The recent decline in the housing market has caused many property owners to utilize their properties as rooming houses with short term of transient tenants in order to keep them rented or otherwise occupied. While this may be an alternative to a property sitting vacant, it may not be permitted by local zoning codes or ordinances and even in some cases, contrary to state regulatory laws.
Often a single-family residence or other type of dwelling such as a duplex or triplex that seems to be occupied by several unrelated adults may cause neighbors to wonder if the property is being used as a an illegal rooming house. This situation may cause neighbors to feel that this may have a negative effect on their neighborhood if unregulated. In some cases, there are exceptions that allow single-family residences or dwellings to be utilized as a legal rooming-house, halfway-house or other approved community based residential facility in residential neighborhoods. It is important however, that any such facility be operated and occupied lawfully and licensed by a responsible governmental agency that regulates or approves such type of use. For the purposes of this article the term rooming house will be synonymous with boarding house, halfway home or transient residential facility.
A rooming house is commonly described as a house where there is one or more rooms that are rented, leased or otherwise occupied by persons that are not a single-household unit and does not contain cooking facilities inside the rooms.
There are many concerns with properties that are being used as illegal rooming houses. Here are just a few:
· If the residents do not have lease or rental agreements to reside in the property, they may feel that the landlord or owner can request that they leave at any time.
· In the case of an emergency, residents may be reluctant to call for police or medical assistance to the home or may need to get approval first from other residents or the property overseer.
· Often permits are not obtained for work done to the property such as repairs, renovations or additions to ensure that the work is done properly and inspected by certified building and/or zoning inspectors.
· There may be an increased chance of fire from overloaded lines, inadequate emergency apparatus such as exit signs, lighting, smoke alarms and fire suppression equipment.
· The occupants of an illegal rooming house may be reluctant to call their local jurisdictions code enforcement or building division for minimum housing concerns and may be forced to live in substandard housing conditions.
· Occupants of an illegal rooming house may not have any control over who else lives or is allowed to move into the property which can be problematic to ensuring a harmonious living arrangement.
· A person or entity that provides short term or transient type of living arrangements for compensation may be required to collect and submit sales taxes to their departments of revenues similar to the requirements for operators of bed and breakfasts inns, hotels, or motels unless they meet some sort of exemption provided by law, such as a lease or rental agreement.
If a property in question is possibly no longer being utilized for single family occupancy, a concerned neighbor may want to contact their local building, zoning or code enforcement agency and in some cases their local and state revenue and business regulation departments. There are many signs or “red flags” that may often indicate that a property that was once occupied by a single-family is now being utilized for a different type of occupancy:
· If there appears to be a many residents of a home that do not appear to be related and do not know each others full names, chances are they are only renting rooms or space in the home and not living as a single household unit. However, because there are often persons that live together that may not be related, such as the case with roommates or persons who are not married, many local ordinances do not define a family in a traditional sense of being related by blood or marriage but rather as a single household unit regardless of relationship.Family members may also include persons such as live-in caretakers, gratuitous guests and domestic servants but may not include paying guests.
· If there is a lot of pedestrian traffic in and out of a residence at all times of the day or night or there are a large number cars on the property for the amount of provided parking or less cars on a property occupied by many persons of driving age, these situations will not give the appearance of a typical single-family occupancy.
· If there are signs that the property has been altered or subdivided into many separate rooms or living units without permits or inspections by the local building inspectors or additional mailboxes or unit numbers have been added to the exterior of a residence.
· The residents of the property have limited access into other rooms or parts of the property or there are doors that are padlocked from the outside.
· The property is owned by a person or business entity that does not have a license to operate a community based facility or has a local business tax registration or business occupational license if required.
If the use of the property has been approved or licensed as a proper residential facility by a local or state government agency that provides housing, social, health or supervised services, then the use of the property would be lawful. Generally, a halfway home or other community based residential facility is regulated by the agency that utilizes their services. However, if the property is not licensed then you may need to verify whether or not the property use is lawful or if it meets any exemption from local, county or state regulation. In some cases, a property that is not being utilized for the purposes intended by the jurisdictions zoning code may not be allowed to continue to operate unless properly licensed, permitted or exempt from local regulation.
Properties that are licensed and properly managed are usually viewed as beneficial to a community as it provides needed housing and services that are suitable for residential areas. These properties are often inspected on a routine basis and entry into the property by local code inspectors is usually provided by the manager or owner with little resistance, helping to ensure that any code or minimum housing violations are addressed by both the inspectors and property owner. In the case of the elderly, many states view the care and ability to provide proper housing for persons who may need assistance with living in residential areas as essential.