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.