Can landlords limit the number of people who live in an apartment?

Do landlords have a right to limit the number of people who can occupy an apartment?

The answer, as often happens in the law, is, “It depends.”

In general, landlords own the property and they can decide how many people can live there. However, under federal law, a landlord is not allowed to discriminate against families with children. So if a family with seven children wants to rent an apartment, the landlord can’t say “no” based on that fact alone.

On the other hand, a landlord doesn’t have to allow a family with seven children to occupy a tiny studio apartment. Refusing to allow such an arrangement wouldn’t be discrimination; it would be common sense.

So where do you draw the line between a legal occupancy requirement and illegal discrimination?

It’s not always easy, but in general, the federal government says that it’s okay to limit occupancy to two people per bedroom. Thus, a family of four could live in a two-bedroom apartment, but not in a one-bedroom apartment.

However, many cities and towns have different rules, and some require landlords to allow “two plus one” occupancy. That means two people per bedroom, plus one extra person in the unit. This is more common in areas where apartments typically have large rooms or extra rooms such as a den.

Also, “senior living” communities designed for people age 55 or older may have their own sets of rules.