Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 19, 2011

S. Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Ordinance Restricting Number of Unrelated People Living Together in a Single Dwelling Unit

The zoning law in the City of Columbia, South Carolina restricts all properties zoned as single dwelling units to a maximum of three unrelated people.  The appellant in this case owns property in Columbia where he lived with three college students, none of whom are related.  Following a complaint and investigation, the appellant was given notice of his violation of zoning laws.  After the appropriate hearings and appeals, appellant subsequently challenged the City’s ordinance as alleging it violates the state constitution’s Due Process clause.  After the circuit court held for the city, the constitutional challenge went directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court.                                        

The State Supreme Court explained that all laws begin with a presumption of constitutionality and, thus, the burden is on the challenging party to prove a law’s unconstitutionality.  The standard for appellants to prove is whether the law bears a “reasonable relationship to any legitimate interest of government.”  The Supreme Court noted that the United States Supreme Court considered a similar case, Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, and declined to extend due process protection, however, states have the ability to expand this right. 

The court next considered the ordinance in relation to the context of the community, namely the colleges and universities in the surrounding area, and upheld the validity of the ordinance based on the rational relationship between the ordinance and the government interest of “controlling the undesirable qualities associated with ‘mass student congestion.’”  Therefore, the ordinance limiting unrelated persons from living together, holds the court, is constitutional. 

McMaster v. Columbia Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 2011 WL 6156995 (S.C. 12/12/2011) 

The opinion can be accessed at:


  1. Talk about a predictable decision. No surprises here. But it’s important to remember that federal law still trumps state laws and state constitutions (as long as Newt Gringrich isn’t President) and local governments must still make a reasonable accommodation in their zoning laws and practices for community residences for people with disabilities. So all cities in South Carolina cannot use their restrictive definitions of “family” to exclude community residences for people with disabilities.

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