House Hacking

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Licensing requirements STR vs rooming house in Columbus?

Posted Jul 30 2022, 15:44

So in Columbus you need a "rooming house license" if you're renting by the room and rent out 3 or more rooms in the same house. Of course lots of people do it illegally, but that's what the law says. There is no exception for owner occupied houses, so even if you occupy one bedroom in a 4 BR house you can't rent out all 3 of the other rooms without this license. Or if you have a 3BR that isn't owner occupied, you can't rent out all 3 of the rooms. But a requirement for getting a rooming house license is the parcel must be zoned appropriately. We found a SFH for sale near downtown and contacted Columbus zoning and gave the address and asked if it was zoned for a rooming house licence. They said that this particular house was zoned R2 residential and a rooming house license requires AR3 AR4 or AR0 multifamily zoning. Which makes it almost impossible to rent a SF by the room legally in Columbus because there are almost no SFs that have multifamily zoning.

But in Columbus you can get a "short term rental license" if you're renting by the room and rent out 5 or fewer rooms in a house out, so long as they are offered for a rental term of less than 30 days.  The law says specifically that a short term rental license is different than a rooming house license and that a property can only have one or the other.  There is no mention of zoning in the Columbus law about getting a short term rental license.

So it seems to me that under the current law you could get a STR licence and rent out up to 5 rooms pretty much like a rooming house without having to jump through the multifamily zoning hoop. I'm thinking you could rent short term for an initial period and then offer month-to-month or longer. There is a 5% excise tax you have to collect and remit, but only on short term rentals, so if a tenant does go month to month you could stop collecting that. Some complications to be careful about to get and renew the STR license annually, but nothing as uphill as trying to get a zoning variance.

I got a son who wants to start college downtown at Columbus State, and has just enough money to buy a SF nearby as his first investment property.  We're thinking this house-hack strategy has very attractive numbers and it seems within the letter of the law.  Thoughts?

Columbus, Ohio

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Thomas O'Donnell
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Columbus, OH
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Thomas O'Donnell
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Columbus, OH
Replied Jul 31 2022, 12:56

I just moved to Columbus a week ago to start house-hacking. I have not yet bought anything but I am currently searching and going through my pre-approval process. Thank you for this post as it was very informative and I did not know this is actually how it works out here. I have been looking at mostly 3 bedroom SFH and planning to rent out two of the rooms. With what you are saying, I can legally rent out the other two rooms correct? And nothing would be required of me such as obtaining a certain license?

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Steven Wilson
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Columbus, OH
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Steven Wilson
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Columbus, OH
Replied Aug 1 2022, 07:40
Quote from @Lisa Barnes:

So in Columbus you need a "rooming house license" if you're renting by the room and rent out 3 or more rooms in the same house. Of course lots of people do it illegally, but that's what the law says. There is no exception for owner occupied houses, so even if you occupy one bedroom in a 4 BR house you can't rent out all 3 of the other rooms without this license. Or if you have a 3BR that isn't owner occupied, you can't rent out all 3 of the rooms. But a requirement for getting a rooming house license is the parcel must be zoned appropriately. We found a SFH for sale near downtown and contacted Columbus zoning and gave the address and asked if it was zoned for a rooming house licence. They said that this particular house was zoned R2 residential and a rooming house license requires AR3 AR4 or AR0 multifamily zoning. Which makes it almost impossible to rent a SF by the room legally in Columbus because there are almost no SFs that have multifamily zoning.

But in Columbus you can get a "short term rental license" if you're renting by the room and rent out 5 or fewer rooms in a house out, so long as they are offered for a rental term of less than 30 days.  The law says specifically that a short term rental license is different than a rooming house license and that a property can only have one or the other.  There is no mention of zoning in the Columbus law about getting a short term rental license.

So it seems to me that under the current law you could get a STR licence and rent out up to 5 rooms pretty much like a rooming house without having to jump through the multifamily zoning hoop. I'm thinking you could rent short term for an initial period and then offer month-to-month or longer. There is a 5% excise tax you have to collect and remit, but only on short term rentals, so if a tenant does go month to month you could stop collecting that. Some complications to be careful about to get and renew the STR license annually, but nothing as uphill as trying to get a zoning variance.

I got a son who wants to start college downtown at Columbus State, and has just enough money to buy a SF nearby as his first investment property.  We're thinking this house-hack strategy has very attractive numbers and it seems within the letter of the law.  Thoughts?


 You can defiantly do that. Especially by Columbus State there are HUGE houses in Old Towne East and surrounding areas. I think this would be a great opportunity for your son to also learn about the business and have some responsibility in managing it. 

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Joe Miller
  • Realtor
  • Columbus, OH
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Joe Miller
  • Realtor
  • Columbus, OH
Replied Aug 1 2022, 10:08

Yes, you can absolutely rent out by the bedroom legally. With the right property you can definitely live rent free and even make a little money!

Real Estate Agent Ohio (#2021000671)

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Replied Aug 1 2022, 10:21
Quote from @Thomas O'Donnell:

I just moved to Columbus a week ago to start house-hacking. I have not yet bought anything but I am currently searching and going through my pre-approval process. Thank you for this post as it was very informative and I did not know this is actually how it works out here. I have been looking at mostly 3 bedroom SFH and planning to rent out two of the rooms. With what you are saying, I can legally rent out the other two rooms correct? And nothing would be required of me such as obtaining a certain license?


If you rent only 1 or 2 rooms out long term (30+ days), you don't need any license.  If you rent them out short term (under 30 days), you need to get the short term rental license and collect the excise tax.