Occupancy Ordinances – a comparison chart

Have you ever wondered how the Fort Collins occupancy ordinance (commonly known as U + 2) compares to other cities? Well, wonder no longer. The following two tables give brief summaries of occupancy regulations from around Colorado as well as from other communities around the United States that are similar to Fort Collins in size and that include at least one similarly sized university.

This compilation is not meant to support nor oppose the current U + 2 rule. Rather, it’s a resource that can be used when discussing the topic that will hopefully help to put Fort Collins’ rule within a larger context.

It’s also important to note that while the occupancy limits are generally used to limit the number of people living in rental units, the rules do apply for all residential units, even those that are owner occupied. (Madison, Wisconsin was the only city I found that had different rules depending on whether a unit was a rental or not.)

Finding this information was fairly easy for some cities (Thank you Greeley and Madison in particular.) and nigh impossible for others. (Does lack of information mean no occupancy law exists? Or is it just buried so deep within the city’s code that even Google has a hard time finding it?) I’ve included links to each website that I used to gather this information, but I make no promises as to accuracy. If you see any mistakes in what is provided here, please feel free to share corrections as well as links to your sources in the comments section. Also, if there’s a city that you think should be included in either of these charts, just let me know. (And if you could include a link to the occupancy info for that city, that would be helpful.)

Fort Collins’ U + 2 Ordinance

Before looking at what occupancy regulations other communities employ, let’s take a look at what U + 2 means here in Fort Collins. This is how the City of Fort Collins website explains the rule:

The “U plus 2” law or occupancy ordinance states:

“Occupancy in a residential dwelling unit (single-family, duplex, and multifamily) is restricted to:

  • one family as defined below (Section 5.1.2) and not more than one additional person;
OR
  • one adult and their dependents (if any), a second adult and their dependents (if any), and not more than one additional person.”

Family shall mean any number of persons who are all related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly authorized custodial relationship, and who live together as a single housekeeping unit and share common living, sleeping, cooking, and eating facilities. The occupancy limits are further defined in the Land Use Code 3.8.16.

Under this ordinance the following scenarios are allowed:

  • a family (of any size and configuration)
  • a family (of any size and configuration) and their nanny
  • a family (of any size and configuration) and an exchange student
  • two single parents, their kids, and a friend
  • two siblings and one friend
  • two married couples as long as a familial relationship exists linking the two couples

These are not allowed:

  • two couples, married or not, with no familial relationship linking couple A to couple B
  • two siblings and their two or more friends
  • a family (of any size), a caretaker, and an exchange student

So, to be clear, when talking about a residential unit that includes a family, U + 2 essentially means Family + 1.

Regulations in other cities within Colorado

Hindman Sanchez drew up a report on several Colorado communities and their occupancy rules, so I used that report fairly heavily in this first chart. Note that the report was completed in 2002, however, so some of these ordinances may have been updated in the interim.

Also note that some ordinances rely only upon square footage of the residence, some include references to whether those living together are also cooking together, and some vary the occupancy limits based on zoning.

Occupancy Limits
Aurora Requires at least 150 square feet of floor space for each occupant. The floor space is calculated on the basis of total enclosed space within a dwelling. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Boulder An individual, or 2 or more individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption, and not more than 2 roomers or boarders; or 2 adults and any of their lineal descendants; or a group of not more than 3 unrelated individuals; and who are living together as a single housekeeping unit. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Brighton An individual or 2 or more persons related by blood, marriage, or legal adoption, or a group of not more than 4 persons who are not related by blood, marriage or legal adoption living together in a dwelling unit. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Colorado Springs I was unable to find any mention of occupancy limits in Colorado Springs.
Denver Denver Housing Code Sec. 27-22 which is entitled “Minimum Space, Use and Location Requirements”. This section requires at least 150 square feet of floor space for the first occupant and at least 100 additional square feet of floor space for every additional occupant thereof. The floor space is calculated on the basis of total habitable room area and the ceiling height must be at least 5 feet. This floor space does not include basement or cellar spaces. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Grand Junction I was unable to find any mention of occupancy limits in Grand Junction.
Greeley Greeley restricts occupancy through zoning. Residential low-density neighborhoods are the most restrictive. Only one single-family dwelling per lot. All persons living in the dwelling must meet the definition of “family.” In residential medium-density there can be up to 4-residential units allowed per lot, all persons living in any of the dwelling units must meet the definition of “family”. Residential high-density (near UNC and downtown) is the most permissive of residential zones, includes: Single, two and multifamily dwellings, townhomes, boarding and rooming houses, dormitories, sororities and fraternities, group quarters, and single-residency units. There is no limitation placed on the relationship of persons residing in R-H zoned dwellings; however, there are maximum occupancy standards. (There’s also a “residential estate” zone and a “residential mobile home” zone.) — Housing Occupancy Standards, City of Greeley
Longmont Allows any number of persons living and cooking together on a premises as a single housekeeping unit, but shall not include a group of more than 3 individuals not related by blood, marriage, adoption or pursuant to legal guardianship; however, the primary cooking may be provided at a collective facility on the premises for the convenience of the permanent residents of separate units. Persons 65 years or older are exempt from the restriction on unrelated individuals.– Hindman Sanchez Report
Loveland An individual, or either of the following groups living together as a single housekeeping unit and sharing common living, sleeping, cooking and eating facilities: (1) any number of persons related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly authorized custodial relationship, unless such number is otherwise specifically limited in this Title; or (2) Any unrelated group of persons consisting of: a. not more than 3 persons; or b. not more than 2 unrelated adults and their related children, if any. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Northglenn An individual of 2 or more related by blood or marriage or a group of not more than 5 people, excluding servants, who need not be related by blood or marriage living together in a dwelling unit. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Westminster Any number of individuals who are related by blood, marriage, legal adoption or unrelated individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit and doing their cooking on the premises. — Hindman Sanchez Report

Regulations in cities that are similar to Fort Collins

Clarion Associates is currently in the process of helping the City of Fort Collins review its historic preservation code. As part of that review, the company has compiled a list of peer cities that were selected “based on similar characteristics to Fort Collins: a population size between 90,000 and 300,000 people, the presence of a large university, a growing or stable population” and a similar preservation program (which, obviously, isn’t as relevant to the occupancy discussion). Though the list was developed for another purpose, it still provides a helpful list of cities that can be used for comparison to Fort Collins.

