Get Married Or Leave Town

In answer to James’ query below about when a state or county have forced unmarried people not to live together, meet Olivia Shelltrack, Fondray Loving and their three children.

Welcome to Wednesday afternoon at 12475 Parkwood Lane in Black Jack, Mo.: In his room on the second floor, 8-year-old Cortez Loving wages an intergalactic battle with dozens of action figures; next door, sister Katarina, 10, practices her electronic keyboard; and down the hall, 15-year-old Alexia watches TV.

It might seem like a typical family scene—except that in this particular town in the St. Louis suburbs, the three children and their parents, Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving, don’t meet the local definition of “family.” Last month the engaged couple, who have lived together for 13 years, were denied an occupancy permit for their home because they are in violation of a 1998 ordinance that allows no more than three “unrelated” individuals to share a single residence. On March 21 the city council will decide whether to allow the five to stay in Black Jack—or force them to move out.

The Nanny State, its for your own good. Sorry James.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics 101, US Politics, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    My goodness, another Loving case? Loving, et al. vs. Township of Black Jack, Missouri? It would, I’m pretty sure, have the same outcome as the most aptly named SCOTUS case in US history: Loving v. Virginia.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I posted this in the linked post but will note it here, too: This isn’t so much a “nanny state” issue but rather one of locals seeking to maintain the quality of their neighborhoods. One doesn’t buy a single family home in the suburbs with the intent of living next door to 37 migrant workers sharing three bedrooms.

  3. There have been some real abuses in some areas that led to this law. You are, of course, free to think it is an abomination, but you won’t get as much support from many homeowners as you might think. Aside from the example James mentions, college students taking over houses in some residential areas, with the attendent noise and laxity of maintenance, has been a sore point here and there. Many people tend to like restrictive zoning laws in residential areas.

    Interestingly, Missouri has not allowed common-law marriages since 1921, though it will recognize them if contracted in states that do. I don’t know if this will help them or not.

  4. Michael says:

    This isn’t so much a “nanny state” issue but rather one of locals seeking to maintain the quality of their neighborhoods.

    Wasn’t the same rationale used to keep black people out of white neighborhoods?

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    This isn’t so much a “nanny state” issue but rather one of locals seeking to maintain the quality of their neighborhoods. One doesn’t buy a single family home in the suburbs with the intent of living next door to 37 migrant workers sharing three bedrooms.

    Because god forbid that people exercise private property rights so that they can live in a manner of their own choosing?

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Because god forbid that people exercise private property rights so that they can live in a manner of their own choosing?

    Ouch!

    Point: Alex.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Because god forbid that people exercise private property rights so that they can live in a manner of their own choosing?

    Society routinely seeks to regulate against the negative externalities of other people’s choices. I have no issue with this, especially at the local level.

  8. andrewkfromaz says:

    “no issue with this, especially at the local level.” That’s an oddly open-ended statement for you, Dr. Joyner.

  9. James Joyner says:

    “no issue with this, especially at the local level.” That’s an oddly open-ended statement for you, Dr. Joyner.

    I’ve got no philosophical objection to neighbors banding together to preserve their neighborhoods against the annoyances caused by individual neighbors. Covenants requiring houses be maintained, limiting color choices, limiting parking of rusted vehicles on the lawn, limiting noise levels and hours, and so forth are all common and quite reasonable. Some of these things are common at the local ordinance level and, quite often, justifiable.

    That doesn’t mean that I won’t object to instances of this going too far, especially if they violate some sacrosanct private right. It would seem that this has in fact happened in the particular case Steve has highlighted here. But people don’t have an inalienable right to blare their music in the wee hours or to turn their 3-bedroom, 2-bath residence into a flophouse.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Alex, do you really believe that people should be able to open up rooming houses any where they care to?

  11. Dodd says:

    Society routinely seeks to regulate against the negative externalities of other people’s choices. I have no issue with this, especially at the local level.

    Nevertheless, this is an odd application of it. There’s no set of 3 people in that (non)family that aren’t related. The largest set of unrelateds you can make is the 2 adults. They’re both related to all 3 kids as are the kids to each other.

  12. Gustopher says:

    I’ve got no philosophical objection to neighbors banding together to preserve their neighborhoods against the annoyances caused by individual neighbors.
    [snip]
    That doesn’t mean that I won’t object to instances of this going too far, especially if they violate some sacrosanct private right.

    Why not let them band together to violate sacrosanct private rights, if that is what they want to do?

