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Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas

Citation. 416 U.S. 1 (1974)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appllees, the owners of a house where six tenants were living, challenged the local ordinance that restricted land use to one-family dwellings, which meant not more than two unrelated individuals.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Some of the dangers that might create nuisance to residential sections do not necessarily invalidate the ordinance. The inclusion of a reasonable margin to insure effective enforcement may be justified because the bad fades into the good by such insensible degrees that the two are not capable of being readily distinguished and separated.


Belle Terre is a village on Long Island’s north shore of about 220 homes inhabited by 700 people. Its total land area is less than one square mile. It has restricted land use to one-family dwellings with some exceptions. The family as used in the ordinance means “one or more persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit.” A number of persons but not exceeding two persons shall be deemed to constitute a family. Appellees are owners of a house in the village and leased it to Michael Truman. Later Bruce Boraas became a co-lessee. Then Anne Parish moved into the house along with three others. These six are students at nearby State University and none is related to the other in any way. When the village served the appellees with the ordinance, the owners plus three tenants brought an action claiming the ordinance unconstitutional.


Does the local ordinance that restricted land use to one-family dwellings (not more than two unrelated individuals in a single dwelling) violate the Constitution?


No, the Court may not limit the concept of public welfare that may be enhanced by zoning regulations by the legislature. It is the legislature’s role to draw lines and the ordinance drawn by the village here is reasonable, not arbitrary and bears a rational relationship to a permissible state objective.


Justice Marshall

The ordinance in the case unnecessarily burdens appellees’ First Amendment freedom of association and their constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. The instant ordinance discriminates on the basis of a personal lifestyle choice as to household companions. Bellee Terre imposes upon those who deviate from the community norm in their choice of living companions significantly greater restrictions that are applied to residential groups who are related by blood or marriage. The village has acted to fence out those individuals whose choice of lifestyle differs from that of its current residents in violation of the Constitution.


It is not the Court’s role to determine whether a particular housing project is or is not desirable. The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean. The legislation at issue is economic and social legislation where legislatures have historically drawn lines which the Court respect against the charge of violation of the Equal Protection Clause, if the law be reasonable, not arbitrary and bears a rational relationship to a permissible state objective, which is the case here.

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