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Federal Court Victory: Forbidding More Than Three People from Living Together Violates Ohio Constitution

Ohio cities violate property rights by using zoning to prohibit more than three unrelated people from living in the same home

Bowling Green, OH – A federal court late Friday, agreeing with arguments made by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, held that an Ohio city’s zoning ordinance restricting homes to occupancy by no more than three unrelated adults violates the Ohio Constitution’s greater protection of private property rights.

The 1851 Center’s victory against the City of Bowling Green comes on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction. The landlords own over 161 homes that until the ruling, despite having four or more bedrooms and ample parking, could not be occupied by more than three unrelated people.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, drive up the cost of living, fail to accomplish their proclaimed purposes, and are used as political weapons – often to benefit special interests or suppress disfavored minorities. This regulation is no different,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “However, there is no coherent reason why four graduate students or even the  Golden Girls should be prohibited from occupying a large six-bedroom house, even as an unruly family of eight lives in a smaller home next door.”

The 13-page ruling by Judge James R. Knepp of the Northern District Ohio firmly rejects any notion that local zoning ordinances can be used to trample private property rights and equal protection, while embracing the Ohio Constitution’s protection of property and equality at a higher level than the federal constitution.

Specifically, in observing that an unlimited number of unruly, but barely-related family members could live together while a peaceful collection of students or even senior citizens could not, the court ruled as follows:

  • “[U]nder the Ohio Constitution, private property rights are fundamental rights to be strongly protected, such that “homeowners have a constitutionally protected property interest in running their residential leasing businesses free from unreasonable and arbitrary interference from the government” and “the free use of property is guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution.”
  • “[T]he City’s dwelling limit only focuses on the type of relationship between those living together in a home, and as such, is both over- and under-inclusive with respect to either of these interests. The Court thus concludes the dwelling limit is an “unreasonable and arbitrary” restriction on the issue of property.”
  • “[T]he limit is arbitrary, unduly oppressive, fails to substantially advance the avowed government interests of reducing population density or targeting specific issues with college-aged inhabitants, and treats similarly-situated homeowners and tenants differently without any justifiable basis. Consequently, the Court finds the dwelling limit is unconstitutional, as applied, and therefore unenforceable.”

Judge Knepp’s decision paves the way for overcoming overly-restrictive zoning regulations, and especially those, common in Ohio cities and college towns, that forbid unrelated adults from living together.

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between zoning regulations that prohibit homeowners from using their property to directly inflict harm on others and regulations simply aimed at social engineering.

“This regulation is aimed at government-controlled social engineering, i.e. keeping ‘the wrong kind of people’ out of certain neighborhoods, rather than land use. Unruly behavior should be directly regulated, rather than regulated on the basis of the relationships between those who live together,” added Thompson.  “Ohioans should not be forced to pay higher rent or endure longer commutes due to such arbitrary regulations.”

The case was brought in cooperation with Andrew Mayle of Mayle Law, and supported by an amicus brief from the Ohio Association of Realtors.

Read the Court’s Order HERE .

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Summary Judgment HERE .

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The  1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.