Last Updated on: 14th June 2024, 01:46 am

A boardinghouse is a residential establishment that provides lodging, and often meals and other services, to its residents. The concept dates back hundreds of years and manifests in various forms today. Typically, boardinghouses offer both room and board, with ‘board’ representing meals and services such as laundry and cleaning. These establishments are an excellent option for those seeking Affordable Boardinghouse options and can also serve as a significant supplementary income source for homeowners1.

In the past, boardinghouses primarily catered to workers, students, and individuals in need of short-term housing solutions. Over time, they have evolved to include modern variations such as Bed and Breakfast setups, student housing, and short-term rental options like Airbnb1. Compliance with local regulations and understanding licensing requirements are crucial elements for those looking to operate boardinghouses.

Key Takeaways

  • A boardinghouse provides both lodging and additional services like meals and laundry.
  • These establishments have evolved over time to include modern options such as Airbnb.
  • Historically, boardinghouses catered to workers, students, and short-term tenants.
  • Ensuring compliance with local regulations and licensing requirements is essential for operators.
  • Boardinghouses can serve as a significant income source for homeowners.

Boardinghouse Definition and History

A boardinghouse is a unique type of residential establishment that provides lodging and typically meals for rent. These establishments are more than just a place to stay; they often include additional services such as laundry and housekeeping, creating a communal living experience.

Definition of a Boardinghouse

So, what is a Boardinghouse? Essentially, it is a type of accommodation where renters pay for both room and board, meaning they receive lodging and meals as part of their stay. This arrangement suits various occupants, from travelers to workers needing a temporary living solution. Over time, boardinghouses have evolved into shared living spaces that cater to diverse needs, maintaining their essence of community living. They’ve inspired modern communal living solutions such as co-living spaces and extended-stay hotels.

Historical Perspective of Boardinghouses

The history of boardinghouses dates back centuries, serving as essential lodging for urban dwellers and travelers. In 19th century America, boardinghouse living was incredibly common; between 30% to 50% of urban dwellers lived in or ran boarding homes2. In Boston during the 1830s, between one-third and one-half of the city’s population lived in a boarding house3, showcasing their prevalence in that era.

These establishments served as a vital part of society, particularly in cities experiencing industrial growth. For instance, in New York City in the 1840s, 75% of Manhattan’s adult population lived in boarding houses2, making them a cornerstone of urban housing. Boardinghouses were also notable for their role in providing affordable housing options. In New York in 1869, the cost of living in a boarding house ranged from $2.50 to $40 a week3, making them accessible to a wide range of incomes.

Interestingly, boardinghouses were predominantly run by women, often widows who sought income by renting out rooms2. These establishments also accommodated specialized groups such as vegetarians, medical students, and sailors, highlighting their versatility2. Through cultural narratives and literary works like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Brooklyn,” the quintessential boardinghouse has maintained a place in collective memory, emphasizing its historical significance.

By the early 20th century, boarding houses began to decline in the United States due to various factors, including zoning regulations and the housing boom that allowed middle-class families to afford their own homes3. Additionally, the rise of apartments and the bias towards nuclear families further marginalized boardinghouses2. Despite this, the notion of communal living persisted. In the 2010s, microapartments and co-living spaces started gaining popularity, echoing the traditional boardinghouse model with shared common areas3.

Boardinghouse living provides a unique blend of privacy and community, and its rich history contributes to understanding modern communal living arrangements. Recognizing what is a boardinghouse and its historical significance offers valuable insights into current trends in shared housing and community living

Traditional Boardinghouse Features

Traditional Boardinghouse features

Traditional boardinghouses have long been known for their unique blend of private rooms and communal spaces shared among tenants. These boardinghouse accommodations often include furnished rooms equipped with basic essentials, promoting a sense of homeliness and convenience. To provide a comprehensive understanding of these features, let’s delve into the common amenities and room and board provisions offered by traditional boardinghouses.

Common Amenities and Services

One of the standout traditional boardinghouse features is the array of common amenities provided to tenants. These typically include internet access, cable television, and inclusive utility payments, ensuring modern conveniences are readily available. Additionally, traditional boardinghouse accommodations often come with shared living areas, such as lounges and kitchens, which foster social interaction among tenants. In the 1860 census, New York State alone listed 2,651 boarding-house owners4.

