Washington Law Review


Six unrelated persons resided in a single dwelling in Belle Terre, New York, in violation of the Village's zoning ordinance. The village is zoned exclusively for one-family dwellings; "family" is defined by the ordinance as: One or more persons related by blood, adoption or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit [or] a number of persons but not exceeding two (2) living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, adoption, or marriage shall be deemed to constitute a family. The lessors of the residence were served with notice that failure of their tenants to disband would subject the lessors to criminal liability. They and the three members of the Boraas household commenced an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal district court claiming that the Belle Terre ordinance unconstitutionally infringed their rights of travel, privacy and association. The district court upheld the ordinance on the ground that the preservation of the traditional family character in a community is a proper zoning consideration. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court reversed the circuit court in a 7-2 decision. Held: The Belle Terre ordinance did not abridge any fundamental interest and is within the class of economic and social legislation that is upheld if it is "reasonable" and bears "a rational relationship to a [permissible] state objective." Applying this test, the majority reasoned that the ordinance constituted valid land use legislation reasonably designed to maintain traditional family patterns. Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1 (1974).

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