Would a Boarding House Be Viable in 2014?

You don’t hear much about boarding houses (or people living in them) much these days, primarily since they went out of fashion after the post-war economic boom.

However, I see no reason why they can’t make a comeback, especially in this rotten economy. Look at it this way: Joe Millenial leaves college with a McJob (if he can get one at all) and tens of thousands in student loan debt. He could move back in with his parents (which many, many have done and are continuing to do); he can rent a crappy apartment in a slum and slog it out day by day, having enough money for ramen noodles, video games, and weed, and not much else; or he can find an old spinster who rents out a room for $x per week and provides meals.

Seems to me that this is an old-timey business model that is poised to make a comeback.

What say you?

I think the problem with a boarding house is that they come with rules. So if you’re ok with rules, why pay to live under the rules of Old Lady Jones when you could live with your parents for cheaper and follow their rules? And if you don’t like rules, you’re better off living in your own place, not a boarding house.

That, and most folks these days are equally uncomfortable a.) sharing their home with a stranger and/or b.) living under the same roof as a perfect stranger. Serial killers an’ all, y’know.

I thought it was still pretty common for people in college towns and expensive real-estate areas to live in boarding house set ups. I’m in northern VA in a suburb of DC, and I know lots of people living this way. They have to work around the anti-boarding house laws, though.

Wow! I was just perusing some “Our Boarding House” comic strips the other day, and was wondering the same thing. Here is an opinion piece by Neal Peirce asking for the return of boarding houses.

Finding someone to rent short term for cheap and cook for you seems unlikely today.
I would also be afraid of having complete strangers in my house.

“Let those rooms out!” ~ Mama Gump

Well, a market-based approach to this problem would be this: Old Lady Jones rules the house with an iron first: you have a curfew, you are not allowed guests of the opposite sex, there are weekly room inspections, etc. Old Lady Smith is a mellow ex-hippie who doesn’t mind passing the bong around, and will tolerate all manner of sex as long as you aren’t disturbing the neighbors, and will loan you her copy of Grand Theft Auto V. So Joe Millenial will have a choice of where to spend his room & board budget.

For a very loose definition of “boarding house,” there’s kind of one in my suburb. It’s known as the “<Suburb Name> Hotel” and it’s my understanding that tenants there rent out rooms that are much like efficiencies with some sort of small kitchen and bathroom facilities. (Clearly, I’ve never been inside.) So, not so much a boarding house with a “mom” and meals, but still a bunch of unrelated people living inside one facility. It’s not really an apartment (much fewer of the apartment amenities and a much more transient population), but not really a long-term hotel, either.

Apparently it fills a niche.

In another scenario: It becomes difficult in the (apparently fairly common) case of Jane Millenial, with McJob (if any) and two or three McKids but no McHubby, and possibly only a high-school McEducation. However common this kind of McJane may be, she would have a hard time finding a suitable boarding-house place to live.

(Yes, I live in a low-income McApartment complex with exactly such a McNeighbor, who really is part-time under-employed and under-paid at McDonald’s, and is chronically late paying her rent and other bills. To help her out, the apartment McManagement charges her an extra $50 every month for being late with her rent.)

Lived in one when I was in my early twenties. There still are tons of residential motels around here (NW Suburbs of Chicago). Complete with a small kitchen, their own bathroom and $100+ something a week. You make your own food so that’s where it differs from a true boarding house.

I once ran a rooming house. The governmental regulations are unbelievable, and (sorry to say) you do not get the best caliber of tenants. Both the city and state have to inspect and permit costs paid.

If you read the “Housing Wanted” section of Craigslist (esp the “Rooms/Shared”), you’ll find (really sad)* posts from people who have little money, but are offering all they can for a room.
There is even one running looking to exchange her companionship for room, utilities, AND board.
Whether these people are “safe” is an open question, but the only places I’ve seen that might accept them are “listen to the sermon to get your soup” places.
There is a market - maybe the local gov’t can issue vouchers good for a room at a certified ™ establishment?

