Standard disclaimer–I am not a lawyer, always speak with a professional. Non-standard disclaimer–This post will be a bit more US-centric than usual. I don’t know anything about this kind of municipal law in other countries. Please leave comments with any information you can add!
Depending on where you are, who you ask, and what your local history is, the laws we are going to be discussing today are the result of public health concerns, racist/classist attempts to restrict housing to “desirable groups”, or round able attempts at morality policing.
These laws take different forms from health codes to zone regulations to building codes to rental regulations. But the gist of the law is always the same: to limit the number of people who can live together.
I can respect the health rational–overcrowding does increase the spread of disease, and while I am lucky enough to live in a time and place where cholera outbreaks, diphtheria epidemics and typhoid fever outbreaks are all-but unheard of, I know part of the reason I am privileged to live in such a time and place is the institution of strong and enforceable health codes that prevent the streets from turning into open sewers and prevent the type of overcrowding.
When a health inspector tells me that my poly family may need to split into two apartments because of health codes, and explains that the code shouldn’t apply to us because it’s intended to prevent Hispanic families from crowding 20 people in an apartment, so he thinks we’ll squeak by but we should be prepared just in case…
Well, my “respect” quotient turns none existent.
Regardless of their intention, these laws can make it difficult or impossible for poly families to find a home together.
How many people are allowed to live together can vary from a particularly restrictive code outlawing 3 people who are part of a married family sharing an apartment (openly campaigned for as a way to prevent unmarried couples from having children and destroying the moral fabric of the city) to requiring that if more than 3 people live together they must be legally related in some fashion, to college towns were 5 or more people can rent an apartment only if the landlord applies for a student-rental exemption.
These laws are more likely to affect people who rent than people who own their homes. This is because legally restricting what a landlord does with their property doesn’t violate privacy laws, but in some cases restricting what someone who owns a property does with it can violate privacy laws. However, owning their own home didn’t protect this family in Hartford, Connecticut.
Not all municipalities have these laws. In my (admittedly limited) experience, they are damn-near universal in the North East, and common in many US cities. What I know of Europe leads me to suspect that similar anti-overcrowding health codes may be in effect in some regions. I have no idea Europe has any equivalent of the building and zoning codes driven by racists, classist, or moral motives I’ve seen in the US. After the rest of the world, I have no idea.
Laws like these are not the only things preventing poly folk from living together. In some places, the social stigma and backlash from a poly family living together is a much bigger concern than legal issues. And of course living together can in some regions can lead to common law marriages and/or leave you open to prosecution as bigamists.
Again, please leave a comment if you have additional information concerning these types of laws and regulations, especially outside the US.