Co-Housing Startups Bend Housing Law

Startup companies like Bungalow and Common have been successful recently in offering affordable co-housing options in cities across the country. Oftentimes, the options on such startups include sharing a dwelling unit with four, five, or six other roommates. However, in many cities, this is technically illegal. New York City, for example, limits the number of “non-family” residents sharing a dwelling unit to three. (, 2022)

According to New York City’s Housing Maintenance Code, which was last updated in 1988, a family is defined in multiple ways, some of them include:

1. a single person sharing a common household with not more than two roommates

2. two or more people related by blood, adoption, legal guardianship, or marriage sharing a common household with not more than two other roommates

3. not more than three unrelated people occupying a single dwelling unit

4. up to seven unrelated students enrolled in the same university (, 2022)

The startup Bungalow, which lists housing options in New York City with six or more roommates, has stated that it is working to redefine what the term “family” means, and maintains that it considers residents of a shared apartment “family” because they share expenses and common spaces in ways that are similar to familial relationships. (, 2022)

Restrictions on the number of unrelated people occupying a single residence are prevalent across the country. In Seattle, the number is higher – up to eight unrelated people may reside in a single dwelling unit. In 2020, lawmakers in Washington State passed a law that would end such restrictions. However, the bill was essentially gutted shortly after it was passed, keeping the restrictions in place. (, 2020)

However, there are older legal precedents for lifting such restrictions. In 1979, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared zoning ordinances limiting the number of unrelated people in a single housing unit to be unconstitutional. (, 1979)

With the U.S. experiencing an ongoing affordable housing crisis, lifting these restrictions could be beneficial. For now, there are no legal repercussions for landlords who rent out single units to more than three unrelated people or for companies like Bungalow.

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