We no longer trust each other** - now, both parties will need some kind of testing and certification

There are several colleges here and one group is looking for people to host international students - offering $700/mo. If I were first or second gen and spoke the language and have a family already, maybe adding another mouth for $700/mo might be a good deal.

    • please do not hijack this into "most pathetic/funniest ad - yes, there seem to be a large nuber of people who think there are cute little cottages which they can have for $100/mo and get cable and wifi, too! This isn’t about them

** - This ithe town where they dug up the remains of several old men - the landlady kept getting their SS checks, so didn’t want them being listed as dead. That was a room and board operation.

I think that current food handling regulations would make it very difficult to provide the board part of the service at a reasonable price.

I did, however, live in essentially this kind of business in Toronto in 2003. I was only in town for a 4 month co-op position and all the standard apartment buildings wanted a year or longer lease. So I rented a room from a widow who usually had 2 or 3 tenants upstairs while she lived downstairs. I didn’t really have a place to cook and I shared bathroom facilities with the other tenants, but it was cheap.

Also, the availability of cheap, easily prepared, microwavable food (and fast food) undercuts the attraction of such a service even if it could be offered. Even the most layabout bachelor can eat pretty well these days, and that kicks out the biggest prop of the classical boarding house.

They do still exist, but they cater to people who are necessarily people you want in your neighborhood. Or at least that is what one Seattle neighborhood thinks.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Zoning is one thing that makes it difficult to impossible in most localities for Widow Jones to turn her house into a rooming or boarding house. If she’s already been doing business that way for eons, then it’s probably grandfathered (grandmothered?) in. Back in the Depression, zoning wasn’t much of a problem.

  2. Another thing about taking a largish single-family residence and turning it into a rooming or boarding house is, the renters get to share bathrooms with total strangers. A lot of people are downright uncomfortable with that.

In big cities, group housing is the norm for students and young professionals (I’d say half my friends live in one$. A typical group house in DC would be a row house with 3-5 bedrooms, each renting for $500-$1,200 depending on the location. Bathrooms and common areas would be shared.

Some are more cohesive and co-op like and have shared food and planned events. Others are looser and less personal. Most are well maintained and have tasteful furniture and decorations, much like a family home.

Housemates are found on Craig’s List, student listservs and friends. They are usually rigorously screened via apps and interviews to ensure the fit the feel of the house.

Anyway, I think that has taken the place of boarding houses. I agree the advent of easy prep food, washing machines, etc. probably contributed to the shift.

Share rentals are more expensive than some (most?) of the CL posters are looking for.
Very few actually put it up front that they are facing the street and will take any enclosed space or part of a space.
For those people, sharing a crapper is not a biggie - they want warm, dry - even “safe” is in play for some.
I attended Purdue, many years ago. With the recent news out of West LaughALot, I went to Google maps to look up an address mentioned.

I was stunned. All those funky old houses which the students used to occupy have been replaced with medium-to-high density apartment complexes. Almost the entire area west of campus is gone, as is the strip along the river.

Amazingly, the old Greek (sorority and fraternity) houses were smashed - and those were not tacky old SFD’s.

The campus is all red brick buildings, arranged in rectilinear fashion. Boring as hell. Now, that cookie-cutter has infected the entire town.

No more “6 students and 2 freeloaders” places.

I think a lot of cities have a weekly/monthly rate type motel; we call them Heartbreak Hotels and they do fill a need.

There’s a version of the boarding house that’s still thriving. They’re referred to as crash pads and used primarily by airline employees. They’re often used by low seniority folks who can get relocated often.

Monthly rent is pretty low, and they have the advantage that most of the occupants are traveling at any given time. My youngster rents one of these in Newark, and says he rarely finds more the 2 of his 10 housemates present when he’s home. They seem to be houses that are converted to 10+ small bedrooms, with a common kitchen and 3 or more shared baths. A lot of them run an on-demand shuttle service to/from the airport (and the occupants can pick up extra $$ volunteering to drive while they’re in “port”).

Not exactly the boarding houses you’re describing, but it’s quite similar.