Time for a quick refresher on “occupancy standards.” “Occupancy standards” are legalese for just how many people can live in a given unit. Back in the 1990’s, HUD’s guidance on the topic was that two heartbeats per bedroom was presumed to be reasonable. That guidance is a little softer these days as certain states/localities have enacted rules which permit up to three heartbeats per bedroom. The best advice right now is that management needs to evaluate the size of all of the rooms in a given apartment and make the best determination of just how many people can reasonably live in the unit.

The conflict is that management has legitimate health and safety reasons (including wear and tear) to ensure a reasonable number of people live in a unit. Particularly in a difficult economy, however, there are times when families need to cut back and live in smaller homes. And what about when a family has an additional child or children over time? Should they be forced to move?

These issues are coming to light as a homeowners association in Florida has been charged by HUD with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  The complaint contains an allegation of familial status discrimination based on management’s alleged effort to evict a family because it had too many people in a unit.

The charge is that management attempted to evict a family of six from a four bedroom unit.

In 2006, the homeowners association and management company informed the residents they were not in compliance with the neighborhood’s occupancy policy. The policy (which it is alleged to have been reaffirmed as recently as 2010) restricted the number of people living in a four-bedroom household to six.  A HUD investigation found that Hillsborough County homes of a similar size are allowed by ordinance to have up to 11 occupants.

As loyal blog readers know, as a defense lawyer, I am mindful there are always two sides to every story and we should learn more before making any judgments on the merits of the complaint. But, this is another cautionary tale to ensure your occupancy standards pass the reasonableness test. Or you may really need a lawyer like me.

Just A Thought.