and personalized voicemail. Other chains that had introduced extended-stay hotels by the late 2000s included Marriott, Holiday Inn, Choice Hotels, and Starwood, among many others.

With housing prices rising rapidly during the mid-2000s, illegal and overcrowded boarding houses continued to plague the industry. In June 2005, Long Island officials raided an illegal rooming house that contained 44 beds and had approximately 64 occupants. Long Island law enforcement also investigated another 117 properties for illegal overcrowding. Most occupants were Mexican laborers, and some were illegal immigrants who worked in the landscaping and service industries.

Another way officials were cracking down on overcrowding and forcing illegally subdivided houses out of business was to declare the property as commercial rather than residential, which consequently increased the tax burden of the property substantially. In some cases, annual property taxes quadrupled when reclassified as commercial property. Multiple electric meters, doorbells, satellite dishes, and mailboxes, along with excessive number of cars, large amounts of garbage, and separate entrances, tipped off officials that a residence might be functioning illegally as a rooming house.

Some communities also enacted zoning regulations that prohibited rooming and boarding houses from operating within residential districts. In 2003 the California State attorney general declared that a city may rightfully prohibit or regulate a low-density residential zone boarding house, which were defined as having at least three tenants who separately rent or occupy rooms.

Another factor that affected the industry during the mid-2000s was housing reform that was enacted to guarantee the continuing availability of low-cost housing by requiring that boarding house owners lock in rates for extended periods of time. Other legislation in New York made eviction more complicated, thus making it more difficult for landlords to expel troublesome or nonpaying residents.

Current Conditions

In 2010, California was home to the most commercial rooming and boarding houses, with 326, according to D&B. Other states with large numbers of the establishments included Texas (149), Florida (143), New York (140), Michigan (99), and New Jersey and Pennsylvania (93 each). Many states (Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Vermont, and Wyoming) had fewer than 15 commercial rooming and boarding house establishments in 2010.

Violation of regulations regarding rooming and boarding houses continued to be a problem in urban areas into the early 2010s. For example, in July 2010 a New York City landlord was fined $27,400 for altering a house in order to accommodate more than the legally approved number of families. According to the city's Department of Buildings, the landlord added an illegal basement apartment to a two-family house and then subsequently divided that basement apartment into four living units with one bathroom. He also divided one of the existing first-floor apartments into three units. The industry continued to deal with other such problems around the country. City Alderman Van Johnson of Savannah, Georgia, for example, commented on the number of illegal rooming houses in that city in the Savannah Morning News in February 2009 by saying, "I'm not against rooming houses in that sense. But there is an abuse of the use of rooming houses to the point where it's irresponsible."


The rooming and boarding house sector of the lodging industry created a limited number of employment opportunities. Rooming and boarding house employees included janitorial and housekeeping staff and food service, laundry, and maintenance workers. The total number of people employed in the industry was approximately 17,570, with an average of seven employees per establishment, according to figures from D&B.

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News and information about Rooming and Boarding Houses

Hdpc Investigates Regulation of Rooming and Boarding Houses
States News Service; April 17, 2014; 429 words
...stronger regulation of rooming and boarding houses, according to Policy Chairman...standards to ensure that rooming and boarding houses in Pennsylvania are constructed...efforts to ensure that rooming and boarding houses are properly ...
Hazleton Zoners Continue Recovery House Hearing
Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA); January 19, 2018; 700+ words the city zoning ordinance.Ingrassia and Vinciguerro publicly disputed that classification, saying rooming and boarding houses simply rent to transients who are looking for a room with a lock on the door. Tenants at the recovery house...
Oroho Bill to Crack Down on Delinquent Boarding House Owners Passed by Senate
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; May 28, 2017; 472 words
...Morris) to clamp down on absentee owners of rooming and boarding houses was passed by the New Jersey Senate."We"The legislation, S-481, adds rooming and boarding houses to the state's existing "Animal House" statute...
Several Oroho Bills with Local Impact Passed
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; June 3, 2017; 700+ words
...last week, the full Senate passed another one of his bills, S-481, which clamps down on absentee owners of rooming and boarding houses which was a particular area of concern for the Town of Newton."By giving towns an additional enforcement...
U.S. Census Bureau Adds Industry Series Report on Accommodation, Food Services
Manufacturing Close-Up; October 31, 2014; 467 words
...parks and recreational camps (NAICS 7212) and rooming and boarding houses (NAICS 7213).-Casino hotels (NAICS 72112...from 17,357 in 2007 to 16,067 in 2012.-Rooming and boarding houses reported a 62.6 percent increase in sales...
Census Bureau Releases Industry Series Report on Accommodation
States News Service; October 28, 2014; 508 words
...parks and recreational camps (NAICS 7212) and rooming and boarding houses (NAICS 7213). Casino hotels (NAICS 72112...from 17,357 in 2007 to 16,067 in 2012. Rooming and boarding houses reported a 62.6 percent increase in sales...
Census Bureau Unveils Industry Series Report on Accommodation
Travel & Leisure Close-Up; October 31, 2014; 458 words
...parks and recreational camps (NAICS 7212) and rooming and boarding houses (NAICS 7213). -Casino hotels (NAICS 72112...from 17,357 in 2007 to 16,067 in 2012. -Rooming and boarding houses reported a 62.6 percent increase in sales...
Census Bureau Releases New Statistics from Industry Series Report on Accommodation
Entertainment Close-up; November 5, 2014; 463 words
...parks and recreational camps (NAICS 7212) and rooming and boarding houses (NAICS 7213). -Casino hotels (NAICS 72112...from 17,357 in 2007 to 16,067 in 2012. -Rooming and boarding houses reported a 62.6 percent increase in sales...

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