The issue of occupancy standards continues to be anything but clean cut. What might seem to be a reasonable standard to you is different than a reasonable standard for me. Making it even more difficult is that different jurisdictions have enacted varying guidelines. Many apartment communities (including those I represent) have a typical occupancy guideliness of two people per bedroom. While that may seem benign, it can get us into trouble. Although it is easy to conclude that 10 people in a moderatly sized two bedroom apartment is too many, the line is harder to draw when a family of five (with three small chliden) wishes to rent that same two bedroom unit. What is management to do? What happens when there is one bedroom and a den? Or a large family room?
Here is some history: back in the 1990’s HUD issued formal guidance (called the Keating Memorandum) in which the department made clear that two people per bedroom is presumtively reasonable — but that some other factors could justify deviating from the general rule. Many professional apartment management companies began using that two people per bedroom as the appropriate guide. The point was never to prevent families from living together, but as a safety, health, and security matter for all involved.
When the economy slumped and the housing market got tighter, there was a perceived need to permit additional people (many times family members but not always) to reside in the same unit. Because of this, in the intervening years, some jurisdictions (such as California) began evaluating the occupancy issue based on the number of square feet of living space in the apartment and codes were changed such that “2 plus 1” (in other words, three people per bedroom) would be the new guideline when there was an appropriate amount of space. What is the appropriate amount of space? Of course that varies.
So, what is the bottom line: Management is absolutely within its rights to put forward reasonable occupancy standards. Those standards, however, need to be evaluated based on the size of the unit and the state (or city or county) in which your community is located.
One point to always remember when dealing with occupancy standards (unless you are a designated housing for older persons community): if you are going to have occupancy guidelines at your community (which I support), ensure they are based on the number of people allowed in the unit and not the number of children. Or then you will really need to talk with a lawyer like me. As I will detail in my next post.
Just A Thought.