Single Family Zoning, Intimate Association, and the Right to Choose Household Companions

45 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2014

Date Written: April 16, 2014


Many local governments use single family zoning ordinances to restrict occupancy in residential areas to households whose members are all related to one another by blood, marriage, or adoption. The Supreme Court upheld such ordinances in the 1974 case of Belle Terre v. Boraas, and they have been used to prevent all sort of groups from living together – from unmarried couples who are raising children to college students. This Article contends that Belle Terre is wholly incompatible with the Court’s modern jurisprudence on privacy and the right of intimate association. The case appears to have survived this long because of a reflexive deference paid to the “police power,” which gives local governments wide latitude to pass laws to promote the general welfare of the community. This Article disputes that the police power can stretch so far, and asserts that Constitutional protection should attach to the choice of household companions. If such protection is accorded, the reasons traditionally given for such ordinances – reduction of overcrowding, protection of children – fail to stand up to heightened scrutiny. This Article also takes issue with so-called “functional family” reforms, which allow groups who resemble or operate like families to live in single family zoned areas. While these reforms do expand the class of people who can choose their household companions, they leave untouched the assumption that governments can regulate this decision absent a compelling reason. Moreover, they allow government actors to decide, based on largely subjective criteria and after an often invasive inquiry, whether groups of people are sufficiently “family-like” to live together. If the right of intimate association within the home is to have any force, it must be available to everyone, regardless of their identities, motivations, or characteristics.

Keywords: zoning, association, intimate, household, companions, local, governments, Belle Terre, residential, constitutional

Suggested Citation

Oliveri, Rigel Christine, Single Family Zoning, Intimate Association, and the Right to Choose Household Companions (April 16, 2014). Florida Law Review, Forthcoming, University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-12, Available at SSRN:

Rigel Christine Oliveri (Contact Author)

University of Missouri School of Law ( email )

Missouri Avenue & Conley Avenue
Columbia, MO MO 65211
United States

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