City in NY forbids un-related people from sharing a home

Reason's Nanny of the Month video producer Ted Balakar says:

Imagine a city forbidding un-related people from sharing a home in a residential neighborhood. That's what happened in Watertown, New York.

Deborah Cavallario doesn't like the fact that her next door neighbor Travis Hartman shares his home with his fiance and two friends, so she convinced the city council to zone out un-related roommates from their residential neighborhood. It didn't matter to her that the 27-year-old Hartman says he was just starting out and needed help paying the mortgage on the home he recently purchased. It didn't matter that, by Cavallario's own admission, Hartman is a good neighbor. It didn't matter that Cavallario was in Hartman's shoes when she and her husband first moved to the neighborhood many years ago:

This is how Linda Morrison explained it at a city council meeting:

I remember very well a well-to-do neighbor who was very much upset about a low income couple that was moving into a house close to her. She considered them “servant class.” One was even a schoolteacher. That couple was Mr. and Mrs. Cavallario. Let the irony not be lost. If a neighbor had her way 30 years ago. Over 80 percent of our neighborhood would not be there today.

Unfortunately, the irony was lost on Cavallario and the council members who support zoning out peaceful living arrangements that make them uncomfortable.


    1. Municipalities sometimes have maximum occupancy laws for obviously health and safety reasons, but this is nuts.  Also sort of obviously homophobic if a law like this exists where gay marriage/ adoption haven’t been legalized.  And did I mention nuts?  I’ve broken that law ~ two dozen times.

      1. College/University towns also use it.  They’ll limit the unrelated tenants to double the number of bedrooms.  It keeps the kids from developing flop-houses with 10 in a 2-bedroom. 

        1. Yes. For example, in Pittsburgh it is illegal for more than three unrelated people to have their names on ones lease.

    2. This is the sort of thing ACORN used to push back against by educating people about their rights under the Fair Housing Act. Too bad they’re not around anymore.

  1. The headline confused me for a minute there. I get that this is technically happening in a city within the state of New York, but usually when one says “NY City” they mean the other place.

    EDIT: Thanks for clarifying.

        1. From the balmy Broome County in the Southern Tier, myself.  Though I do remember as a child blowing soap bubbles at 10 below and having them freeze a second after they’re called into existence.  At twenty below, they just froze on the stick.  Science!

  2. Wait, what?  People are supposed to tell their city governments how many people and who they share their housing with?  Hell, when the census takers came through my old roommate told them that he and I were lovers and that we kept a family of four in our non-existent basement.  Also that we had a Komodo dragon as a pet, which wasn’t even a question that they were asking. 

      1. I have a feeling you’re going to get a lot more “One person lives here, no more questions” than you will discussions about Komodo dragon feeding.

    1. And that it used to be a family of seven, but you forgot to feed the Komodo dragon one week…

    1. Excuse me for being flabbergasted that 4 people thought your content-free Reason-bashing, which has *nothing* to do with the topic, deserved an upvote.

          1. Speaking of being famous for something, you too could be famous using this one weird trick.

    1. But it is uncommon (and not even close to legal) to tell someone who can or cannot live with them in their home. By these standards, an unmarried couple would be forbidden from living together.

      1. No, typically the zoning puts a limit on the number of unrelated people who can live in the single family house without it being considered a “boarding house”

        1. There’s a subtle but important difference between regulating the commercial activities of landlords and regulating the private conduct of consenting adults.  Yes, one can be used as a pretext for the other (in both directions).  But that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing; there’s a difference between friends living together as a household and a landlord renting rooms to relative strangers for commercial gain.  It seems that Watertown’s regulation is motivated by an antipathy towards certain sorts of households/families, not by a rational need to regulate boarding houses.

          1. Yup, I agree, and I think that this zoning reg. is probably illegal under the fair housing act.

            But I think it’s fair in general to set limits that reasonable people would agree distinguish a couple of friends hanging out from an illegal boarding house.

    2.  That has less to do with how many people live within a single unit and more to do with how many units are within one structure.  It’s a development regulation versus a law governing lifestyle choices.

      1. Doesn’t have to be multi-unit, this could be a zoning reg. about what constitutes a “boarding house” and where they are allowed.

      2. Actually most college towns have pretty strict zoning laying out the number of unrelated persons sharing a household, but that number is usually quite a bit higher than 1 which it seems to be in this case. I agree this was all about class and lifestyle.

