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Home occupancy limits

Dan Painter

I work for a community in Virginia that is experiencing a boom in the number of what most people would consider to be overcrowded houses. Commonly these are houses occupied by minority families that have moved to the area in search of employment. We have cases of more than 20 people, men, women and children living in 2 bedroom, 1 bath houses. Though our zoning code restricts occupancy to 4 or fewer un-related individuals, in these case they are extended families - aunts, uncles, nephews, etc. Has anyone dealt with this issue in a manner that is effective and defendable in court?

Linden Smith

Has your limit of 4 un-related individuals been challenged in court? Typically, something like that would fall under building codes if a community found it necessary to restrict the number of persons per household. Almost never is it done under zoning ordinances, and when it is, it is very vulnerable to legal challenge
If you have a housing code, such as the southern standard housing code, that would allow you to enforce this type of provision. If I recall correctly it requires 150 square feet per person, which is not much but may get at such severe overcrowding situations, regardless of the "related" aspects of the household.

Linden's right on the zoning part, even though many codes do this--they probably will not hold up in court.
A household is a household. Zoning Bylaws really should be used to regulate use, not the users. You might want to approach it via mimumum and maximum house sizes, increase the setbacks and limit onsite parking in order to minimize surrounding impacts. Another way might be to look at septic requirements or increase enforcement of any negative visual impacts.

I think you might just want to grin and bear it. Zoning isn't really intended to define a family just because different cultures have different ideas of how a family lives.