Sunday, March 28, 2010
The New York Times today ran a great piece ("In New York, Breaking the Law on Roommates") on a regulation that captures the dynamic between acceptable deviance and property rights quite well: limits on the number of roommates that can share an apartment.
As the article shows, illegal behavior with regard to roommates is normatively acceptable. As one 'deviant' said, “to pack unrelated people in an apartment? I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s part of New York City culture.” And as usual, enforcement tends to follow the limits of acceptable deviance rather than the law itself: according to the Times, the law is "little known, widely broken and infrequently enforced."
But as the article also shows, the predictable danger when behavior is illegal but normatively acceptable -- selective enforcement -- is lurking. According to a former New York City housing commissioner, that city's regulation was enacted with a very specific target in mind: "sketchy single-room-occupancy buildings and their often equally sketchy inhabitants."
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