Room and Board Provisions

Room and board provisions are a significant aspect of traditional boardinghouses, differentiating them from typical rental properties. These provisions generally cover lodging and essential services like meal preparation and laundry, though tenants may still have some responsibilities. Historically, menus in 19th-century American boardinghouses included cornbread, biscuits, eggs, fried meats, stews, roast beef, meat pies, puddings, pies, coffee, and tea4. In Boston during the 1830s, between one-third and one-half of the city’s population lived in a boarding house3, highlighting the importance of these accommodations during that era.

The diversity of services and communal living arrangements has allowed boardinghouses to cater to a wide range of demographics. By offering multiple amenities and services under one roof, traditional boardinghouse features have long provided a reliable and flexible living solution. These boardinghouse accommodations continue to bridge the gap between affordability and convenience, from business travelers to individuals in transition periods. The 1860 census further showed that between a third and a half of 19th-century urban residents either took in boarders or were boarders themselves4.

The Rise of Boardinghouses in Modern Times

Modern Boardinghouse living

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of boardinghouses as they adapt to modern housing needs and economic conditions. In the past, boarding houses were a prominent option in urban settings, with between 30% to 50% of urban dwellers living in or running boarding homes in the 19th century5. Today, modern boardinghouse living offers a flexible, cost-effective solution for many, meeting the demands of various demographics including students, professionals, and tourists.

Unlike other housing options, modern boardinghouses provide not only a place to stay but also enhance the communal living experience. This differentiates them from the often impersonal nature of hotels or the isolated environment of traditional apartment living. Boardinghouses offer a range of properties, from luxury accommodations to more budget-friendly options, making them accessible to a broad spectrum of individuals.

The appeal of boardinghouse vs. other housing options lies in their ability to create socially heterogeneous living spaces. Many people who are priced out of studio apartments can afford SROs (Single Room Occupancies), which are highly efficient in land use and cater to diverse groups6. In the 1830s, boarding houses accounted for up to half of New York City’s population, illustrating their historical significance and potential for reintegration into modern urban environments5.

As housing costs rise and wages stagnate, the need for affordable and sustainable living solutions becomes more critical6. By providing housekeeping services, community meals, and shared living spaces, modern boardinghouses represent a viable option for those seeking economic efficiency without compromising social interaction. The resurgence of boardinghouses reflects their adaptability and enduring relevance in meeting contemporary housing challenges.

What is a Boardinghouse?

Boardinghouse benefits

A boardinghouse is a residential arrangement where individual rooms are rented out, typically including shared common areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. This type of living environment is part of the larger shared economy, providing a communal and affordable living experience. Residents benefit from lower rental costs compared to traditional apartments, and the flexible lease terms often make it an attractive option for various individuals, from students to traveling professionals. For example, the author’s grandmother rented out two rooms in her three-bedroom home, showcasing a simple yet effective model of boardinghouse living1.

Boardinghouses serve not only as an economical housing solution but also create a rich, diverse community environment. The appeal of such living arrangements is rooted in their affordability and the unique social interaction they offer. In early 20th-century Chicago, boarding was particularly common among immigrants, with married women managing boarders and earning reliable income7. Contemporary boardinghouses continue this tradition, providing communal experiences akin to microapartments with shared common spaces3.

A diverse range of boardinghouse models exists today, from Bed and Breakfast setups to hosting foreign students, each with its unique set of boardinghouse benefits. The author’s acquaintance who helps convert vacant rentals into Airbnb spaces exemplifies the modern adaptation of boardinghouse practices1. In Boston during the 1830s, between one-third and one-half of the city’s population lived in boardinghouses, reflecting a historical precedent for shared living arrangements3.

Understanding the boardinghouse definition and its inherent benefits is crucial for those considering this living arrangement. Between the 19th century and the 1950s, boardinghouses were a staple in many US cities, with a significant portion of urban dwellers either renting rooms or being boarders themselves3. Today, they remain a viable housing option, offering economic and social advantages that few other living arrangements can match.

Types of Boardinghouses

Types of Boardinghouses

Boardinghouses have evolved to offer a variety of accommodation types geared towards different needs. These include bed and breakfast setups, student housing accommodations, and both short-term and long-term boardinghouse options.

