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Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas

    Brief Fact Summary. A zoning ordinance had a narrow definition of family, which prevented unrelated college students from living together.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A zoning ordinance, which excludes more than two unrelated people from living together does not violate the United States Constitution.

    Facts. The village of Belle Terre (Plaintiff) restricts land use to single family dwellings, excluding lodging houses, boarding houses, fraternity houses, or multiple dwelling houses. ‘Family’ in the ordinance means those related by blood, adoption, or marriage, living and cooking together as a single unit. Two people living together but not related by blood, adoption or marriage will constitute a family. Six college students leased a house, and were not a family under the ordinance. They seek to declare the ordinance unconstitutional.

    Issue. Is an ordinance which limits the number of unmarried people who can live together unconstitutional?

    Held. No.
    The ordinance involves no fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Instead, it deals with economic and social legislation, and will not violate equal protection if the law is reasonable and bears a rational relationship to a permissible state objective.
    It is permissible for the legislature to draw lines, which limit the number of unmarried people who can constitute a family.
    The ordinance does not ban association because a family within its guidelines may entertain whomever it likes.
    A quiet neighborhood is a permissible goal of a legislature. The police power includes zoning an area to promote family values, youth values, and quiet seclusion.

    Dissent. The freedom of association is often entwined with the right to privacy. The right to establish a home is an essential part of the Fourteenth Amendment. The choice of household companions involves deeply personal considerations as to the relationships within the home. That decision falls within the protection of the right to privacy. The zoning ordinance creates a classification, which impinges upon fundamental personal rights, so it can only withstand constitutional scrutiny only upon a clear showing that the burden imposed is necessary to protect a compelling and substantial governmental interest. The means chosen to accomplish the purpose of a quiet neighborhood are both over inclusive and under inclusive.

    Discussion. How to define a family is not a constitutional right, so as long as a zoning ordinance restricting types of households is rationally related to a permissible state objective, the ordinance will be constitutional.


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