Zoning fight requires political, not judicial, resolution
An interesting sideshow has developed where semi-perennial political candidate Steve Myers, whose livelihood involves brokering and renting houses in Baton Rouge, has challenged the ability of the local planning authority to prevent multi-family residences in single dwellings in certain parts of town. Even if there is a certain deprivation of property rights inherent to the idea, it’s a battle he’s unlikely to win.
Myers, who most recently ran and finished dismally in the 2012 mayor-president’s election, argues that the city-parish’s unified code is unconstitutional because it prohibits people unrelated to each other by birth, marriage, or legally (specified as through adoption) in one dwelling, excepting the provision mandated in the federal Fair Housing Act that allows this for up to four additional unrelated individuals if one is the owner. The city-parish has sued him at least three times for violations, and he counter-sued with this claim.
He asserts that the zoning law violated the Act and suggested that “family” be redefined to include people unrelated by birth, marriage, or legally. But while the Act says “family includes a single individual,” it defines it in no other way and does not speak to any other comprehensive definition. Further, it does not define as discrimination choices to rent on the basis of “family.”
In absence of such a comprehensive definition, local governments may choose to define “family” in accordance with those parameters, with special ability to do so granted to those governments operating under a home rule charter – as is the metropolitan government in this case. Therefore, its choice of this definition is constitutional. Further, the question of whether this kind of restriction long ago has been settled as part of the doctrine that local governments may zone as long as it does not constitute an illegitimate taking of private property.
Thus, Myers and others who see this kind of ordinance as too abusive of property rights have several political recourses, as they have none constitutionally. One would be to get the state to put into the Constitution or law a definition of “family” that includes persons unrelated by birth, marriage, or some other legal arrangement, or at least broaden the arrangements available, and then prohibit rental discrimination on that basis. A second would be to get the metropolitan government to change its zoning laws. A third option would be to get it to get rid of zoning entirely. A fourth, and perhaps least involved, would be to get a zoning variance.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:25