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Occupancy Standards

Published: July 11, 2012

Housing Occupancy Standards are a frequent topic for discussion within the refugee resettlement community. And, like many resettlement issues, the answers are largely local. Contact your local building department or local housing authority to find out the specific occupancy requirements in your community! Having said that, most local standards are based on one of four national building codes: the Universal Building Code (UBC); the code of the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA); and the Standard Building Code (SBC). More recently, municipalities have started adopting the International Building Code (IBC) as the basis for occupancy standards.

A general rule of thumb is two persons per bedroom plus an additional person or two based on square footage of the room for a living room used as a sleeping space.

HUD addresses occupancy standards in several ways. First, the “Final Rule for Uniform Physical Condition Standards and Physical Inspection Requirements for Certain HUD Housing, September 1, 1998” calls for a maximum of “two persons per living/sleeping room” This guidance applies to elderly housing, handicapped housing, project-based Section 8 housing and a variety of multifamily housing that is financed or insured by HUD.

Secondly, HUD’s guidance to Public Housing Authorities in “Public Housing Occupancy Handbook Directive Number 7465.1” is: a) no more than two persons would be required to occupy a bedroom; b) persons of different generations, persons of the opposite sex and unrelated adults would not be required to share a bedroom; c) husband and wife share the same bedroom; d) children of the same sex share a bedroom; and e) children, with the possible exception of infants, would not be required to share a bedroom with persons of different generation, including their parents. This applies to the Housing Choice voucher program and public housing.

Finally, the United States Fair Housing Act generally prohibits the exclusion of persons from participation in federal housing programs on the basis of race, color, or national origin. In some situations, the courts have ruled that Fair Housing protections supersede local occupancy standards where those standards are deemed to have a discriminatory effect.

If you are interested in an analysis of the relationship between occupancy standards and cultural preferences, the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research included a thought-provoking article by Ellen Pader, a professor at the Regional Planning program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.