City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc., 514 U.S. 725, 2 (1995)

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726

CITY OF EDMONDS v. OXFORD HOUSE, INC.

Syllabus

commercial or single-family residential—in which only compatible uses are allowed and incompatible uses are excluded. Reserving land for single-family residences preserves the character of neighborhoods as family residential communities. To limit land use to single-family residences, a municipality must define the term "family"; thus family composition rules are an essential component of single-family use restrictions. Maximum occupancy restrictions, in contradistinction, cap the number of occupants per dwelling, typically on the basis of available floor space or rooms. Their purpose is to protect health and safety by preventing dwelling overcrowding. Section 3607(b)(1)'s language—"restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling"—surely encompasses maximum occupancy restrictions, and does not fit family composition rules typically tied to land-use restrictions. Pp. 732-735. (b) The zoning provisions Edmonds invoked against Oxford House, ECDC 16.20.010 and 21.30.010, are classic examples of a use restriction and complementing family composition rule. These provisions do not cap the number of people who may live in a dwelling: So long as they are related by "genetics, adoption, or marriage," any number of people can live in a house. A separate ECDC provision— 19.10.000— caps the number of occupants a dwelling may house, based on floor area, and is thus a prototypical maximum occupancy restriction. In short, the City's family definition rule, ECDC 21.30.010, describes family living, not living space per occupant. Defining family primarily by biological and legal relationships, the rule also accommodates another group association: Five or fewer unrelated people are allowed to live together as though they were family. But this accommodation cannot convert Edmonds' family values preserver into a maximum occupancy restriction. Edmonds' contention that subjecting single-family zoning to FHA scrutiny will overturn Euclidian zoning and destroy the effectiveness and purpose of single-family zoning both ignores the limited scope of the issue before this Court and exaggerates the force of the FHA's anti-discrimination provisions, which require only "reasonable" accommodations. Since only a threshold question is presented in this case, it remains for the lower courts to decide whether Edmonds' actions violate the FHA's prohibitions against discrimination. Pp. 735-738.

18 F. 3d 802, affirmed.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia and Kennedy, JJ., joined, post, p. 738.

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