We tend to think of hotels as fancy places to hang out in while on vacation, but historically, they haven’t always been only for short-term stays. As far back as the 1870s, residential hotels in New York City served as permanent addresses for families and single men who unable to afford their own servants; according to the New York Times, the practice increased in popularity (and prestige) through the easy-money 1920s, until the Great Depression brought about its mainstream demise. Yet the residential hotel has never gone away entirely—and amid the current housing crunch, it might even seen like a viable alternative to signing a lease.
As landlords emerge from COVID-mandated eviction moratoriums, rents are rising faster than heat wave temperatures—four times faster than incomes, with the median rent across the country recently topping $2,000 for the first time ever. These dire circumstances have some considering a counterintuitive solution: full-time hotel living. And there actually are some compelling reasons to consider the option if you’re having trouble finding an affordable place to live—but only if saving money isn’t your main motivation.
Not all hotels allow long-term residents
The first thing to figure out is whether you even have the option. Not all hotels or hotel chains are open to the idea of long-term residents. If you’re searching online, you’ll find that most hotel websites limit a booking to 28 days.
One thing you should not do under any circumstances is book a hotel room and simply refuse to leave. Even if you’re paying your nightly fee, if the hotel has a policy against full-time residents, they will eventually kick you out—and it’s a lot easier for a hotel to evict you than a regular landlord. If you’re planning a full-time stay, you’re going to have to clear it with the hotel first.
You can avoid some of this awkwardness by aiming for what’s known as an “extended stay” hotel. These hotels offer apartment-style suites designed for longer-term living, and since their whole business model is centered on long-term guests, it’s the easiest and safest option.
Then there are motels, which typically offer fewer niceties and amenities than hotels, and have been the last-resort housing for the working poor for decades. If you can’t get a security deposit together and/or your credit score is in the crapper, renting an apartment is often impossible, but an extended stay at a motel is an option if you can cover the nightly rent. Most motels will let you stay for as long as you continue to pay your bills, and just like hotels, there are specific extended-stay motels like Extended Stay America or Motel 6’s Studio 6. Depending on location, rates for these extended-stay motels can be significantly less than a hotel.
How much does living in a hotel cost?
Hotel room rates rise and fall on a daily basis depending on what’s going on in the area, general demand, and other factors. Right now, the average cost of a hotel room in the U.S. is about $200 a night, which works out to roughly $6,000 a month. Extended-stay hotel rates are typically between $5,200 and $7,200 per month. This is obviously higher than average rents, even in cities with a high cost of living.
Motels are a lot less fancy and a lot more affordable, with nightly rates ranging from $45 to $100 (or more) depending on the location, and extended-stay motel rates range between $90 and $125 a night, for an overall motel stay range of $1,350 to $3,750 a month). But keep in mind that lower rates will be found at locations in more undesirable areas, as motels tend to be situated near major roads and away from city centers.
The pros and cons of living in a hotel
While motels can sometimes be a relative cheap housing option, the financial advantages for full-time hotel/motel living stem from their flexibility (generally: no lease, no security deposit, and no credit check required; you’re all set as long as you have a valid method of payment—including cash) and the included amenities.
Even living in a modest motel means you’re not paying separate utilities bills for electricity, water, heat, and likely even TV and internet. The room will be cleaned regularly, you’ll get free toiletries, and the sheets and towels will be washed and replaced. You’ll often get free local calls, too. In many hotels, you can also count on the use of a gym facility included in your rate, free coffee and tea, and maybe even a free breakfast every morning. That’s a lot of stuff you’re not paying for on top of your rent—so while you might wind up paying a monthly cost comparable or greater than the rents in your area, you could save some money based on what it covers.
On the other hand, there are plenty of downsides to hotel/motel living:
- Storage. Hotel rooms aren’t designed to hold a lot of stuff. You’ll definitely have to downsize your life, or invest in a storage solution, which will impact your budget.
- Aesthetics. Finding a well-priced hotel room for a long-term stay probably means it won’t look like fancy resort. You’ll likely have to put up with well-worn furnishings and uninspiring interior design—and there are even more restrictions on what you can do to personalize the place than in a rental.
- No real kitchen. Most regular motel and hotel rooms won’t a cooking area to speak of, save for perhaps a microwave and a drink cooler (not to be confused with a mini-fridge). Most extended-stay hotel and motel rooms have kitchenettes, but they may not be particularly large or well-equipped.
- No sense of community. Having any sort of relationship with your neighbors is next to impossible in a hotel, because chances are good they’ll be gone within a few days. Living in a permanent state of impermanence takes a psychological toll.
Full-time living at a hotel or a motel won’t be much cheaper than renting an apartment in your area, and might even be more expensive, but you can still save on the margins, given the included amenities. If you’re having difficulty finding or affording an apartment to rent, an extended-stay hotel or motel might be a viable solution.