Rooming house

A rooming house, also called a "multi-tenant house", is a "dwelling with multiple rooms rented out individually", in which the tenants share bathroom and kitchen facilities. Rooming houses are often used as housing for low-income people, as rooming houses (along with Single Room Occupancy units in hotels) are the least expensive housing for single adults, with rents in the $300-$425 CAD range. Rooming houses are usually owned and operated by private landlords. Rooming houses are better described as a "living arrangement" rather than a specially "built form" of housing; rooming houses involve people who are not related living together, often in an existing house, and sharing a kitchen, bathroom, and in some cases a living room or dining room. While there are purpose-built rooming houses, these are rare.

In one Ottawa study, more than 50% of the occupants in rooming houses were found to have mental health diagnoses. A 1998 study of Toronto rooming house residents found that they had poorer health than the general population and low incomes.

Not all rooming houses are legal, inspected units, as landlords also rent out unlicensed rooms. In Winnipeg, four branches of city government regulate rooming houses: a licensing branch, a business branch, a "livability" living standards bylaw and the fire prevention branch. The livability standards bylaw requires at least one bathroom for 10 residents (some health researchers have called for one bathroom for every four tenants).

In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, the provincial government have funding programs that provides financial assistance to owners and landlords of rooming houses that serve low-income people; the funding must be used to do repairs of a structural, electrical, plumbing, or fire safety nature.

Prior to the 1920s, commercial rooming houses were often former boardinghouses. After the US Civil War, boarding houses became less common, declining from 40% of rental listings in 1875 (in San Francisco) to 10% in 1900, and less than 1% by 1910. One reason for this change was that in the decades after the 1880s, urban reformers began working on modernizing cities; their efforts to create "uniformity within areas, less mixture of social classes, maximum privacy for each family, much lower density for many activities, buildings set back from the street, and a permanently built order" all meant that housing for single people had to be cut back or eliminated. By the early 1930s, urban reformers were typically using codes and zoning to enforce "uniform and protected single-use residential district[s] of private houses", the reformers' preferred housing type. In 1936, the FHA Property Standards defined a dwelling as "any structure used principally for residential purposes", noting that "commercial rooming houses and tourist homes, sanitariums, tourist cabins, clubs, or fraternities would not be considered dwellings" as they did not have the "private kitchen and a private bath" that reformers viewed as essential in a "proper home".

By 1910, commercial rooming houses began to resemble an "inexpensive hotel", with multi-story buildings, often 25 to 40 years old, with the owners using the house as an income property. The operators, typically former boarding house managers, were getting out of the business of providing meals. This enabled the owner to convert the shared dining room and parlour into additional rental rooms and stop paying for the preparation of meals. There were often sixteen to eighteen rooms, with either central heating or tiny in-room heating stoves. A single bathroom was usually provided, with hot water only available on certain days and limits to the number of baths allowed per week. Blacks were not allowed in most rooming houses, due to segregation, except in black rooming houses. Old run-down hotels were converted into rooming houses. Some entrepreneurs even converted empty warehouses into inexpensive rooming houses. Prior to 1900, elevators were rare, so rooming house residents had to climb stairs. The hasty conversion of old houses and warehouses into blocks of rooms typically meant that the walls were thin, so residents could hear each other.

In the 1930s and 1940s, "rooming or boarding houses had been taken for granted as respectable places for students, single workers, immigrants, and newlyweds to live when they left home or came to the city". In Toronto, rooming houses were common in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, because "wealthy homeowners" who had guest houses would rent out empty rooms to be able to keep their homes. After WWII, the city ensured that rooming house spaces were available for returning soldiers. In 1949, a sociologist called a Los Angeles rooming house neighbourhood a "universe of anonymous transients." Since traditional class roles were based around home and family, residents in rooming houses did not fit into working class, middle class or upper class patterns; instead, they were in a sort of "social and cultural limbo", with many hoping to rise.

By 2014, rooming houses were disappearing from Winnipeg due to a complicated regulatory framework involving multiple government departments and "market pressure" in the housing market. A 2014 report about Toronto rooming houses noted the increase in suburban rooming houses, often in basements; this change challenges the perception that rooming houses are just an inner city phenomenon.



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