Citation:

Schwartz v. Phila. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, 126 A.3d 1032 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2015).

Summary:
"Family" may be legally defined as "[a] person living independently or a group of persons living as a single household unit using housekeeping facilities in common, but not to include more than three persons unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption" in a zoning ordinance.
Case Details:

Appellants owned properties permitted for single-family residential use near a university.  Appellants permitted college students to reside at the properties, and the City issued citations for “unauthorized change in the zoned use or occupancy of the property based on the presence of more than three unrelated individuals residing in a property zone for single-family residential use.”  The City’s Code defined “family” as “[a] person living independently or a group of persons living as a single household unit using housekeeping facilities in common, but not to include more than three persons unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption.”  The trial court affirmed the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s decision and Appellants appealed to the Commonwealth Court arguing the City Code definition of “family” should be reviewed with strict scrutiny to determine its constitutionality.  The Appellants argued that the definition is facially unconstitutional under both a strict scrutiny and rational basis analyses, and the use of the property by more than three unrelated persons is functionally equivalent to a single-family use of the property.

The Commonwealth Court stated “Pennsylvania courts have consistently utilized the rational basis test to examine the constitutionality of zoning ordinances limiting the composition of households in single-family residential districts.”  It refused to substitute a stricter analysis because courts of other states had done so, as argued by Appellants.  Here, as in many other similar cases, the City’s definition of “family” had a rational basis and was not facially unconstitutional.  Moreover, it was not unconstitutional as applied to Appellants’ use of their properties because, despite evidence indicative of a family-like setting, the City’s definition was stricter and constitutional; therefore, Appellant was required to adhere to it.

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