What is the National Occupancy Standard?
The National Occupancy Standard was created in the mid-1980s by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
It provides a common reference point for “suitable” housing, which is how many people a given dwelling unit might accommodate given the number of bedrooms.
The Standard supports the design and evaluation of housing policies and programs. It also contributes to our understanding of housing needs and conditions at the community, regional and national levels.
The National Occupancy Standard is not a rule, regulation or guideline for determining if a given dwelling unit can be rented to or occupied by a given household.
What is a “suitable” household?
Under the Standard, suitable housing is based on the following criteria:
- A maximum of 2 persons per bedroom.
- Household members, of any age, living as part of a married or common-law couple share a bedroom with their spouse or common-law partner.
- Lone parents, of any age, have a separate bedroom from their children.
- Household members aged 18 or over have a separate bedroom, except those living as part of a married or common-law couple.
- Household members under 18 years of age of the same sex may share a bedroom, except lone parents and those living as part of a married or common-law couple.
- Household members under 5 years of age of the opposite sex may share a bedroom if doing so would reduce the number of required bedrooms. This situation would arise only in households with an odd number of males under 18, and odd number of females under 18 and at least one female and one male under the age of 5.
An exception to the above is a household consisting of 1 individual living alone who may live in a studio apartment with no separate bedroom.
How the National Occupancy Standard is currently used
The National Occupancy Standard continues to be used in Canada as an indicator of housing suitability as part of the overall assessment that determines if a household is in core housing need.
Core housing need happens when housing is unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable and the household can’t afford alternative housing in the local market. The incidence of core housing need is determined through surveys conducted by Statistics Canada and is reported by CMHC at local, regional and national levels.
The information can be used to create targeted programs to address the unique needs of various regions. For instance, some regions may need more dwelling units with more bedrooms but other regions, where shelter costs are particularly high and unaffordable, may require more subsidies.
Additionally, the National Housing Strategy Act (2019) commits to realizing the human right to adequate housing for everyone in Canada over time, with priority to those most in need. Adequate housing must be available to all, without discrimination. The ongoing assessment of core housing needs allows for the tracking of community-level housing need and monitoring the progress towards realizing the right to housing of Canadians over time.
The National Occupancy Standard should not be used to restrict access to housing
The Standard is not meant to an enforceable standard for private landlords or community housing providers to use to decide whether to rent, or continue to rent, a given dwelling unit to a given household.
While the Standard can help inform spatial needs based on household size, relationships, age and gender, landlords and housing providers are encouraged to consider other important factors like:
- urgency of need
- cultural conventions
- household stability
- the household’s own perception of what is suitable for them when matching households to units
The National Occupancy Standard must not be used as a reason to discriminate against prospective tenants.