Bed and Breakfast Setups

Bed and breakfast setups combine the cozy atmosphere of a traditional boarding house with the amenities typically found in hotels. This configuration provides guests with a personalized experience, often including home-cooked meals and intimate settings. These setups are designed to offer a homely environment, making them appealing choices for travelers seeking a break from the impersonal nature of hotels.

Student Housing Accommodations

Student housing accommodations are another prevalent form of boardinghouse. These facilities are tailored specifically for students, providing budget-friendly and sociable living arrangements. The inclusive utilities and shared spaces foster a community atmosphere, keeping living costs manageable for those pursuing education. In historic times, boardinghouses played a crucial role in urban student living, a trend that continues to this day.

Short-Term and Long-Term Options

Boardinghouses offer both short-term and long-term options, catering to residents’ varying tenure needs. In the 19th century, boardinghouses were common across many US cities, with between one-third to one-half of urban dwellers either renting rooms to boarders or being boarders themselves3. This flexibility made boardinghouses a popular choice for workers and transient residents alike. Today, short-term rentals, similar to those formerly found in microapartments, reflect an ongoing shift in housing trends, offering both week-to-week and long-term stays3.

Learn more about the history and evolution of boardinghouses.

Pros and Cons of Boardinghouse Living

Living in a boardinghouse comes with an array of benefits and potential drawbacks for renters. Understanding these can help individuals make informed decisions about their living arrangements.

Benefits for Renters

One of the primary benefits of boardinghouse living is affordability. Boardinghouses often provide lower rental costs compared to traditional apartment setups. They typically include utilities such as water, electricity, and internet, allowing tenants to worry less about extra bills. Another significant advantage is the inclusive services offered, such as cleaning and shared facilities, which can simplify residents’ daily lives.

Additionally, boardinghouses foster a sense of community, offering a ready-made social environment where tenants can easily interact and form friendships. This can be particularly advantageous for individuals relocating to a new city and looking to establish a social network quickly. Furthermore, the flexibility of lease terms in boardinghouses attracts many renters, providing them with options for both short-term and long-term stays.

Potential Drawbacks

Despite the numerous benefits of boardinghouse living, there are several boardinghouse living drawbacks to consider. Privacy is often a primary concern for tenants, as common areas are shared, and the proximity of rooms can lead to noise and disturbances. Another issue is the varying levels of maintenance provided by different boardinghouse operators, which can affect the overall quality of living.

Moreover, boardinghouses may pose challenges in terms of comfort due to limitations in hot water supply, heating, and cooling systems, which might not be as robust as in private residences8. The higher tenant turnover rate can also lead to a less stable living environment, potentially causing disruptions and a lack of consistency in the community.

Safety is another concern for boardinghouse tenants. Renting out a property as a boardinghouse may increase the risk of accidents like fires due to the presence of multiple tenants, necessitating property owners to install fire suppression or sprinkler systems to comply with safety regulations8. It’s also worth noting that in some areas, such as Fairfax County, there are rules against having more than four unrelated parties in a dwelling, which can affect the occupancy limit for boardinghouses8.

Overall, evaluating one’s lifestyle preferences and requirements is crucial when considering boardinghouse living. The benefits of boardinghouse living can outweigh the drawbacks for many, providing an affordable and community-driven housing option.

Legal Considerations for Boardinghouse Operators

Operating a boardinghouse entails navigating numerous legal requirements to ensure compliance and safeguard residents’ well-being. Understanding the licensing requirements for boardinghouses is crucial for all operators.

Licensing Requirements

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) plays a pivotal role in this arena, mandating annual inspections and licensing for rooming and boarding homes to ensure they meet specific safety and health standards9. For a comprehensive look at these requirements, you can refer to the regulations on your rights in a rooming or boarding home as linked here. Being well-versed in these requirements is essential for avoiding penalties and ensuring the longevity of the business.

Sanitary Code Compliance

Ensuring sanitary code compliance is another significant aspect for boardinghouse operators. This includes maintaining high standards of cleanliness and providing adequate bathroom facilities9. Compliance with sanitary codes helps prevent health issues and fosters a safe living environment, further cementing the boardinghouse’s credibility.

