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Village of Belle Terre v. Borras

Citation. 416 U.S. 1, 94 S. Ct. 1536, 39 L. Ed. 2d 797, 1974 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Village restricted land use to one-family dwellings and prohibited lodging, boarding, apartment, fraternity or any multi-family use. Ordinance defined family as only those related by blood, adoption or marriage or no more than 2 unrelated persons. Six unrelated university students living together challenged the ordinance.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Regulation of household composition was permissible under the police power which encompasses health, safety and welfare and my strive to lay out “zones of family values,” “quite seclusion” and “clean air.”


A house was being leased to six university students, none related by blood, marriage or adoption. The city served home owner with an order to remedy violations of the ordinance. Ordinance provided that any number of person related by blood, marriage or adoption could live as one family. In contrast, only two unrelated persons could meet the definition of family.


Whether ordinance is unconstitutional as a restriction on the right to travel, the right to settle within a state, right to privacy?


The ordinance is a legitimate guideline under the police power. Such a power is not confined to health hazards but may also promote family values, quiet space and clean air by reduced traffic. Court acknowledges that the types of housing that are excluded under the ordinance pose unique urban problems such as traffic, crowding and parking that the village could validly seek to eliminate.


Justice Marshall agreed that zoning could be used to restrict uncontrolled growth. However, the ordinance at issue impermissibly interfered with the students first amendment right to freedom of association. The right to establish a home and the right to privacy are entwined with that freedom of association. Marshall felt the ordinance reached beyond the mere regulation of population density, which would be permissible, and into a regulation of the way people choose to associate.


The majority does not address the association argument so much but responds to the allegation that the ordinance “reeks with animosity to unmarried couples living together” by noting that two unrelated persons are permissible under the ordinance’s definition of family. Even so, the Court indicated that laying out zones of family values would fall within the ambit of the police power.

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