    3. Land of the free?

      If those ridiculous rules applied here, I’d have been breaking them continually since 2004.  Do similar rules exist in places like NYC?

    1. Without a zoning board, your new neighbor could be a toxic waste processing plant.  Most people greatly prefer residential neighborhoods to remain residential.

      1. In other countries we manage to keep the toxic waste processing plants away from residential areas, while still allowing people to live with whomever they choose.

    2. Isn’t this exactly the kind of local government that “small government” /”states rights” fans have been advocating for since 1861?  Isn’t this kind of regulation the sort of thing explicitly blessed by St. Paul?

        1. It’s not a nanny state if a state is enacting the laws because you can just move to another “laboratory of democracy”.  Or something.

      1. First of all, “small government” and “states rights”, while sometimes correlated, are not necessarily connected and states rights have nothing to do with zoning boards.
        Also, no, I as the resident libertarian weirdo can tell you that Reason pretty much constantly mocks this kind of regulation, and btw, the guy who most exemplified libertarianism in the last election wasn’t Ron Paul, but Gary Johnson.

        1. the supporters of Libertarianism regularly attack local government, and then hide behind small government and states’ rights when it’s convenient.

          i just find it a tad dishonest. promote minarchy if you want, but don’t pussyfoot around it. insofar as this segment promotes Libertarianism (as, to many people, it does), it is yellow journalism.

          1. Yes. It’s all in those two words, really. And in trying to turn them into a meme. “Nanny State.”

  3. I don’t think this is all that uncommon. I remember when I was an undergrad there was a story in the school paper about how it was technically illegal for more than a certain number of unrelated people to live in a house. This is basically to keep a group of college kids from renting houses but it wasn’t ever enforced.

    1. And the previous limit in this area was (rather reasonably) four unrelated people (before it became a boarding house).  They just cut that number down to zero.

    2. It’s the ‘unrelated’ part that’s stupid.  Having more than a certain number of children and adults per bedroom is a fire safety issue.  Having too many people in general can cause traffic/ parking/ trash/ communal utility/ etc. problems.  It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re related.  In fact, for fire safety, ten unrelated adults is probably better than two parents and their eight children.

    1. Are they going to pay market value to the guy who bought his home when it was legal for him to live with his fiancee?  Or will they pay the difference in his mortgage so he can still afford the home without the roommates in a separate bedroom?

      And how easy will it be for him to sell, now that the community has boldly announced that it will change the laws on homeowners whenever it feels like it?

      edited to add: I see that this particular fellow is being grandfathered in. Which tells me that they already know this is a law that will be selectively enforced. A wink to some homeowners, and a rap on the door for others.

  4. I wonder how this woman would feel about two bedroom house with 10+ related individuals?

    You know the kind I’m talking about.

      1. I think he means strictly religious people who condemn the use of any kind of contraception, thus making the wife’s vagina act as a vulgar clown car, spewing kid after kid after kid.

  5. Seems to me, if they lived there *before* the zone was changed, it wouldn’t apply to them, it would just keep them from getting new housemates and keep other people from living in the same arrangement in the future in that area. 

    Either way the neighbor a hypocrite busybody who needs to be taught a lesson, as this whole scenario is BS.

    1. They story said that Hartman was grandfathered in, so it doesn’t apply to him and his current housemates.

      1. Grateful to see that part.  It would be horrifying to contemplate the goons of the Town Council hauling their stuff out to the curb.

    2. Alas, if only it was that simple…

      Its not the neighbor, she is just being true to her beliefs and values, which many of us are brought up to hold.

      We are programmed to value individualist thinking and devalue groupist. We are programmed to value owning lots of stuff and not to share our stuff.
      We are programmed to distrust any type of group which we don’t understand. Watch out, they might be a cult !!!

  6. 1. Try to enforce it.
    2. See what happens.
    This is a good candidate for some good old fashioned civil disobedience.

    1. Yes – and this restriction is routinely ignored… unfortunately, as this piece clearly illustrates, it only takes one neighbor (or disgruntled former member) who doesn’t like the group house to cause them a lot of grief – if not shut them down.

      I suspect that most of the “violators” who are reported just pack up and leave the neighborhood.

  7. Fantastic.  Why bother with your gated community when you can just get a gated city?  Another step on the road to Snow Crash.

