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Blevins v. Barry-Lawrence County Association for Retarded Citzens

    Brief Fact Summary. An association wanted to establish a group home for unrelated mentally retarded persons. A neighbor claimed the use would violate a covenant in the neighborhood.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Property restricted to a single or double family dwelling refers to an architectural style rather than the relationship between the people in the residence, so unrelated people can live together without violating a restrictive covenant. Further, a group home is a residential, not commercial use of property.

    Facts. The Barry-Lawrence County Association for Retarded Citizens (Appellant) wanted to establish a group home for eight unrelated mentally retarded persons. A restrictive covenant in the neighborhood limits the residences to single or double family dwellings and limits the use to residential purposes only. The Blevins (Respondents) claim that the use intended by Appellants will violate the covenant.

    Issue. Is running a group home for unrelated people a residential purpose that can be considered a single or double family dwelling?

    Held. Yes.
    A residential purpose is one where people dwell or make their homes, as opposed to one that is used for business purposes. A group home is a residential use of land. The theory behind the home is to serve as a surrogate family. It serves no commercial enterprise and is not an institution.
    The restriction on the residence being a single or double family dwelling applies only to architectural structures and not to the use of the property. Appellant does not have an intention of altering the residence on the lot, so its use of the property does not violate the restrictive covenant.

    Discussion. When a restrictive covenant is ambiguous, courts often interpret it broadly if doing so will further a socially useful policy.


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