Dear Answer Man: I was sorry to hear the tragic story about a recent residential house fire in Northwest Rochester that displaced 15 people. This made me wonder: Are there any ordinances about how many people may occupy a single-family residence? — Maximum Full House Curious

Dear Curious: The easy answer is: Yes, there are.

However, it’s important to realize all houses, as well as occupants, are not created equal under city ordinances. As a result, not all single-family residences fall under the same limitations.

Rentals, for instance, are different from homes owned by an occupant.

Rented homes or apartments must provide at least 150 square feet for the first occupant and 100 square feet for every added person, according to city ordinances. That means 1,550 square feet is needed for 15 people.

Olmsted County property records show the home on Oxford Lane that caught fire Sunday afternoon offered approximately 2,400 square feet between two floors.

The city’s rental rules don’t end there. They also require bedrooms to have at least 70 square feet of floor area for a first occupant. Another 50 square feet is required for each additional person sharing the bedroom.

With five bedrooms in the Oxford Lane house, three people per bedroom would be the average. That would require an average of 170 square feet per bedroom, meaning bedrooms would fill approximately half the house.

Of course, many of those requirements don’t apply for homes owned by the occupant, especially if all the residents fall under the city’s definition of family.

When looking at owner-occupied, single-family homes, Rochester’s zoning ordinance and land development manual defines family as “individuals related by blood, marriage or adoption, including foster children,” but it also adds “a group of not more than five persons, some or all of whom are not related by blood, marriage or adoption.”

The definition provides flexibility for related families beyond the traditional household, even if it limits other configurations.

Finding full houses in Rochester is not uncommon. Countless local families are struggling to find housing, so many are doubling up under a single roof.

Additionally, in a community with Mayo Clinic at its center, it’s not uncommon for local residents to open their doors to family members and others seeking treatment for extended periods.

As a result, when it comes to owner-occupied homes, limits are most likely guided by those living within the walls of a home, as well as the neighbors in some cases.

Like many ordinances, complaints would likely drive any occupancy enforcement.

While rentals face routine inspections that could raise red flags, thankfully the city hasn’t implemented walkthroughs for all homes, since mine is cluttered with reference materials and journals that contain my wealth of knowledge.

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