    1. Yes, hurry up and circle the wagons – we must keep the enemies, like those with fewer resources, outside. And we have guns, not just those pesky bows and arrows.

  8. There is a little bit more to the story out there, including this:

    “At Monday night’s public hearing, Mrs. Cavallario said she hoped Mr. Hartman and his friends “would be grandfathered in” and continue to live there. But she said the situation should not become “normal in our neighborhood.””

    I don’t know how to feel about the situation. Sure the folks changing the ordinance sound like a bunch of buttholes; but I can also understand how “Single Family” zoning and “up to 4 non blood relative roommates” are kind of at odds with each other. Is this type of “single family +4” common across the country, or is this particular ordinance just overly generous?

    1. Those non-blood things are usually to put a limit on how many people can live in a single unit, say to prevent 15 college kids from all crashing in a 4 bedroom house. 

      I think the defining what a family is results in the problems here. Guy + his fiance + two close friends, why not that be a family as much as husband + wife + two adult children. Single family as I’ve always understood it refers to the number of individual living units within a building (as discussed above), contrasting to neighborhoods with lots of townhouse type buildings or homes converted into upstairs/downstairs apartments. 

      1. Ah… so this is more about the land owner not being able to build condos on his property, and less about the number of people in a single unit.

        However, Family +4 could still be eight people, when looking at the nuclear family plus 4 roomies. 8 SUVs in front of 1 house doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

        But I’m usually the type of person to detest home owner associations and people fretting about their neighbors, so I’m having a difficult time reconciling why I don’t have too much of a problem with the ordinance change. Perhaps I feel like these folks are going to get too much criticism, for doing something that they themselves have been granted the right to do. I mean… this is what happens when two opposing “freedoms” collide.

    2. I don’t know how to feel about the situation.

      It means that two unmarried people can’t buy a house together and both live in it.  It means that a LGBT couple can’t live together in a house because it’s zoned “single family”.  It’s a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act.  And one of the many reasons that we need to get the word “family” followed by the words “archaic, obsolete” in the dictionary.

      1. Yeah… you are right. But I hope the motives of the neighbors are nothing more than the stated intent, and I’m not ready to call out the lynch mob on them quite yet. Does their ordinance include a definition of what a family is, and if it must start with a married female and male? From all I can tell, they have simply removed the +4.

        So the issue is (assuming the best intentions)… how to design an ordinance system that defines “maximum” occupancy while maintaining diversity. This neighborhood’s attempt at it has failed miserably, maybe they will hear the concerns and try again.

        1. But I hope the motives of the neighbors are nothing more than the stated intent, and I’m not ready to call out the lynch mob on them quite yet.

          Who gives a shit about their intent if they’re the cause of a discriminatory law?

          So the issue is (assuming the best intentions)… how to design an ordinance system that defines “maximum” occupancy while maintaining diversity.

          You mean like the law that was already in place that was changed to avoid offending the waste of skin who complained?

          1. So far, no one has been discriminated against in this scenario.

            These people may just be rational folks making a decision that they didn’t fully understand- a mistake. Maybe now that they have the attention of the nation on them, maybe they will be willing to work on a more realistic ordinance?

            If I’m wrong, and they attempt to kick out the next non traditional family that moves into the neighborhood, then I’ve been the fool, and I will be the first one in line to throw a shoe at Cavallario. 

            Maybe I am just hoping for more of a cooperative working together type of solution, rather than a labeling and blaming scenario that escalates into nothing but more hatred.

          2. …maybe they will be willing to work on a more realistic ordinance?

            Are you deliberately being dense? There already was an ordinance that limited the number to four. This changed it to zero.

          3. “Are you deliberately being dense? ”
            Now that’s not helpful is it? Did it at least make you feel better?

            My intentions are to ask questions and  hopefully pacify both sides. Cavalarrio didn’t want a flop house next door because all of the SUVs parked about (a concern the current ordinance was inadequate to satisfy), and the solution from the city council had an unintended result for a third party. I believe there is still time to be civil, but throwing accusations in their face will do nothing but build walls and complicate the matter. Lets see if this can turn around.

            Here are some other thoughts: Did the city council respond to Hartman’s concern about “boyfriends or girlfriends, domestic partners, and military”? What was it? If you have any other information that this was a discriminatory attack rather than a bad mistake, then you can consider me outraged.

