How Many People Can Live in a House?

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

As a homeowner, home shopper, or landlord, you may wonder how many people can live in your house. Occupancy rules are not always clear-cut.

Guidelines attempt to address comfort and safety, but what constitutes legal compliance can be subjective. These limits can vary based on several factors, including local laws, housing codes, and property size.

How Much Is Your Home Worth Now?

Home values have rapidly increased in recent years. How much is your current home worth now? Get a ballpark estimate from HomeLight’s free Home Value Estimator.

What determines how many people can live in a house?

A combination of things determine how many people can live in a house. Along with state, county, and city ordinances for landlords, broader occupancy rules are typically based on guidelines provided by three main sources:

  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD offers recommendations to ensure fair housing and prevent overcrowding. Occupancy guidelines are based on the 1991 “Keating memorandum” from former HUD General Counsel Frank Keating.
  • International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC): The IPMC code sets minimum standards for constructing safe, sustainable, affordable, and resilient buildings worldwide.
  • International Residential Code (IRC): The IRC establishes building standards for one- and two-family dwellings, including room sizes and egress requirements.

Additionally, the number of bedrooms plays a key role in determining how many people can live in a house. Local regulations often specify the maximum number of occupants per bedroom to ensure safety and comfort. Bedroom and other occupancy rate variables include:

  • Local zoning laws and building codes: These regulations often specify the minimum amount of space required per occupant and the number of occupants allowed based on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. State and local occupancy standards often reflect the same guidelines recommended in HUD’s Keating memo.
  • Property size and layout: Larger homes with more bedrooms and bathrooms can typically accommodate more occupants. The overall square footage and available living space are key considerations.
  • Safety standards: Fire codes and other safety regulations may dictate occupancy limits to ensure that residents can safely evacuate in an emergency.
  • Health and habitability standards: These standards ensure that living conditions are safe and healthy for all occupants, which can affect the number of people allowed to live in a house.

Is there one law that governs occupancy limits?

No, there isn’t a single law governing occupancy limits. Instead, occupancy limits are determined by a combination of federal, state, and local regulations, which can vary significantly depending on your location. Such enforceable limits often only apply to rental properties rather than homes with family members

At the federal level, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) sets broad guidelines to prevent discrimination, but it does not specify occupancy limits. State and local governments often have more detailed rules, which can include specific occupancy standards based on square footage, room size, and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

3 houses

How many people can live in a typical house?

According to HUD guidance, an occupancy policy of two persons per bedroom is generally considered reasonable under current federal laws. However, other housing organizations and agencies sometimes use a rule of three people per bedroom. Additionally, children are often counted differently for occupancy rules.

Let’s look at examples for different home sizes. Below, we’ll provide estimates for three typical single-family homes, considering scenarios with two adults and one child per bedroom.

2-bedroom house (up to six people)

In a two-bedroom house, following the HUD guideline, you can generally accommodate up to four adults. If we include children in the occupancy count, a two-bedroom house can reasonably accommodate up to six people, assuming two adults and one child per bedroom. The average size of a two-bedroom house in the U.S. is around 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, providing sufficient space for this occupancy estimate.

3-bedroom house (up to nine people)

A three-bedroom house can typically accommodate up to six adults, according to the HUD guideline. With the inclusion of children, this house could reasonably accommodate up to nine people, assuming two adults and one child per bedroom. The median size of a three-bedroom house in the U.S. is approximately 1,500 to 1,800 square feet, providing ample room for living, dining, and other activities.

4-bedroom house (up to twelve people)

In a four-bedroom house, you can generally accommodate up to eight adults, based on the HUD guideline. Including children, this house could reasonably accommodate up to twelve people, assuming two adults and one child per bedroom. The average size of a four-bedroom house in the U.S. is about 2,000 to 2,400 square feet, offering plenty of space for larger families or groups.

Large house

Another way to estimate max occupancy levels

HUD also recommends that each person should have 165 square feet of livable space in a home to avoid overcrowding. If we divide the average square footage of each of our example homes by HUD’s suggested 165-square-foot benchmark, we get similar results:

Home example Square footage Action Number of people
2 bedroom 1,000 Divide by 165 6.06
3 bedroom 1,500 Divide by 165 9.09
4 bedroom 2,000 Divide by 165 12.12

While the estimates above provide a general idea, it’s important to check local regulations and consider the specific layout and size of the house to determine the appropriate occupancy limit.

Can a landlord set their own occupancy limit?

Landlords can set their own occupancy limits, but these limits must comply with federal, state, and local laws. Setting unreasonable occupancy limits that do not align with these regulations can result in legal challenges.

Landlords should base their occupancy limits on legitimate factors such as the size and layout of the property, as well as safety and habitability standards. Additionally, landlords must ensure that their occupancy limits do not discriminate against families with children or other protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

Tenants vs. occupants

In rental agreements, a tenant is someone who has signed the lease and is legally responsible for the rental property, including paying rent and following lease terms. An occupant, on the other hand, is someone who lives in the rental property but may not have the same legal responsibilities as a tenant. It’s important to distinguish between the two when considering occupancy limits and rules.

Discrimination laws and occupancy rules

Occupancy rules must comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. This means that occupancy limits cannot be set in a way that discriminates against families with children or other protected classes.

When setting occupancy limits, landlords should ensure that their policies are reasonable and do not unfairly exclude certain groups. For example, a policy that limits occupancy to one person per bedroom could be seen as discriminatory against families with children.

Start Making Offers Without Waiting to Sell Your Home

Through our Buy Before You Sell program, HomeLight can help you unlock a portion of your equity upfront to put toward your next home. You can then make a strong offer on your next home with no home sale contingency.

Some states and cities spell out occupancy rules

While HUD provides general guidelines, some states and cities have more specific occupancy laws. For example, California and Texas generally follow a “two plus one” model, meaning two persons per bedroom plus one additional person, and their rules are more flexible about the number of children.

Cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles base their guidelines on square footage rather than the total number of bedrooms. Other state and local policies consider additional factors, such as the age of the children and the presence of adequate living space outside the bedrooms.

Why might windows matter in occupancy rules?

Windows and closets can be factors in determining occupancy limits because they relate to safety and habitability standards — or whether a room can be counted as a bedroom.

In most cases, a room must have two means of egress — typically an exit door and a window — to qualify as a bedroom. While state laws do not mandate closets, some local ordinances may require a closet to consider a room a bedroom.

Need a bigger house? Start with a top agent

If your current home is too small to comfortably accommodate your family, it might be time to look for a bigger house. Working with a top real estate agent can help you find the perfect home that meets your needs and complies with occupancy guidelines.

HomeLight can connect you with experienced agents in your area who understand your requirements and can guide you through the home-buying process. Start your search today and find a home that fits your family.

If you’re a homeowner trying to time your sale and purchase of a larger home, HomeLight’s Buy Before You Sell program might be the right solution. Why move twice? Our innovative program lets you leverage your home’s equity, offering a smooth, streamlined transition to your next home.

Header Image Source: (DebbieHalcomb/ Pixabay)