    To take the extreme example, if hardcore racists want to segregate themselves from the scary minorities, why not let them?

    Simply put a limit on the total percentage of housing stock that can do so, to avoid systemic problems.

  13. Alex and Steve, are you really that hostile to the concept of zoning restrictions? Or should anyone be able to put a bar or strip club or junkyard or campsite any damn place they please?

  14. An Interested Party says:

    One would think that a family, in which the parents are not yet married to one another, who want to live in a particular neighborhood is a little bit different than a person wanting to build a bar or strip club or junkyard or campsite in a neighborhood…so much for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and all that claptrap…

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    Alex and Steve, are you really that hostile to the concept of zoning restrictions? Or should anyone be able to put a bar or strip club or junkyard or campsite any damn place they please?

    Its a failure of not clarifying all property rights, in which case we can let lose the power of the Coase Theorem.

    For example,

    You have a neighborhood. A person wants to open a business you find disagreeable. By creating zoning laws you are engaging in rent seeking. You are seeking unearned economic benefits at the expense of another. By the same token, if the businessman tries to change the zoning laws to his favor he is rent seeking. One solution is to pay the businessman to go away, the other is he pays you for your lost welfare of having his business present. Either way works.

  16. sam says:

    BTW, following this wording:

    1998 ordinance that allows no more than three “unrelated” individuals to share a single residence.

    by my count, there are, at most, two unrelated people living in the house–the father and the mother. The children are, of course, all related to each other, and each is related to the father and the mother.

  17. sam says:

    Ah, see Dodd got there first.

  18. I do not believe all zoning is rent seeking. In urban planning it makes sense to have residential areas with single family homes, multi-family homes, different kinds of commercial and industrial zones, farming, etc, that have nothing at all to do with rent seeking. Yes, of course, rent seeking does occur and there are undoubtedly abuses by local boards, politicians and developers from time to time, but that’s a whole ‘nother argument than saying zoning is rent seeking.

    This is the kind of libertarian purity of thought that loses me.

  19. FSL says:

    Michael – Yes, and when I lived in the St. Louis suburbs, Black Jack (ironically enough, given its name) was a place that used ordinances of this type to keep African American families out of town.

  20. John Burgess says:

    The linked article actually says that the kids are from a previous relationship the woman had with another man. Thus, she and her kids are obviously related, but the current man of the house is not related to them.

    I’m still having trouble with the math, though.

    I agree with James that local covenants can have their place. They can also be oppressive–viz. the various orders to remove American flags. It certainly seems oppressive in this case as the article does not mention any sort of disruptive behavior on the part of the family. The only issue appears to be the lack of a marriage license.

  21. Alex Knapp says:

    Alex, do you really believe that people should be able to open up rooming houses any where they care to?

    So long as they don’t clog up public rights of way or make a public nuisance, no I don’t.

    Alex and Steve, are you really that hostile to the concept of zoning restrictions? Or should anyone be able to put a bar or strip club or junkyard or campsite any damn place they please?

    I do oppose zoning restrictions. Zoning restrictions are why we don’t have neighborhood stores and why you have to take a damn car everywhere you go. I am comfortable with the common law nuisance rules being applied when applicable.

  22. Trumwill says:

    As James points out, this is not a “nanny state” issue. It may be a dumb rule and may be discriminatory, but it’s not a case of the government protecting people from themselves. At worst, it’s about the government protecting some people at the expense of other people.

    The townlet that I grew up in actually had a similar rule. Unmarried, unrelated adults can’t get a house. If a romantic couple moved in, it’s unlikely that anything would be said (even if it was a gay couple).

    The main reason for the rule, as James points out, is to repel the types of people who are most likely to cause disturbances. Three or four guys rooming together and stuff like that. As a guy that lived in that sort of arrangement for a little while (without incident, I might add), I sort of take exception to that mentality.

    At the same time, it’s all fine and good to say “Noise ordinances should be enforced but beyond that nobody should have any say in who their neighbors are” is a tad overly simplistic. Once they move in, they’re really hard to get rid of. It’s hard to get law enforcement to be enthusiastic about enforcing the rules. It’s a tremendous hassle.

    I do believe that we need laws to prevent discrimination on bases that have proven problematic in the past (specifically race and ethnicity), but married/unmarried/roommates is not one of those cases (except as it pertains to gays, to which my answer is to let gays get married). Beyond that, I am not wholly unsympathetic to people wanting some sort of community standards. If I don’t like their community standards, I am free to move somewhere else.