This section addresses the concept of “family” in the context of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (the “Uniform Code”).The Uniform Code is promulgated by the State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council pursuant to Article 18 of the Executive Law, and is in effect throughout the State (except in New York City).However, even the inclusion of provision for unrelated persons in the zoning definition of family does not guarantee that it will survive a constitutional challenge. S.2d 128 (1985) found fault with the alternative definition of a "family" as being "[a]ny two (2) persons not related..of whom are sixty-two (62) years of age or over." In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals invalidated the definition: "Manifestly, restricting occupancy of single-family housing based generally on the biological or legal relationships between its inhabitants bears no reasonable relationship to the goals of reducing parking and traffic problems, controlling population density and preventing noise and disturbance (citations omitted).For example, during the 1980s, the Town of Oyster Bay defined "family" as: "(a) Any number of persons, related by blood, marriage, or legal adoption, living and cooking on the premises together as a single, nonprofit housekeeping unit; or (b) Any two (2) persons not related by blood, marriage or legal adoption, living and cooking on the premises together as a single, nonprofit housekeeping unit, both of whom are sixty-two (62) years of age or over, and residing on the premises." , 66 N. Their achievement depends not upon the biological or legal relations between the occupants of a house but generally upon the size of the dwelling and the lot and the number of its occupants.
This memorandum discusses the definition in the context of such laws. Supreme Court and many state courts, including our New York Court of Appeals, have examined the question of the definition of family, both in enforcement proceedings and in declaratory judgment actions.Such differentiation was not reasonably related to a legitimate zoning purpose, and therefore violated State Due Process. As will be noted later, an appellate court has approved a method for controlling groups of unrelated persons who are not a family. The Court expressly stated that its decision on the definition of family under the rent control regulations had no bearing on the concept of "functional family" in its decisions concerning local zoning regulations. The court determined that the town's interest in uniform enforcement of its zoning ordinance was not a sufficient governmental interest justifying the eviction of the residents of Oxford house, since it had a much greater discriminatory impact on the handicapped. In the Court’s words: "Because the prohibition against a ‘boarding house’ includes a family expressly permitted under the Zoning Ordinance's definition of ‘family’, the definition of ‘boarding house’ is overbroad, thereby inviting arbitrary application." I. stable, rather than transient living arrangements (except where the handicapped are affected); 4. Under this approach, the municipality defines all related persons and a specific number (e.g.- four) of unrelated individuals as constituting a "family." For groups of greater than four (4) unrelated individuals to constitute a "family," the group would have the burden of proving to an administrative official or entity (such as a zoning official or the board of appeals) that they meet the criteria set forth in the zoning regulations to show that are a "functionally equivalent family." Such an approach is consistent with the cases indicating that defining a "family" of unrelated persons is a factual decision. Supreme Court held that the city's zoning code definition of the term "family" is not a maximum occupancy restriction exempt from the Fair Housing Act.The definition of family can affect the implementation of other laws unrelated to zoning. Guidelines to Drafting a Definition of Family In light of the numerous state and federal court decisions on the subject of defining "family," some guidelines may be gleaned as to constitutionally permissible standards. Preservation of the character of single-family areas remains a legitimate purpose of zoning. Zoning may not exclude a group which "in every but a biological sense is a single family" (White Plains, supra); or a household "which poses no threat to the goal of preserving the character of the traditional single-family neighborhood" (Mc Minn supra). Court decisions have indicated that the "factual and functional equivalent" of a traditional family of unrelated persons may be evidenced by the following: 1. a group headed by a householder caring for a reasonable number of children as one would be likely find in a biologically unitary family (White Plains 34 N. Many municipalities in New York have adopted this discretionary review technique for defining family. In enacting the Fair Housing Act, Congress recognized the distinction between municipal land use regulations--which are subject to the Fair Housing Act--and maximum occupancy restrictions, for which it created an absolute exemption.ZONING Any successful zoning scheme which purports to create and attain a single-family zoning district must contain a definition of family. This line of family definition cases has followed a very traditional path of analysis.Courts have carefully looked for some reasonable relationship between the zoning regulation and the goals sought to be achieved by the regulation.Soon after deciding Mc Minn, the Court of Appeals considered whether a municipality can restrict the number of unrelated persons living together as the functional equivalent of a natural family, while allowing an unlimited number of related persons to reside together. The zoning law did not place a similar number limit on the number of persons related by blood, marriage or adoption. Also, in 1993, a federal district court in the case of , 819 F. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful for government to discriminate in the sale, rental or use of housing on the basis of handicap and individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction are considered handicapped under the Act. S.2d 769 (1992), the Court of Appeals struck down the city's definition of "boarding house" as not reasonably related to achieving the ordinance's legitimate purposes of reducing parking and traffic problems and controlling population density.The Court of Appeals held that the family definition violated the State due process clause because it restricted the size of a functionally equivalent family of unrelated persons but not the size of a traditional family. Supreme Court’s ruling in , (supra), it appears that, for zoning purposes, a municipality may not restrict the number of related or unrelated persons who constitute a family. S.2d 784 (1989), the Court of Appeals ruled that two homosexual men living together in a spousal-like arrangement could constitute a "family" within the context of the non-eviction provisions of the New York City Rent and Eviction regulations. In the court’s view, applying the town's zoning definition of "family" to evict the Oxford House residents due to the size or transient nature of the group living arrangement would discriminate against them because of their handicap. The definition of "boarding house" was so broad it would have prevented any type of family living in a rented house. Some municipalities have attempted to define "family" to comply with court decisions by providing for discretionary review of groups of unrelated persons greater than a specified number to ensure that they are the functional equivalent of a family.Thus, the definition of family employed here is both fatally overinclusive in prohibiting, for example, a young unmarried couple from occupying a four-bedroom house who do not threaten the purposes of the ordinance and underinclusive in failing to prohibit occupancy of a two-bedroom home by ten or twelve persons who are related in only the most distant manner and who might well be expected to present serious overcrowding and traffic problems." (66 N. 1993) concluded that the federal Fair Housing Act prevented the Town of Babylon from evicting recovering alcoholics and drug addicts from a group home based on the town’s zoning definition of family.Y.2d at 549-550) The Court cited White Plains (supra) for the proposition that a municipality may not seek to achieve its legitimate objectives of preserving the character of single-family neighborhoods by limiting the definition of "family" to exclude a household which in every sense but a biological one is a single family. The town alleged the house was being used in violation of the single family zoning because the residents were transient and not a family.For example, the City of Poughkeepsie zoning ordinance, in its definition of "family," contains a rebuttable presumption that 4 or more unrelated persons living in a single dwelling do not constitute the functional equivalent of a traditional family. 1994), the Appellate Division upheld the City of Poughkeepsie's definition of "family" against a challenge that it violated the Due Process Clause. Maximum occupancy restrictions cap the number of occupants per dwelling, typically in regard to floor space or the number and type of rooms.The ordinance provides an opportunity for applicants to convince the Zoning Administrator that the group is the functional equivalent of a traditional family. The Court held that it was valid to use a rebuttable presumption to establish which groups of unrelated individuals should be considered a family. These restrictions ordinarily apply uniformly to all residents of all dwelling units.