          4. My intentions are to ask questions and hopefully pacify both sides.

            You keep asking questions THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN ANSWERED, and we don’t need to be pacified. We need to get rid of discriminatory laws.

          5. Or the law that is still in place and allows up to four un-related people living as a single household unit?

            (They removed a “… and another four roomers”-clause, but the base definition is already fairly open.)

      2.  It also means that two working parents can’t have a live-in nanny or an au pair.  Heck, it might even prohibit our family from hosting the new exchange student we get every year.  And what about a divorced person who — out of the goodness of their heart — wants to care for their former in-law who is old or sick?  Or their former teacher?

  9. Have your marriage licenses and birth certificates ready, people, Mrs McGillicudy is gonna be doin’ her civic duty and will be checkin’ your papers in the morning

  10. In Evanston IL they call this the Brothel Law.

    1. Where I went to college there was a similar law (at one point) which restricted women, but not men, co-habitating. This meant that the fraternities were located in private off-campus houses while the sororities all stayed in special on-campus housing.

    1. This is why I’m wary of strong Home Owners’ Associations.  It seems like the people who have the strongest desire to regulate their neighbors’ behavior and most free time to do it are the people I’d least like doing the job.

      1. Your punctuation didn’t meat HOA standards.  All apostrophes must be at a 15 degree angle.  I’m afraid we have to foreclose on your house.  Sorry, but that’s the way the rules are written.  My hands are tied.

      1. Or “jumped up little hitlers” if you’re my mum.
        Personally I tend to use stronger language than that.

  11. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this a common practice in college towns? I recall Iowa City considering a law allowing a limit on how many unrelated people could share a dwelling close to downtown to try and keep certain neighborhoods from being converted into 100% student housing,

    1. Yes. Here in Athens, GA. home of the state U, UGA, they restrict the number of unrelated persons. In response to this article and the unrelated persons angle, I found this out personally. Decades ago, my male roomie (the best ever roomie) and I wanted to rent a new place and went to a place that rents 2,3 and 4 beroom units by the person- one person, per room rent contract.. We were told that we couldn’t share a place because we were unrelated.  I called HUD who said it was legal to deny unmarried M/F roomies a rental. If we had been an interracial married couple, they could have helped.

    2. Yes, this is common, and, yep, it was considered for parts of Iowa City. More often than not cities and towns have zoning that restricts the number of unrelated people that can live in houses in some parts of town.

      Frankly, this case doesn’t sound that bad. It’s not great, but not that bad. I think it’s a reasonable to be concerned that homes in your neighborhood are becoming de facto multi-family dwellings. Iowa City is a good example. There you could see 100-year-old historical dwellings being trashed by college kids. You might have houses valued at $250,000 next to a place swimming in kids and growing funkier and nastier by the day, like that Gaslight Village place (which at least had some charm and some isolation because the owner didn’t give a damn about the small wilderness sprouting around it.)

      The fault in that town was largely with the landlords and the city council, which tended to have a laissez faire attitude OR a crazy Stalinist controlling attitude, depending on whose pockets were being lined. There was a constant war between profiteers and ideologues.

      I loved that town though, and I miss the “no nukes” signs at the city limits.

      1. “Frankly, this case doesn’t sound that bad.”
        The problem is not that they’re trying to control how many unrelated people live in residential homes.  That law already existed and had a limit of four.  The problem here is that they’ve made it impossible for unrelated people to live together at all in residential areas.  Which is nuts.

      2. Frankly, this case doesn’t sound that bad.

        An unmarried couple can’t live together.  What part of that is not that bad?

  12. Once again the obnoxious and insufferable “Reason” has insinuated that busy body neighbors (80 signed to get it heard I guess…) and some tiny city council (the mayor voted against it) is some kind of proof that government and democracy is baaaaaddd! 

    I love how Reason often stumble’s upon various policies that do seem dumb, but are against them for all the wrong reasons, and then carefully leave out any facts or nuances that might make story seem less drastic…

    More like “uptight and organized neighbor of the month” which is what almost all their “nanny” stories boil down to.

    1. So if a bigger government body (i.e. a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) strikes this stupid rule down, does that still support Reason’s “down with big gummint” stance?

    2. Reason’s position has never been that government and democracy is bad, let alone baaaaaad. 

      Suggesting that Reason is against government and democracy is no different than suggesting that liberals who criticize bad behavior in corporations are against the free market.

