42 U.S.C.S. § 3607(b)(1)'s language -- "restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling" -- surely encompasses maximum occupancy restrictions. But the formulation does not fit family composition rules typically tied to land-use restrictions. In sum, rules that cap the total number of occupants in order to prevent overcrowding of a dwelling "plainly and unmistakably," fall within § 3607(b)(1)'s absolute exemption from the Fair Housing Act's, 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601 et seq., governance; rules designed to preserve the family character of a neighborhood, fastening on the composition of households rather than on the total number of occupants living quarters can contain, do not.
Respondent opened a group home for 10 to 12 adults recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction located in a neighborhood zoned for single-family residences. Under a zoning rule, occupants had to be a "family," and family meant an individual or two or more persons related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer persons who are not related by genetics, adoption, or marriage. Petitioner city sued the group home seeking a declaration that the zoning code family definition rule was exempt from the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601 et seq. The Act prohibited discrimination in housing against persons with handicaps. Section 3607(b)(1) exempted from the Act any reasonable local, state, or federal restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.
Was a family composition rule qualified as a maximum occupancy restriction?
The court held that the zoning provisions were classic examples of a use restriction and complementing family composition rule and that this zoning code provision describing who could compose a "family" was not a maximum occupancy restriction exempt from the Act.