City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc., 514 U.S. 725 (1995)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1994

Syllabus

CITY OF EDMONDS v. OXFORD HOUSE, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 94-23. Argued March 1, 1995—Decided May 15, 1995

Respondent Oxford House operates a group home in Edmonds, Washington, for 10 to 12 adults recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction in a neighborhood zoned for single-family residences. Petitioner City of Edmonds (City) issued citations to the owner and a resident of the house, charging violation of the City's zoning code. The code provides that the occupants of single-family dwelling units must compose a "family," and defines family as "persons [without regard to number] related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer [unrelated] persons." Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) 21.30.010. Oxford House asserted reliance on the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits discrimination in housing against, inter alios, persons with handicaps. Discrimination covered by the FHA includes "a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford [handicapped] person[s] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." 42 U. S. C. 3604(f)(3)(B). Edmonds subsequently sued Oxford House in federal court, seeking a declaration that the FHA does not constrain the City's zoning code family definition rule. Oxford House counter-claimed under the FHA, charging the City with failure to make a "reasonable accommodation" permitting the maintenance of the group home in a single-family zone. Respondent United States filed a separate action on the same FHA "reasonable accommodation" ground, and the cases were consolidated. The District Court held that the City's zoning code rule defining "family," ECDC 21.30.010, is exempt from the FHA under 42 U. S. C. 3607(b)(1) as a "reasonable . . . restrictio[n] regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling." The Court of Appeals reversed, holding 3607(b)(1)'s absolute exemption inapplicable.

Held: Edmonds' zoning code definition of the term "family" is not a maximum occupancy restriction exempt from the FHA under 3607(b)(1). Pp. 731-738. (a) Congress enacted 3607(b)(1) against the backdrop of an evident distinction between municipal land-use restrictions and maximum occupancy restrictions. Land-use restrictions designate districts—e. g.,

725

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