Federal, state and local laws as well as the lease are relevant for determining residential occupancy limits in California. Together, these provisions set forth standards to avoid overcrowding residential premises and also prohibit the use of occupancy restrictions to discriminate against families with children. Occupancy limits must comply with all applicable laws.
The Fair Housing Act
Federal laws do not specify occupancy limits, but Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination in rental housing. This protection applies to parents, persons with legal custody of a child, pregnant women and anyone in the process of obtaining legal custody of a child. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces this act with respect to families with minor children. To determine whether the number of occupants per bedroom is reasonable, HUD considers the overall size of the residence; the number and size of bedrooms; the presence of additional rooms such as studies; age of children; the capacity of septic, sewer or other systems; state and local laws; and whether the landlord made discriminatory statements, actions or rules. HUD provides separate guidance on occupancy standards in public housing units and HUD-subsidized housing.
California Housing Laws
The California Health and Safety Code is similar to the Uniform Housing Code. The Uniform Housing Code requires that residential units have at least one room with an area of at least 120 square feet and that other rooms to be lived in be at least 70 square feet. If more than two people sleep in a bedroom, it must be at least 50 square feet larger for every additional occupant sleeping in that room. Different requirements apply to efficiency units. Similar to federal law, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination against families with minor children in many housing-related matters, including home rentals. Both federal and California laws contain exemptions such as for elderly housing and housing owned by private clubs or religious organizations.
Local Occupancy Laws
California cities and counties may make changes to the standards required under state law, but only if it makes express findings that the modifications are reasonably necessary. Local governments may thus have their own rules regulating occupancy, so check with your municipality for local codes.
The Lease or Rental Agreement
Your lease may set out how many occupants are allowed in your unit. A landlord may set reasonable limits for the number of people per square feet in a rental unit, but may not use overcrowding as an excuse for refusing to rent to tenants with children if she would rent to the same number of adults. If more residents are living in your dwelling than specified by the lease, your landlord may be able to begin eviction proceedings. Additionally, local authorities, such as local fire departments, may also enforce occupancy limits.
In the past, California has permitted a "two plus one" formula, which allows three people to occupy a property for every bedroom. There are no hard-and-fast rules, however, and landlords can set their own occupancy restrictions to prevent overcrowding.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Federal Register
- California Legislative Information: Health and Safety Code, Section 17922
- California Department of Consumer Affairs
- California Legislative Information: Health and Safety Code, Section 17958-17958.7
- California Legislative Information: Government Code, Section 12955-12955.9
Eden Straten has extensive experience in the legal and educational fields. She holds a Juris Doctor from Boston University and has been licensed to practice law for more than 20 years.