Thursday, May 3, 2007
Earlier this week, I criticized a key provision of the Fair Housing Act that allows discrimination against people under 55. Today comes a story about the other half of 42 U.S.C. sec. 3607(b)(1), which allows local governments to bar big group houses. Specifically, the provision states that “Nothing in this subchapter limits the applicability of any reasonable local, State, or Federal restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.” This allows government to use land use laws to keep out big houses of undesirables, such as recovering drug addicts, petty criminals, and college students. Although the biggest court case about the exception resulted in a victory in 1995 for the Oxford House, an organization that sets up group houses for recovering addicts, that decision was largely the result of the fact that Edmonds, Wash., imposed an occupancy maximum only on groups that weren’t traditional “families.”
Currently, in Columbia, S.C., the Columbia Outreach Addiction and Recovery Services is fighting a city ruling denying a special exemption for an existing 13-person group house for recovering addicts. The challengers assert that the city is violating both the FrHA and the Americans for Disabilities Act. They will have an uphill battle. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Oxford House case that sec. 3607(b)(1) was designed to prevent overcrowding, not to foster traditional families, smart local governments can still craft ordinances that, in effect, will bar only big group houses. Such ordinances are spurred largely not by concerns of overcrowding, of course (overcrowding is hardly an issue in any American house these days), but to keep out unwanted group houses.