Limiting the Number of Family Members Per Bedroom

Limiting the Number of Family Members Per Bedroom

Familial status discrimination is one of the most common types of housing discrimination reported to and investigated by fair housing organizations like the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, despite – or maybe because of – familial status being one of the less known protected classes under the federal Fair Housing Act. Familial status discrimination, or discrimination against families with children under the age of eighteen, can occur in a host of forms, ranging from families being denied rental housing because of their children to teenage children being subject to overly restrictive and targeted house rules requiring unnecessary supervision.

Another common form of familial status discrimination involves unduly and unlawfully restricting the number of family members who can sleep in a bedroom. Specifically, some housing providers enforce a strict policy of allowing only “two heartbeats” per bedroom, regardless of the size of the bedroom or the age of its occupants. At first glance, this policy does not directly target families with children like some forms of discrimination do. It simply states a policy that applies to everyone, regardless of whether the occupants are all adult roommates or families with children. However, considering that families with children are almost always larger in household size than occupants without children, this policy has a disproportionately negative impact on families with children. Under this policy, a young couple in a one-bedroom apartment could face eviction for having a new-born baby, and a family of five may never apply to rent a two-bedroom apartment despite the bedrooms being large enough to house the whole family.

Such a policy often runs counter to the local building occupancy code, which normally requires only that a bedroom provides fifty square feet for each of its multiple occupants (or seventy square feet if there is only one occupant). According to this commonly-used code, a 70-square foot bedroom would be suitable for one person, a 100-square foot bedroom would be suitable for two people, a 150-square foot bedroom would be suitable for three people, etc. The purpose behind these codes is to ensure the health and safety of the families living in the units by discouraging overcrowding.

A property limiting occupancy to “two heartbeats” per bedroom regardless of the bedroom’s size is almost certainly not following the local building occupancy code or its health and safety rationale. This type of overly restrictive occupancy policy unlawfully discourages families with children from even applying for a rental home. A family of three or five seeing a “two heartbeat” policy published on a property’s website or rental listing will likely pass over the listing without even attempting to apply. This chilling effect can greatly limit the housing available to families, especially in areas where there is already a paucity of affordable housing.

This also increases rental costs for families with children by forcing them to rent units with more bedroom units than they need. As a result, these overly restrictive policies contribute to the eviction crisis.

If you suspect that your family has been excluded or discouraged from housing because of children under the age of eighteen, please contact the Fair Housing Center for assistance.

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