      The editors of Reason (with whom I often disagree) support environmental regulations and a social safety net.  Their positions on a variety of topics are nuanced and they tend to be honest and consistent in their positions.

      I know it’s more fun to make up stuff about them, but there you have it.

      1. I am against the free market…. not that such a thing ever has or will exist in the way libertarians imagine..

        Yes Libertarians when pinned down grudgingly admit that some kind of social contract is necessary while spending the rest of the time blaming every problem in the world on governments and democracies…

        It’s not that complicated to read between the lines of these endless “nanny” pieces as well as to know who funds Reason Foundation, and what its role and purpose is, and who it’s supposed to carry water for, which they do quite well…

        1. It really seems like you’re defending a clearly discriminatory law in order to further your political narrative. It’s not doing your credibility any favors.

          1. I think Navin’s instead objecting to how the highlighting of that law is being done in the service of a larger and pernicious “Gubmint is BAAAAAD!” narrative. It’s also sad to see BB in effect “carrying water” for that larger narrative. 

            Yes, the discriminatory law is awful. But why not highlight the discriminatory law itself in a BB post, without the accompanying BS “nanny state” framing of it?

  13. I”m stunned.  This is hysterical in the worst way possible.  First, they can pry into your life like that?  Second, they can say who can live together?

    Holy Moly Moly.  I’ve got a strong feeling that even here in Britain, with no written constitution, that would be unconstitutional.

    1. Britain, where they fine you for putting your rubbish bin out early? Where the parking squad tickets buses for parking in the bus stop? I’m pretty sure that these kinds of petty curtain-twitcher/ local-council shenanigans are worse there.

      1. Nope. AFAIK councils do not have this kind of power. I’ve never heard of any restrictions against number of unrelated people in a house. In fact it is really common (particularly here in a university town) for groups to rent a flat or house with every room that could be a bedroom filled.

        In fact all your examples are damn rare – I fear you’ve been reading The Daily Fail too much…

      2. As time has passed and budgets have been cut, the stereotypical govt / council inspectors have vanished.  The worst I get in my London borough is parking tickets for invalid reasons; they’re easy enough to have squashed.

        Britain is though Orwellian in its treatment of its citizenry subjects.  These deeper undercurrents leave me with nautious feelings, the feelings you get when you imagine being alone in the woods and shadows of potentially menacing animals flitting behind the trees.  

        They’re good at shifting the whole debate, at winning the propaganda game.  But equally, there’s an increasing openness and aggression against such hidden agendas and the mandarins who govern them; made ever-easier by the increasing ease with which civil servant misbehaviour is identified and publicised.

        Or maybe this is simply a symptom of centralised government in general.

  14. Two things. First, “Watertown” is a phenomenal Sinatra album. Second, I live in Brookline, MA, which is a place with a zoning law stating that no more than four unrelated people can occupy a dwelling. Like some of the comments above, I always assumed this was intended to discourage poor college students from trying to live in nice, safe neighborhoods. As well, as mentioned in the comments above, it rarely enforced. (That is to say, I have never seen it happen.)

    1. This. You generally need a lease in the Boston area or rather, owners will usually ask for one. At-will tenancy is rare, though I had one such agreement for a while with an awesome landlord. Leases usually specify a max occupancy, often based on bedroom number (max 2). That doesn’t make it right, though, since no matter how you slice this sickly cake, it’s a class argument – no poor people (non-whites, college kids). Stating a preference for single/no kids/whatever should be illegal, and is, at least in Boston, but I honestly don’t know if that supersedes the occupancy laws.

    2. I always assumed this was intended to discourage poor college students from trying to live in nice, safe neighborhoods.

      Because those BU and BC students are a threat to life and limb?

      1. Actually, the reasoning behind it is so that people with jobs and families have a shot at being able to find an apartment.  When landlords set the rent on a four bedroom apartment to what 8 college students can afford instead of a working family can afford.

        1. Yeah, and I understand the logic.  But it certainly isn’t what’s going on in this case.  This woman just wants to live in a c. 1959 sitcom neighborhood.

        1. I find this argument underwhelming. As an adult, you have a responsibility to not have children until you can afford to raise them. In this country the number of available dwellings overall exceeds the number of people who need to live in them, too. And, there’s no reason a couple with children can’t *also* find roommates.

          1.  “And, there’s no reason a couple with children can’t *also* find roommates.”

            There is now!