I found Provo’s rules particularly interesting because they’re apparently so complicated that they couldn’t just explain them on their website. Instead, they recommend that you call the City for more info. Yikes!

Occupancy Limits
Berkeley, California I was unable to find local residential occupancy limits, though landlords are allowed to set limits for their rental properties. The state of California uses a “two plus one” formula that is apparently more a rule of thumb than a government regulation. It limits occupancy to two people per bedroom plus one additional person. (So a 1-bedroom apartment could house 3 people, a 3-bedroom apartment could house 7.) — SFGate
Boise, Idaho A dwelling unit may be occupied by a family (related by blood or marriage), or by up to five (5) unrelated individuals or by an number of physically or mentally handicapped or elderly persons as long as the residential character of the dwelling is preserved.  — City of Boise
Boulder, Colorado An individual, or 2 or more individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption, and not more than 2 roomers or boarders; or 2 adults and any of their lineal descendants; or a group of not more than 3 unrelated individuals; and who are living together as a single housekeeping unit. — Hindman Sanchez Report
Cambridge, Massachusetts No more than four unrelated individuals per unit. — article on housing in Somerville
Denton, Texas Texas law generally limits occupancy to three adults (persons over 18) for each bedroom of the dwelling, unless the landlord is required by fair housing laws to allow a higher occupancy rate. — Texas Young Lawyers Association
Eugene, Oregon In Eugene, a family of any number or up to 5 unrelated people are allowed per home. — A short term rental handout by the City of Eugene
Gainesville, Florida The Gainesville Code of Ordinances restricts the number of unrelated people living in a residence to no more than three. If you share a house with roommates, you must restrict the number of occupants to three or seek appropriate housing in a multi-family district. (Which makes it sound like there are some zones where higher occupancy levels are allowed.) — a roommate guide
Lincoln, Nebraska The ordinance limits any one unit, apartment or house, to a single family and two unrelated tenants, according to John Boies, chief housing inspector for the city of Lincoln. (In other words, Family + 2.) — the Daily Nebraskan
Madison, Wisconsin For Zoning, in a single-family renter-occupied dwelling unit, occupied by a family (mother, father, children, foster children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.) anywhere in the City of Madison, there is no limit on the number of family occupants. The family can also have one unrelated roomer (or a maximum of two unrelated individuals) in SR-C1, SR-C2, SR-C3, TR-C1, TR-C2, TR-C3, TR-C4, TR-R and TR-P zoning districts.   The family can also have up to four unrelated roomers (or a maximum of five unrelated individuals) in all other zoning districts that allow dwelling units. Any owner-occupied dwelling unit may have a maximum occupancy of a family of related individuals plus up to four unrelated roomers  (or a maximum of five unrelated individuals). (Multi-family buildings also have space requirements.) — City of Madison
Norman, Oklahoma The City of Norman zoning ordinances limit single family dwellings to residents that are family members, either by blood, marriage or adoption, or not more than three unrelated persons living together and sharing the common areas like the kitchen and living areas. This includes apartments, condominiums, and town homes. — City of Norman
Provo, Utah Occupancy violations are zone specific and property specific. The best way to determine whether a property complies with occupancy restrictions is to call the Zoning Division at (801) 852-6400 or request a Zone Verification. Even within the same zone properties may have different occupancy allowances based on when the home, condo, or other structure was built. (And there’s a $25 fee if you’re requesting a zone verification.) — City of Provo
Santa Barbara, California The state of California uses a “two plus one” formula that is apparently more a rule of thumb than a government regulation. It limits occupancy to two people per bedroom plus one additional person. (So a 1-bedroom apartment could house 3 people, a 3-bedroom apartment could house 7.) — SFGate
Syracuse, New York When the lease names only one tenant, that tenant may share the apartment with immediate family, one additional occupant and the occupant’s dependent children, provided that the tenant or the tenant’s spouse occupies the premises as their primary residence. — Tenants’ Rights document by the New York State Attorney General

While searching for this information, I also came across an interesting note:

“In the United States, student rental problems typically arise in neighborhoods zoned as single-family residential districts (SFR neighborhoods). In response to such problems, university towns like Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida, have adopted zoning ordinances restricting occupancy
and regulating rental properties to protect these neighborhoods. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such ordinances on the grounds that homeowners
in residential neighborhoods have a legitimate right to “a quiet place where yards are wide, people are few, and motor vehicles [are] restricted.”
However, in some cases, state law limits the zoning devices local government may use to effectively regulate student rental houses in residential neighborhoods.” — How are Local Governments Responding to Student Rental Problems in University Towns in the United States, Canada, and England? by Jack S. Frierson.

And if all of this wasn’t enough for you, here’s another list of occupancy regulations that focuses specifically on the number of unrelated persons allowed to occupy a dwelling unit.