Roughly three people per bedroom is the general rule of thumb for occupancy. Ultimately, how many people can live in a house depends on local law.
- Occupancy is generally based on the number of bedrooms, a house’s square footage, or a bedroom’s square footage.
- If there’s no square footage requirement, stick to three tenants per bedroom.
- Occupancy laws are often based on HUD guidelines but vary by local ordinance.
In occupancy law, “house” is used interchangeably with “unit,” “apartment,” or “flat.” Also, “tenants” are usually considered the adults on a lease, not children.
|Number of bedrooms in a house||Maximum number of tenants who can live in a house|
Which authorities determine how many people can live in a house?
State, county, and city ordinances determine occupancy laws for renters and landlords. Occupancy laws are typically based on guidelines from three organizations:
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC)
- International Residential Code (IRC)
HUD guidelines on occupancy standards are not enforceable by law. Both the IPMC and the IRC are non-governmental guidelines designed to maintain the safety and well-being of occupants in a variety of building types.
HUD occupancy guidelines, which often influence state and local laws, are based on the Keating Memo, an internal memo from 1991 that was adopted by HUD to provide assistance in analyzing occupancy rules.
The memo says two persons per room is reasonable, but this limit doesn’t count children toward the occupancy limits.
While HUD doesn’t enforce occupancy laws, it does enforce Fair Housing Act (FHA) violations involving protections to renters based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
Landlords cannot discriminate against families, pregnant people, or children when enforcing occupancy limits.
Appraisers and residential builders also use HUD guidelines for a bedroom both for safety and occupancy requirements.
Local occupancy regulations
State regulations supersede county- and city-level ordinances. In practice, most local ordinances add on stipulations to existing state law. Some areas have county-level ordinances rather than city-level ordinances.
At the state level, California bases its occupancy limits on what’s “reasonable.” This is typically interpreted as meaning two persons per bedroom plus one, known as the “two plus one” rule.
However, many cities and counties in California have more direct laws. Los Angeles bases its occupancy limits on the square footage of a unit, rather than the number of bedrooms:
- One to two people for every 70–119 square feet
- Three people for every 120–169 square feet
- Four people for every 170–119 square feet
- 50 square feet for each additional person
In Atlanta, regulations are set by Douglas County.
Douglas County bases its regulations on square footage rather than the number of bedrooms. No more than two people can occupy up to 800 square feet of floor space, and each additional person needs an extra 75 square feet of space.
Texas bases its occupancy law on IRC suggestions. State law limits occupancy to no more than three adults per bedroom — with no limit on the number of children.
Certain cities in Texas, including Austin, also limit the number of unrelated adults who can live in one house to restrain unregulated dormitories and boarding houses.
What is a bedroom?
Local authorities commonly follow HUD requirements for a bedroom in Section 8 housing. Many localities also base their bedroom definition law on the IRC.
|Minimum HUD requirements||Minimum IRC requirements|
What about closets?
Some states and localities don’t require bedrooms to have a closet, while others require at least one closet in the entire house.
Unless your local ordinance says otherwise, you can rent out units without closets in bedrooms. However, be sure local law doesn’t require a closet somewhere in a studio apartment.
Some appraisers may decrease your home’s official bedroom count if some of them don’t have a closet. However, the Appraisal Standards Board doesn’t have any closet requirements for bedrooms. You can push back and ask an appraiser to re-evaluate the room.
What’s the difference between an occupant and a tenant?
All tenants are occupants, but not all occupants are tenants.
Tenants are adults listed on a rental lease, or any adult staying in a unit or house for longer than a specified amount of days on the lease. Without a lease, it’s typically any adult who has helped with rent or other bills in exchange for housing. They’re also considered occupants.
Occupants are usually also tenants — except for children, who aren’t considered tenants. However, despite being occupants, children don’t always count toward occupancy limits, as is the case in states like Texas.
Some states don’t limit the number of children per bedroom. However, renters can be held liable for overcrowding a home with children if it’s detrimental to the children’s overall health and safety.
Legal consequences of violating occupancy laws
When figuring out how many people can legally live in your home, it’s important to check with local ordinances in your area. Landlords should also be extremely mindful to not include illegal terms such as “no children” or “no families” around occupancy in their leases to prevent any legal trouble.
Consequences for landlords
Landlords who are intentionally overcrowding are liable and face fines or criminal charges. Whether or not a landlord violates occupancy limits depends on intent.
For Fair Housing Act (FHA) violations — like not allowing couples with children or pregnant people to rent on their properties — landlords can be fined for several thousand dollars.
Discriminating against renters based on family size is illegal under FHA law. In many jurisdictions, a landlord cannot limit the number of children that live in a home.
Consequences for tenants
In cases where tenants are violating their lease over legal occupancy limits are legally liable. Landlords aren’t responsible for tenants knowingly violating occupancy laws. Landlords would only become liable if they become aware and allow it.
If tenants are found to violate occupancy laws they can be evicted and still have to pay rent for the remainder of the lease. If they’re knowingly overcrowding their home and children are involved, they can face criminal charges over child neglect.
FAQs about how many people can live in a house
What determines how many people can live in a house?
The number of bedrooms usually determines the number of people who can live in a house. Some local ordinances base their maximum occupancy limits on the overall square footage of the home, or the square footage per bedroom. Children don't usually factor into this number.
Is there a maximum number of tenants you can have in one house?
Yes, typically the maximum is three people per bedroom, but it depends on where you are located. Children don't count as tenants as they don't pay rent.
Across the U.S., laws determining the maximum number of tenants can be based on the number of bedrooms, square footage of individual bedrooms, or square footage of the house itself.
How many people can stay in a four-room flat?
Typically, only up to eight or nine people can legally live in a four-bedroom flat. In some areas, as many as 12 may be allowed. Check your local ordinances establishing occupancy limits for specific guidance.
Can five people live in a house?
Five people can live in a house if the house has two or more bedrooms. Rooms must typically be at least 70 square feet to be considered safe and sufficient.
Do live-in landlords need to be registered?
Whether or not live-in landlords need to register on a rental registry depends on local laws. Federal law doesn't require landlords to register, but best practices suggest that all landlords should list themselves on their local rental registry. If you're a landlord living in an area that requires you to get registered, not doing so may impact your rights as an owner.