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City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc

Citation. 514 U.S. 725, 115 S. Ct. 1776, 131 L. Ed. 2d 801, 1995 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondent, Oxford House (Respondent), opened a group home for 10-12 adults recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. The Petitioner, the City of Edmonds (Petitioner), promulgated a definition of family, for purposes of single- family zoning. The definition only allowed fewer than 5 unrelated persons to live together, while any number of related persons could live together. The Respondent charged the city with failing to give reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

City’s family composition regulation was not exempt from the FHA as a maximum occupancy restriction.


Parties stipulated that alcoholics and drug addicts were handicapped within the meaning of the FHA. The FHA prohibits discrimination to any buyer or renter because of handicap. Discrimination under the FHA includes failure to provide reasonable accommodation. The Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) defined who may live as a “family” in a single family dwelling. Family must be “an individual or two or more persons related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer person who are not related by genetics, adoption or marriage.”


Does the Petitioners ordinance fall within the FHA exemption, which permits any reasonable restriction on the maximum number of occupants in a dwelling?


The Edmonds Community Development Code’s definition of family was not a maximum occupant restriction and thus was not exempt under the FHA. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (J. Ginsburg) explained that the code provision governed family living and had been enacted to foster the family character of a neighborhood rather than the living space per occupant. Particularly, since an unlimited number of related persons could live together under the Code, it was not enacted to set a maximum occupancy.


The Code governed family living and not living space per occupant as the exemption under the FHA. The purpose of a maximum occupancy is to protect health and safety by preventing overcrowding. To achieve such a purpose, it would need to apply uniformly. The provision here places absolutely no cap on the number of related persons who could cohabitate.

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