Local Ordinances and Zoning Regulations

Local ordinances and zoning regulations also come into play, affecting where and how boardinghouses can operate. These rules can dictate the permissible number of occupants, the uses of the facility, and even specific architectural standards to uphold the neighborhood’s character9. Mobile home park owners, for instance, must disclose all fees, charges, assessments, and rules to tenants in writing before moving in to comply with local standards9.

In conclusion, being fully informed about the boardinghouse operators legal considerations, licensing requirements for boardinghouses, and sanitary code compliance ensures a smooth operation. By adhering to these legal mandates, operators not only avoid penalties but also create a secure environment for thousands of residents, including the vulnerable populations who rely on these accommodations9.


Boardinghouses have long provided a valuable housing solution, offering an affordable blend of private and communal living spaces. This unique accommodation style caters to a diverse range of renters, including students, professionals, and temporary residents. In addition to the economic advantages, boardinghouses foster a strong sense of community, positioning themselves as a resilient option in the housing market.

In a challenging economy, the prevalence of rentals rises, often resulting in more residences being rented rather than owner-occupied within communities10. This trend has contributed to the increase in boarding, rooming, or “mini-dorm” houses where multiple tenants share a home to save on costs10. Homeowners benefit from this setup as it can lead to higher total rental income compared to traditional single-family rentals10. However, it’s crucial for operators to be aware of legal considerations, such as municipal permits and compliance with association CC&Rs, to avoid potential violations10.

As emphasized in cases like College Area Renters and Landlord Association v. City of San Diego and Colony Hill v. Ghamaty, the legal definitions of family living and single-family use provisions can significantly impact boardinghouse operations10. Detection and assessment of potential violations require careful evaluation by legal counsel on a case-by-case basis10. Understanding these complexities is essential for both the success and satisfaction of operators and tenants, ensuring that boardinghouses continue to thrive as a viable housing solution.


What is the definition of a boardinghouse?

A boardinghouse is a type of residential establishment that provides lodging and often meals and other services for rent. It typically includes individual rooms for tenants and shared communal areas.

What are some common amenities offered in a traditional boardinghouse?

Common amenities in traditional boardinghouses include internet access, cable television, inclusive utility payments, and communal spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms. Meals and services like laundry may also be provided.

How have boardinghouses evolved over time?

Boardinghouses have evolved from providing basic lodging for workers and travelers to offering a variety of options such as bed and breakfast setups, student housing, and short-term rentals like Airbnb. They now cater to diverse populations, including students, professionals, and tourists.

What is the historical significance of boardinghouses?

Historically, boardinghouses provided affordable accommodations for workers, students, and short-term renters. They have been featured in cultural narratives and played significant roles in community living, predating modern shared housing concepts.

What benefits do boardinghouses offer for renters?

Boardinghouses offer numerous benefits, including affordability, inclusive services, flexible lease terms, and a sense of community. They provide an alternative to traditional apartments and homes, often at a lower cost.

What are some potential drawbacks of boardinghouse living?

Potential drawbacks of boardinghouse living include a lack of privacy, varying levels of maintenance, and higher tenant turnover rates. The communal nature may not suit everyone, especially those who prefer quieter, more personal spaces.

What legal considerations must boardinghouse operators be aware of?

Boardinghouse operators need to comply with state and local regulations, including licensing requirements, sanitary code compliance, and zoning regulations. Adhering to safety and health standards is essential to operate legally and ensure resident well-being.

What are bed and breakfast setups in the context of boardinghouses?

Bed and breakfast setups combine the intimacy of a boardinghouse with the amenities of a hotel. They provide personalized lodging experiences along with breakfast, creating a homely environment for short-term stays.

How do boardinghouses compare to other housing options?

Boardinghouses provide a cost-effective and communal living experience compared to traditional apartments or homes. They offer flexible lease terms, inclusive services, and opportunities for social interaction, contrasting with more impersonal accommodations like hotels.

What types of boardinghouses are available?

Boardinghouse types include bed and breakfast setups, student housing accommodations, and both short-term and long-term rental options. Each type caters to different demographics and needs, ranging from luxury to budget-friendly.

What do room and board provisions typically include?

Room and board provisions in a boardinghouse typically include a furnished room for rent along with meals. Some boardinghouses might also offer additional services such as laundry and cleaning.

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