Zoning Laws on Unrelated People Living Together in the Same House

A zoning ordinance can restrict unrelated individuals from living together if the local law clearly explains the reason behind this restriction, defines the terms "unrelated" and "living together", and spells out the penalties for doing so. 

Purpose of Restricting Non-Family Residences

Most current opposition to non-family residences that leads to zoning ordinances preventing unrelated people from cohabiting stems from a resistance to outpatient group homes established to assist recovering addicts or recently paroled offenders as they adjust to their new lifestyle. It is not uncommon for residents of small communities or family neighborhoods to ask the local zoning authority to maintain the safety and security of the neighborhood by preventing such group homes from opening. Colloquially termed Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY), this philosophy wants to protect neighborhoods from potentially dangerous or fringe elements that live together by restricting the number of unrelated individuals who can reside in one home.

Defining the Terms

In order to avoid any confusion, a zoning ordinance restricting the number of unrelated people who can live together must clearly specify who is considered "unrelated",  and what constitutes "living together". Because of the number of different circumstances for temporary living arrangements and several potential levels of family ties, a zoning ordinance needs to properly define family relations and living arrangements that it prohibits. Typically this isn't difficult, and is an exercise of codifying what many people already know those terms to mean, but it is still important due to the number of potential exceptions that can arise.

Understanding How the Law Can Apply To Your Situation

Typically, the laws are not designed to target small groups of unrelated individuals who intend to live together as roommates (such as college students), or people who live together as partners without marrying. However, if you intend to open or occupy a group home or purchase a home to rent out to a large number of people, you should consult a local zoning attorney to be sure your zoning does not disallow your proposed living arrangement.