City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc., 514 U.S. 725, 4 (1995)

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CITY OF EDMONDS v. OXFORD HOUSE, INC.

Opinion of the Court

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA or Act) prohibits discrimination in housing against, inter alios, persons with handicaps.1 Section 807(b)(1) of the Act entirely exempts from the FHA's compass "any reasonable local, State, or Federal restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling." 42 U. S. C. 3607(b)(1). This case presents the question whether a provision in petitioner City of Edmonds' zoning code qualifies for 3607(b)(1)'s complete exemption from FHA scrutiny. The provision, governing areas zoned for single-family dwelling units, 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 (1991).

The defining provision at issue describes who may compose a family unit; it does not prescribe "the maximum number of occupants" a dwelling unit may house. We hold that 3607(b)(1) does not exempt prescriptions of the family-defining kind, i. e., provisions designed to foster the family character of a neighborhood. Instead, 3607(b)(1)'s absolute exemption removes from the FHA's scope only total occupancy limits, i. e., numerical ceilings that serve to prevent overcrowding in living quarters.

I

In the summer of 1990, respondent Oxford House opened a group home in the City of Edmonds, Washington (City), for

1 The FHA, as originally enacted in 1968, prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. See 82 Stat. 83. Proscription of discrimination based on sex was added in 1974. See Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, 808(b), 88 Stat. 729. In 1988, Congress extended coverage to persons with handicaps and also prohibited "familial status" discrimination, i. e., discrimination against parents or other custodial persons domiciled with children under the age of 18. 42 U. S. C. 3602(k).

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