  15. This isn’t unusual at all (well, amending the law to target a particular household is). Most would be surprised to know that in NYC the limit is 3 unrelated people for apartments AND houses, and gets further complicated when you get into the nuts and bolts of dwellings that are explicitly zoned for single-family use. The first apartment I lived in in NYC I shared with two other people and the landlord wanted the lease holder out (she had a rent-stabilized, below market lease) so he sent us an eviction notice on the grounds that we were violating this very ordinance. It didn’t stick, but it is on the books.

    Search for “unrelated persons ordinance” online, the history of housing law is really interesting, particularly where it overlaps with the history of immigrant communities and demographic shifts, redlining, etc. And it’s not just red-herring law (no fish slapping on tuesdays!), but part of the systematic way we legislate control over our communities. Generally, stuff like this is enforced so selectively (or enforced in communities that are marginalized) that those of us with checking accounts and social security cards don’t ever really find out about it until there’s a neighbor with a grudge or a landlord who thinks your rent is too low.

    Readers here might also get a kick out of the DOH’s attempt to define “family”, muddle through it here:

    And a bit more here:

  16. Land of the free? If they take away our guns, we will show dem governments. Oh wait, they just want to tell me who can live together with whom? Of course, that needs more regulation than wall street.

    oh boy

  17. I’m unclear on how ‘related’ is defined, and who bears the burden of proof.  I recall Tony Baretta had an awful lot of female cousins.

    1. Genetically, aren’t we all related?

      Also, it’s a good thing the great state of New York permits same-sex marriage or we might have a real kerfuffle on our hands.

      1. I interpret “unreleated” to mean “shared ancestry is too far back for the individuals involved to track using available records.”

  18. Any one else having problems sharing this video and others? When the share button is clicked the pop up share window stays behind the video window. 

    “Ruling unanimously, the State Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court decision that the town of Brookhaven’s zoning law, in restricting the number of unrelated people who could live together, violated the State Constitution because it did not similarly restrict the number of related people who could live together.”
    That’s the state’s highest court. I’ve not found the case reference, but wouldn’t that still be precedential?

    1. Great find, and something I was wondering. So if we can’t define occupancy by blood, then how about numbers alone? Suddenly large traditional families are now kicked out. 

  20. Nice job of sleuthing out the stories behind this new law. Of course it is a terrible law.  While I understand the desire of governments to control how their area is shaped ( I am a volunteer planning commissioner) the flat outlawing of any unrelated person is draconian. Since I’m on a mission to help those who are struggling with living alone discover that a housemate is an excellent solution it seems to me particularly awful.  What about seniors who want to age in place? All those single people? Are they sentenced to a live of living alone just because they aren’t in a relationship?

    1. Great points Annamarie! It would be good for people who are seriously interested in shared housing issues to hear about your book, “Sharing Housing, a guidebook for finding and keeping good housemates”

      As you’re probably aware, there is often specific zoning for some of the exceptions, such as adult family homes.

  21. So when I was a foster father for three little kids we wouldn’t have been able to live there. Thats awfully kind of them to dictate who is welcome and who isn’t.

  22. Look, we share more than 99% of our genetic material, how much more related do you want?
    Or just “He’s my cousin.” (I don’t know how many times removed, but it can’t be more than about 2500 or so.)

  23. “The City Council; you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

    And busybodies with delusions of grandeur.  Those people, the dregs of the already scummy political class, should be given something to do; like picking up litter or, preferably, hard labor.

  24. Not to blame the victim here, but if I were coming in to a city council to make my case, I woulda borrowed a coat and tie. It’s theater, anyway- why not wear the right costume?  That said, it’s the stupidest, most invasive thing I’ve heard in a while.

  25. Patently illegal.  This was decided in the US Supreme Court when the Town of Brookhaven in New York adopted an identical stance.  The court ruled against Brookhaven and affirmed the right of unrelated people to cohabiate in a single family dwelling.

  26. What is the compelling governmental interest here? What harm is it seeking to prevent? It seems to me that the 14th amendment would require strict scrutiny of any law limiting the liberty of the residents of this messed up little berg.

  27. Someone needs to pull a sound truck in front of Deborah Cavallario’s house to blast machine noises at her at ear bleeding volume 24hrs a day until she moves or kills herself.

  28. Thankfully, they don’t seem to be related to the Cavallario’s Cucina people. I like that restaurant on the occasions I’ve been in that area. I would have been sad to put it on the ‘Do Not Support These Jackasses’ list.

