What is a rooming house?

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David Brown and Geoff Ketcham

First, you need to figure out whether you are living in a rooming house, also sometimes called a lodging house, boarding house, or single-room-occupancy dwelling (SRO). The most important features of a rooming house are:

  1. You rent a single room (as opposed to an entire apartment), and
  2. There are four or more renters living there who are not related to the person operating the rooming house.2

The person operating or "conducting" the rooming house could be the landlord (or owner), the manager of the dwelling, or could be a primary tenant who sublets rooms to four or more unrelated people.3

Other features that commonly, but do not always, characterize a rooming house are:

  • You share a kitchen with other residents or have no kitchen;
  • You share a bathroom with other residents;
  • You pay your rent daily or weekly.


2 . G.L. c. 140, §22. Fraternities and dormitories of educational institutions are included within this definition. The definition of a lodging house excludes: (1) licensed dormitories of charitable or philanthropic institutions; (2) convalescent or nursing homes or group homes licensed under G.L. c. 111, §71; and (3) rest homes or group residences licensed by the state.
Residents of these excluded dwellings, while not legally "lodgers," may still be considered "tenants" in certain situations. For example, residents in a Y.M.C.A. are usually not "lodgers" under G.L. c. 140, §22 because they are living in "dormitories of charitable or philanthropic institutions." These residents could, however, be considered "tenants" if they have lived there on a long-term basis. "The differences between a rooming house or a lodging house and the Y.M.C.A. are not sufficiently material to deprive long-term residents of tenancy status." Hain v. Turpin, Boston Housing Court, 15586 (Daher, C.J., Aug. 4, 1983 see also Barry v. Greater Boston Y.M.C.A., Boston Housing Court, 10286 (Daher, C.J., Mar. 28, 1980) ("a tenancy can be established by the parties, no matter what the premises are called; the parties, by their actions, rather than by nomenclature, define whether their relationship is that of a licensee or tenant").
A resident in a community residence operated by the state may also be able to establish a tenancy. Ballassaree v. Erich Lindemann Center, Boston Housing Court, 12446 (Daher, C.J., Aug. 11, 1981). If a tenancy cannot be established, a resident of a community program licensed, operated, or funded by the Department of Mental Health (see the section on Department of Mental Health Residential Housing at the end of this chapter) who has been asked to leave has a right to either a regular court eviction hearing or a hearing before a DMH hearing officer to determine if the eviction is justified. The legal status of homeless shelters, transitional housing programs, and battered women's shelters has not been definitively established. If you are seeking information as to your rights under these non-traditional housing situations, you should seek legal advice, as the analysis is complex.

3 . See also Hall v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Edgartown, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 249 (1990) (analysis of a local zoning by-law as to whether properties were being used as "lodging houses" as that term appeared in the zoning by-law definition of "transient residential facilities." Court permitted "owners, or tenants who reside on the premises … to have up to four boarders" without being considered a transient residential facility. The decision does not affect the G.L. c. 140, §22 definition of lodging houses. see also Sang Vo, v. City of Boston, U.S. Dist. Ct. Civil Action 01-11338-RWZ (Memorandum of Decision and Order), 2003 WL 22174432 (D. Mass., Sept. 22, 2003 see also Consent Decree applicable to the City of Boston, 2005 WL 3627054 (D. Mass., Jan. 24. 2005).


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