Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas
416 U.S. 1 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1 (1974)

Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas

No. 73-191

Argued February 19-20, 1974

Decided April 1, 1974

416 U.S. 1


A New York village ordinance restricted land use to one-family dwellings, defining the word "family" to mean one or more persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, or not more than two unrelated persons, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit and expressly excluding from the term lodging, boarding, fraternity, or multiple dwelling houses. After the owners of a house in the village, who had leased it to six unrelated college students, were cited for violating the ordinance, this action was brought to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional as violative of equal protection and the rights of association, travel, and privacy. The District Court held the ordinance constitutional, and the Court of Appeals reversed.


1. Economic and social legislation with respect to which the legislature has drawn lines in the exercise of its discretion will be upheld if it is "reasonable, not arbitrary," and bears "a rational relationship to a [permissible] state objective," Reed v. Reed, 404 U. S. 71, 404 U. S. 76, and here the ordinance -- which is not aimed at transients and involves no procedural disparity inflicted on some but not on others or deprivation of any "fundamental" right -- meets that constitutional standard, and must be upheld as valid land use legislation addressed to family needs. Berman v. Parker, 348 U. S. 26. Pp. 416 U. S. 7-9.

Page 416 U. S. 2

2. The fact that the named tenant appellees have vacated the house does not moot this case, as the challenged ordinance continues to affect the value of the property. Pp. 416 U. S. 9-10.

476 F.2d 806, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 416 U. S. 10, and MARSHALL, J., post, p. 416 U. S. 12, filed dissenting opinions.

Primary Holding
A city can prevent unrelated individuals from living in the same place.
Occupying an area of about one square mile, Belle Terre was a Long Island village that was home to about 700 people living in 220 dwellings. The village permitted only one-family dwellings rather than boarding houses, fraternity houses, multiple-dwelling houses, and places of lodging. Six students at the State University at Stony Brook rented a home there together. None of them were related by blood, adoption, or marriage, so their actions violated the ordinance. When they were notified of the violation, the property owners and three of the students brought a civil rights claim seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.

The Second Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs in ruling that the ordinance was unconstitutional.



  • William Orville Douglas
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

There was no fundamental right burdened here, nor were certain protected classes treated differently from others. Douglas thus found that only a rational basis standard of review was appropriate, which gives significant deference to the government. Plaintiffs challenging a regulation under this standard must show that it lacks any rational relationship to a legitimate government interest. Douglas felt that the public welfare could be broadly defined, and he believed that the police power of the local government could impose such a zoning plan. He articulated an interpretation of government power in the area of land use that allowed it to promote desirable uses rather than simply eliminating undesirable uses. The village could promote values of family life, clean air, and peaceful seclusion by trying to limit the number of people and cars in the area. Douglas pointed out that there was a rational relationship between achieving those goals and prohibiting the type of living arrangement that the students sought.


  • Thurgood Marshall

Staunchly supporting a broad vision of First Amendment rights, Marshall argued that the ordinance violated the right to freedom of association on social and economic as well as political levels. He also felt that the right of privacy prevented the local government from interfering with the choice of one's roommates and companions, since this is an important part of personal relationships.

Case Commentary

This decision was later narrowed by the Supreme Court to affect only individuals who are completely unrelated. Local governments may not regulate the living arrangements of any individuals who are related or impose a specific definition of "family."

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