  29. Let’s be a bit more correct here. What they’ve done is to remove a rule about permitted accessory use (§310-34 (7)): That is – uses beyond the primary one.  What remains in effect is the rules about allowed primary uses of residence A districts (§310-4), which allows a “one-family dwelling.”.

    What does that mean, exactly? §310-1 is a list of definitions, including one for “family”:

    Any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit. To distinguish a “family” from a club, fraternity or boardinghouse, not more than four members of a family shall be other than blood relatives.

    In other words, the current rules allow e.g. a gay couple or a polyamorous group of four, or an unmarried couple with an unlimited amount of kids. (I’m not sure if adopted kids count as blood relatives for the purposes of zoning rules?)

    Also related and interesting is an article from the NY Office of General Counsel:

    On a side note, my plans for the day did not include “reading foreign residential zoning regulations”.

    1.  dnebdal,Thank you for changing your plan. Anytime someone does the work to make a well-informed post, we all benefit.I highly doubt that poly families would be welcomed, even if technically within the definition of family. Maybe in a decade or so or three, after we continue to liberalize laws that allow people to love each other as they choose, instead of how moralistic conservatives choose.]Did you happen to notice how servants fit in? In Snohomish County (Washington state), where I live, we are allowed a max of six people, if any one of them is unrelated (by blood or marriage). BUT, an unlimited number of servants are allowed.Hmmm… is this clear discrimination or what? If you can afford to hire people, you can have an unlimited number of “staff” living with you and your family.

      1. By all means – I’m easily distracted from work.

        As for poly families, they might not always be welcomed by the neighbours, but I struggle to see a legal excuse to throw them out.  Not that merely being on the right side of the law will always stop a determined council from giving you trouble, but at least it helps.

        I didn’t see anything about servants, actually – that’s a fascinating piece of probably-antiquated rulework. :)

    2.  The official language in adoption law states that as of the date of adoption, the adoptee has exactly the same legal rights in their new family as if born into that family.  So that’s covered, at least.

    1. Hard, but righteous fix: drive the required change.

      Slipping and sliding around the law is only a solution for those willing to make such difficult choices.

  30. Sustainable?

    I’m not sure its been mentioned how important eliminating these unconstitutional occupancy limits are from a sustainability point of view. There are few things which lower our carbon/ecological footprint more than sharing resources – see the superb book, “The Sharing Solution” by Janelle Orsi, which helps people who do want to share understand the laws – many of which we must change.

    To learn a LOT more about this topic generally, see the excellent 7-part series by Alan Durning, founder of the Sightline Institute – a major force in sustainability policy questions in the Pacific Northwest.

    In this series, Alan articulates the many arguments used by jurisdictions who constrain our ability to share our homes. Every single argument is shaky and some are blatantly unconstitutional.

    Arguments that Durning addresses are:

    1. Crowding – we can’t have density in our cities, now can we?

    2. Health – isn’t crowding unhealthy? For disease and other nasty things, like the 99%, spread if we have too many people? Not in MY neighborhood.

    3. Neighborhood Character – gotta keep out the riff-raff, now don’t we?

    4. Noise – because every group is noiser, isn’t it?

    5. Parking – oh my god, if there are more people, there are more cars to take all the parking. Of course, individuals with many cars (especially the 1% or event 10%) are fine, right?

    6. Defending vulnerable renters – all shared houses are filled with the poor and oppressed, right?

    Changing these limits is important work. Work that I’m committed to as I help to support sustainable shared living. Unfortunately, its just too easy to point at external challenges to sharing, like this new restriction. Most of the challenges around sharing our resources is our cultural programming that sharing is just for people who cannot afford to selfishly hoard their OWN stuff. As long as those of us with abundant resources treat those with fewer as lesser, we have a lot of work to do.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful commentary. I really appreciate the chance to see the diverse thinking in these comments.

  31. To quote the late Harry Chapin about Watertown:  “I spent a week there one afternoon.”
    The City Council is certainly never going to be compared to a Mensa chapter.

  32. I doubt this will survive fifteen minutes in court.   Especially if they own the house.  Even limits on how many per bedroom have fallen pretty generally because they discriminate against large families and rules about unrelated people cohabiting don’t stand up well either.

    I’d be curious to know if they ran this past their legal counsel before passing such an ordinance.

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