How to Set Up a Boarding House

Boarding houses provide inexpensive rooms for long-term or temporary lodging. Historically, a rooming house provided only rooms while a boarding house provided meals and other services. Today, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Setting up a boarding house entails more than posting a room-for-rent sign. Owners and operators of boarding houses must be aware of local laws and plan for issues of safety and liability.

Write a plan for the operation of your boarding house. Your plan should begin with research into the operation of boarding houses in your city or county and should include the amount of rent, provisions for security deposits, the lease, resident screening, tenant rules, and the cost of operating the boarding house, including income and expenses.

Review the legal definition of boarding houses in your city or county. For example, the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, defines a rooming or boarding house as a modified single-family home consisting of separate living units. The owner lives in a boarding house. The owner does not live in a rooming house.

Check the zoning laws in your area. Some governments restrict the operation of boarding houses in some zoning areas. Zoning laws might prohibit boarding houses in specific areas or restrict the number of boarders allowed in one boarding house. Zoning laws might require you to register your boarding house with zoning or housing agencies.

Inspect the property you intend to use for a boarding house and correct any safety concerns, such as lead paint, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, window and door locks and appliances provided in the house. Local laws often require specific safety measures in boarding houses.

Purchase the appropriate insurance for your boarding house. Local laws might specify the type and amount of insurance required to operate a boarding house. A lawyer or insurance agent can help you determine the insurance you need.

Apply for licensing if required by your jurisdiction. For example, New Jersey’s Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards requires the operators of boarding houses to comply with the Rooming and Boarding House Act of 1979 to receive the license required to operate a boarding house. Your jurisdiction might require adherence to similar standards, including record-keeping and insurance.

Install locks on entry and room doors and make enough keys to keep copies and provide copies to tenants.

Purchase the furniture you intend to provide in bedrooms and in common areas, such as the kitchen and living room. Furnish other items you intend to provide, such as appliances, dishes, cookware and bed and bath linens.

Post rules for safety and prohibited behavior, such as smoking or overnight guests, in each room of your boarding house.

Advertise your rooms for rent and have prospective tenants complete applications, after which you should perform background and reference checks.


About the Author

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.