Is it legal to limit number of tenants residing in a unit?

12 Replies

Hi BP!

I'm in the tenant screening process with my first rental (a duplex in Philly). The bottom unit is a 2 bedroom that's roughly 700ish sq ft. I would prefer to limit the number of tenants in that unit to 2 (1 per bedroom). Am I legally allowed to turn down a tenant that would be living there with another adult and 2 kids for example? I have nothing against renting to a family as I have kids myself. However, I would prefer limiting the number of tenants as it's not a large unit and I believe it would reduce the wear and tear on the property.

Thanks!

Originally posted by @David Lorenz :

Hi BP!

I'm in the tenant screening process with my first rental (a duplex in Philly). The bottom unit is a 2 bedroom that's roughly 700ish sq ft. I would prefer to limit the number of tenants in that unit to 2 (1 per bedroom). Am I legally allowed to turn down a tenant that would be living there with another adult and 2 kids for example? I have nothing against renting to a family as I have kids myself. However, I would prefer limiting the number of tenants as it's not a large unit and I believe it would reduce the wear and tear on the property.

Thanks!

 In the example you gave, two adults and two children, the answer is no. That would be a violation of Federal Fair Housing and would be considered discrimination on the basis of Familial Status. A two bedroom duplex, with living room could have up to five occupants and be within fire code. Two in each bedroom and one in the living room. If it was a family, you would need to accept them. The rules are a little different if the adult occupants are unrelated (roommates). In that case you can likely limit it to just two occupants, at lease by Federal Fair Housing. Make sure there is no local Fair Housing protection for roommates (there is not in most cities). 

You are correct that more occupants increases wear and tear, but when it comes to families, you can only limit within fire code. General rule is number of bedrooms times two plus one. 

important to check your local rules and always follow the fair housing guidelines.

We have a limit of 2 adults per bedroom in our leases and that seems to be reasonable.

Cheers!

Yes in Texas it is 2 per bedroom, I haven't heard of the plus 1.  Cheers. However, in Texas a child less than 1 yr old does not count.  So a family of 2 adults and 3 children, one being less than 12 months old could qualify for a 2 bedroom in Texas.  Cheers.

Your municipality may have more restrictive guidelines than HUD. Check with your code enforcement office just to be sure.

@Joe Scaparra I know places in Lewisville, TX on

The highway with over one dozen living in a 2 bedroom apartment. Some places don’t enforce rules.

And some cities prevent more than 3 unrelated people living in a house or unit like Lubbock, TX or Norman, OK!

Find out what the occupancy standards are for your location.  If it is based on the national standard (forget what it's technically called), then it's 2 per bedroom plus one.  Doesn't matter the age of the human.  So, for instance, you could have someone sleep on the sofa in the living room, of a one-bedroom apartment, but you could say only 2 max in a studio (with no separate bedroom).  

If the property has limitations that make it unreasonable for even the normal max occupancy standards, you can say your max is lower.  For instance, if your property has a septic system that will only handle, say 5 people per the septic system specs, then you can say no more than 5 occupants, even if it's a huge old house.

That's included in that national max occupancy standard.  It's very common for most municipalities to use the national standard.

Some places, though, like New York, have really dense occupancy standards, where it's just so many square feet per person.  You could practically pile people up like cordwood in NY City, if my memory serves.  So, you need to find out for sure the law where you are.

Try Googling Philadelphia (I think that's what you said) and "occupancy standards" and maybe throw in "landlord-tenant law" or "rental property."

My wife and I came up fairly poor growing up. We met each other as neighbors in a duplex. units were 2/1 @ 800sf per side. My wife shared a room with her 3 sisters while her parents took the other room. Things were tight but that was all they could afford at the time. They left the unit in better shape than when they moved in because they believe that just because being poor is no excuse to live messy. The entire family was undocumented at the time. They are probably an exception to the norm but realistically, wear and tear is more about how people live. I lived with my mother and brother next door and we caused way more wear and tear as a pissed off teen, bored child, and a smoker. At least we looked better on paper.

If on a voucher (not in your case, I'd imagine), you can't include the +1 for living room, as they must have legal bedrooms. The allowed number on vouchers is 2 per bedroom, with exceptions of children under 2  must share with parent(s) and kids over ... I forget what age ... of different sexes don't share. But at 18, the kid moves in with a single parent, roomwise (I know, the rules are kind of stupid, for a normal family - who lets the 18 year old son sleep in mom's room?).

If unrelated adults, you could limit to one per room, but you'll run into a lot of single parents with kids and a bf/gf that break that rule. Even trying the "no more than three unrelated persons" rule (enacted here to try to stop student housing in some areas) can be tricky to enforce.

And you can't ban kids at all. You can ban smokers, pets (but not ESA/Service animals), multi-generational families (with two rooms, there isn't space for grandma and the kids to move in). But, two college kids can cause as much damage (and more noise) than a family with well behaved kids (or dogs).