A roomer is someone who rents a room within a house, usually for a very short period of time. This arrangement is common for college students and people who are in transition to a new apartment or home. While a roomer is not always technically protected under state landlord-tenant laws, many municipalities will defend the roomer's rights as if he were a tenant, especially when there is a written lease.
The roomer agreement is outlined in a lease between the homeowner and roomer. It is similar to a traditional lease but often shorter and less detailed. Many roomer leases are set up for a month-to-month or even week-to-week arrangement instead of a year like many standard tenant agreements. Rules regarding roomers vary by state.
A roomer has a right to a safe, secure and habitable room. There must be secure locks on the front doors (though the landlord may not be required to place a lock on the roomer's door) and repairs must be made to protect the roomer from hurting himself. The landlord must also ensure that the roomer has access to heat and electricity, which is usually included in the rent.
The right to access certain areas of the home is determined by the lease. Some roomers may be restricted to one bedroom and bathroom inside of a home, while others will be given access to all common areas of the home. A tenant who is renting a room in a house has the right to a private room, though it may be difficult to prove and defend against a landlord who enters the room at will, being that the landlord lives in the same household. Technically the landlord should not be entering the tenant's room without notice unless there is an emergency.
Like standard tenants, a roomer must be given reasonable notice before he has to vacate the premises, usually 15 to 30 days (this varies depending on the state). Even if there isn't a lease many states will consider someone who has been living in the house for an extended period of time (at least two to three months) to be a tenant. If the roomer can prove the length of his tenancy, such as with a piece of mail with his name on it along with the address, the landlord will need to go through an official eviction if the tenant refuses to leave willfully.
If the roomer was required to put a security deposit down to cover damages and non-payment of rent per the lease agreement, that security deposit must be returned at the end of the lease. The rule in most states is that the deposit has to be returned within 30 days. If the deposit is not returned on time, the roomer has the right to sue in court and may win two to three times the amount (as long as she has a written roomer lease and payment receipts to prove her case).