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What is Room and Board?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 23, 2024

Room and board is an offering of lodging and meals, usually in exchange for work. Families with large houses and an extra bedroom will commonly take in a domestic worker, for example, and offer room and board, plus a small salary. The salary takes into account that lodging and meals are being provided as the bulk of the compensation. The lodger in return has various duties, which might include anything from cleaning house, to taking care of an elderly or disabled person, to doing yard work, cooking, or caring for children.

The difference between room and board and "renting" is that the lodger normally has a private bedroom only and shares the rest of the house with the person or persons offering room and board. A renter, on the other hand, pays a monthly fee to a landlord for private living quarters complete with bathroom and kitchen, or in the case of a bachelor apartment, kitchenette. The renter lives and works independent of the landlord.

Another type of rental is "room for rent." Like room and board, this renter only gets a private bedroom in a house where the other facilities are shared. However, meals are not provided, nor is domestic work required. People who offer such an arrangement are simply looking to supplement their income to make a monthly rental or mortgage payment. The only real advantage to the renter is that it is much less expensive than renting an entire dwelling.

There are some areas where room and board and renting combine. Landlords of apartment buildings will often offer one of the apartments to a tenant free, along with a small salary, in exchange for the tenant being a full-time apartment manager for the building. This is essentially "room and board" since the landlord is paying for the apartment and meals by offering a small salary. However, it is normally not advertised using this name, as the tenant gets complete private living quarters. It is more commonly advertised as a managerial position.

Occasionally, room and board is offered for free out of the kindness of people's hearts. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005, many good Samaritans across the country offered temporary room and board to families in need.

Good will aside, most offers of room and board are made in exchange for work. Before entering into an agreement, it is in the best interest of both parties to talk out the conditions thoroughly and write up a detailed contract. The contract should not only stipulate the duties required of the lodger, but it should also list exceptions — what the lodger is not required to do. Will cooking be required? Laundry duties? Driving? If care for a disabled or elderly person is required, be sure the lodger is qualified.

Room and board can be a very beneficial situation for everyone involved. A lodger can move into a home and be gainfully employed while not having to worry about a place to live. The person offering the room also gets a good deal, as a spare bedroom is fairly useless, while a lodger can be a tremendous help to a family. When the match is a good one, everyone wins.

Anyone who is considering entering in a room and board agreement should speak to the neighbors of the prospective "employer" before accepting. The lodger should ask for a few phone numbers of long time friends or business associates that he or she can contact for character references. The same is true for the opposite party, especially if the lodger will be caring for children or the elderly or disabled. The renter should be sure to check qualifications, references and previous employers. Background checks are also an option.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon342613 — On Jul 22, 2013

Paying for room and board situations are common where we live, especially for university students. There are no specific laws pertaining to them in Alberta - only that the landlord must provide accommodations that follow the Public Health Act (clean, safe, and warm in the winter).

If someone is in a room and board situation that is toxic (uncooperative landlord), I'd say try to get out as soon as possible.

I lived in a room and board situation in university and it was okay, you really have to know each other well for it to work great. I often ate out and bought my own groceries as I had different food preferences.

We plan to rent out rooms and provide access to a shared kitchen and bathroom (no food provided). We will be charging $600 CAD/month per room, which is competitive in our area. I really don't want to have to cook for other people (it's challenging enough with kids!) - people are usually fine sharing space, but when it comes to food, often there's trouble.

Room and board in return for labor is not common here.

By anon327677 — On Mar 29, 2013

I would never advertise my place as room and board. You never know how much a person eats and he just may be taking the food somewhere else! Take a little less money and advertise the room as just that. They will get a room and share the rest of the house but they must buy their own food.

If they are really in a bad situation, I believe as long as there is a refrigerator they can apply and get food stamps. Hope this helps.

By anon309397 — On Dec 16, 2012

My husband (when we got married young and were first starting out) had a seasonal summer job and he would do little jobs here and there during the winter to make needed income. Sometimes his parents would ask him to help them with their job and that they would pay him some to help him out.

We were fine with helping them and getting paid very little for it because we were also getting to visit with them. We didn't get to see them very often and they lived hours away from us. We would be at their house for five days and his Mom would make sure to subtract room and board from his little bit of pay when we left.

If you are getting a visit from your child you don't see very often and getting some needed help along with it, is when you shouldn't charge room and board.

By anon163238 — On Mar 26, 2011

So my husband and I are in a room and board home that includes utilities, food, cable tv, and a house phone. Really good situation.

Only for the $800 we pay, and the 650 the other house mates pay, we are not getting our appropriate share of food, and the landlord says all the money is going on utility expenses. He says he is not making any money off us, and he does not let us pay with a money order, only cash. The food he buys is all cheap tv dinners and no fresh fruit or veggies. Where can we go to get help?

By anon161395 — On Mar 19, 2011

I have two people staying for room and board. They both make more than my wife and I. My bills are over the top, water, power and gas. We did not know that you had to also feed them as well. The one buys her own groceries and the other one was, but recently we started noticing that the small amounts of food that we can afford are going very quick.

Pretty soon, I could be living on the street because of the triple increase on my utilities and food now. The amount that I get from them for room and board, can I just deduct for the room and not for food?

By Doctan — On Jun 08, 2010

I just posted anon. I posted the story about room and board and the fact we are finding it to be a nightmare! please help!

By anon89030 — On Jun 08, 2010

We are currently involved in a room and board situation. Never again! The person is eating us out of house and home!

My wife had made the "deal" with him, that he would get suppers only as part of his room and board. He eats all day long, and when we are asleep.

This is costing us more than he is paying to be sure.

Does anyone know if there is a "guideline" for room and board to speak of, i.e., room plus breakfast/supper or is it just supper and so on?

By anon22925 — On Dec 12, 2008

What are the Income tax, social security tax and medicare obligations from perspective of both parties?

By bella — On Dec 09, 2008

Code Enforcement Strike Team illegal boarding houses. i have a court order to be in court because i have give shelter to my brother and his family and i do have 4 room mates my basement is also rent it. i need it to make the mortgage payment and i need it help i just got divorce and this is the way i help myself to cover my rent

i do work and i have a big house for me and my 4 children i told why not. now i have a court order what should i do i can not afford an attorney.

By anon18998 — On Oct 03, 2008

Room and board positions are a good idea, especially to those who have no place to stay and little to nothing on their resume. It's just too bad there aren't enough of such positions, otherwise homelessness wouldn't exist.

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