Living quarters are classified as either housing units or group quarters. Living quarters are usually found in structures intended for residential use, but also may be found in structures intended for nonresidential use as well as in places such as tents, vans, and emergency and transitional shelters.
A housing unit may be a house, an apartment, a mobile home, a group of rooms or a single room that is occupied (or, if vacant, intended for occupancy) as separate living quarters. Separate living quarters are those in which the occupants live separately from any other individuals in the building and which have direct access from outside the building or through a common hall. For vacant units, the criteria of separateness and direct access are applied to the intended occupants whenever possible. If that information cannot be obtained, the criteria are applied to the previous occupants.
Both occupied and vacant housing units are included in the housing unit inventory. Boats, recreational vehicles (RVs), vans, tents, railroad cars, and the like are included only if they are occupied as someone's current place of residence. Vacant mobile homes are included provided they are intended for occupancy on the site where they stand. Vacant mobile homes on dealers' sales lots, at the factory, or in storage yards are excluded from the housing inventory. Also excluded from the housing inventory are quarters being used entirely for nonresidential purposes, such as a store or an office, or quarters used for the storage of business supplies or inventory, machinery, or agricultural products.
A housing unit is classified as occupied if it is the current place of residence of the person or group of people living in it at the time of enumeration, or if the occupants are only temporarily absent from the residence for two months or less, that is, away on vacation or a business trip. If all the people staying in the unit at the time of the interview are staying there for two months or less, the unit is considered to be temporarily occupied and classified as vacant. The occupants may be a single family, one person living alone, two or more families living together, or any other group of related or unrelated people who share living quarters. The living quarters occupied by staff personnel within any group quarters are separate housing units if they satisfy the housing unit criteria of separateness and direct access; otherwise, they are considered group quarters.
Occupied rooms or suites of rooms in hotels, motels, and similar places are classified as housing units only when occupied by permanent residents, that is, people who consider the hotel as their current place of residence or have no current place of residence elsewhere. If any of the occupants in rooming or boarding houses, congregate housing, or continuing care facilities live separately from others in the building and have direct access, their quarters are classified as separate housing units.
A housing unit is vacant if no one is living in it at the time of enumeration. Units occupied at the time of enumeration entirely by persons who are staying two months or less and who have a more permanent residence elsewhere are considered to be temporarily occupied, and are classified as vacant.
New units not yet occupied are classified as vacant housing units if construction has reached a point where all exterior windows and doors are installed and final usable floors are in place. Vacant units are excluded from the housing inventory if they are open to the elements, that is, the roof, walls, windows, and/or doors no longer protect the interior from the elements. Also, excluded are vacant units with a sign that they are condemned or they are to be demolished.