No lot shall ever be used for any purpose other than
single family residence
No dwelling house located thereon shall ever be used for other
than single family residence
purposes, nor shall any outbuildings or structure located
thereon be used in a manner other than incidental to such
family residence purposes.
The term single family residence does not include group homes
in which unrelated people live together.
Enforcing the restrict covenant against the group home would
violate the Federal Fair Housing Act.
To permanently enjoin enforcement of the covenant and to recover
Held that the restrictive covenant
prevented the use of the Community's house as a group
home for people with AIDS and issued
a permanent injunction against the Community.
The trial court entered specific
findings that the Community's use of the home
generated a significant number of
vehicle trips up and down the street and that the
increased traffic had
detrimentally altered the character of the neighborhood.
Restrictive Covenant Analysis
First, if the language is unclear or ambiguous,
We will resolve the restrictive covenant in favor of the free
enjoyment of the property and against restrictions.
Second, we will not read restrictions on the use and
enjoyment of the land into
the covenant by implication.
Third, we must interpret the covenant reasonably,
but strictly, so as not to create an
illogical, unnatural, or strained construction.
Fourth, we must give words in the restrictive covenant
their ordinary and intended meaning
Step 1: Interpretation of restriction (Analysis)
Trial court concluded the property was being used for commercial
purposes rather than residential purposes.
Trial Court is incorrect as a matter of law
It is undisputed that the group home is designed to provide the
four individuals who live in the house with a traditional family
structure, setting, and atmosphere, and that the individuals who
reside there use the home much as would any family with a
disabled family member.
The four residents share communal meals.
They provide support for each other socially, emotionally, and
They also receive spiritual guidance together from religious
leaders who visit them on Tuesday evenings
Community worker remains at the house during the afternoon and
evening but does not reside at the home.
The Community, in turn, collects rent from the residents based
on the amount of social security income the residents receive,
and it enforces a policy of no drinking or drug use in the home.
South Carolina Supreme Court
Other jurisdictions which have held that the incident
necessities of operating a group home such as maintaining
records, filing accounting reports, managing, supervising, and
providing care for individuals in
exchange for monetary
compensation are collateral to the prime purpose and function of
a family housekeeping unit.
Hence, these activities do not,
in and of themselves, change the character of a residence
from private to commercial.
Oklahoma Supreme Court
The essential purpose of the group home is to create a normal
family atmosphere dissimilar from that found in traditional
institutional care for the mentally handicapped.
The operation of a group home is thus distinguishable from a use
that is commercial--i.e., a boarding house that provides food
and lodging only--or is institutional in character.
The purpose of the group home is to provide the residents with a
traditional family structure and atmosphere.
Accordingly, we conclude as a matter of law that, given the
undisputed facts regarding how the Community operates the group
home and regarding the nature of the family life in the home,
the home is used for residential purposes in compliance with the
Residents of Group Home Meet Single Family Requirement
The four, unrelated residents of the group home do not
constitute a "single family" as required by the restrictive
The Neighbors contend that the restrictive covenant should be
interpreted such that the term "family" encompasses only
individuals related by blood or by law.
- We disagree.
Term Family is Ambiguous
The word "family" is not defined in the restrictive covenant.
There is nothing in the covenant suggests that it was the intent
of the framers to limit the term to a discrete family unit
comprised only of individuals related by blood or by law.
We Must Resolve ambiguity in favor of free enjoyment of
Rule of Construction
This rule of construction therefore militates [influences] in
favor of a conclusion that the term
"family" encompasses a broader group than just related
individuals and against restricting the use of the
property solely to a traditional nuclear family.
Neighbors Arg Zoning code is irrelevant
The Neighbors argue that the zoning code definition is
irrelevant to the scope of the covenant.
They point to Singleterry v. City of Albuquerque, in which this
Court stated, "It is well established that zoning ordinances
cannot relieve private property from
valid restrictive covenants if the ordinances are less
Agree with Colorado Court of Appeals
While [the zoning] statute has no direct applicability to
private covenants, it is some indication of the type of groups
that might logically, as a matter of public policy, be included
within the concept of a single family."
In the present case, we are not using the zoning ordinances to
relieve the Community of its obligations under the restrictive
We are instead looking to the
definition of family within the zoning ordinance as
persuasive evidence for a proper interpretation of the ambiguous
term in the covenant.
The Albuquerque zoning ordinance would include the residents of
the group home within its definition of family.
Strong Public Policy
There is a strong public policy in favor of including small
group homes within the definition of the term "family."
The federal government has expressed a clear policy in favor of
removing barriers preventing individuals with physical and
mental disabilities from living in group homes in residential
settings and against restrictive definitions of "families" that
serve to exclude congregate living arrangements for the
The FHA squarely sets out this important public policy.
United States v. Scott
"The legislative history of the amended Fair Housing Act
reflects the national policy of deinstitutionalizing disabled
individuals and integrating them into the mainstream of
The Scott court further noted that the Act "is intended to
prohibit special restrictive covenants or other terms or
conditions, or denials of service because of an individual's
handicap and which . . . exclude, for example, congregate living
arrangements for persons with handicaps."
In New Mexico, the Developmental Disabilities Act
This Act expresses a clear state policy in favor of integrating
disabled individuals into communities.
The Act provides in relevant part:
It is the purpose of the legislature in enacting the
Developmental Disabilities Act . . .
to promote opportunities for
all persons with developmental disabilities to live, work and
participate with their peers in New Mexico communities.
Priority shall be given to the development and implementation of
support and services for persons with developmental
disabilities that will enable
and encourage them to . . . achieve their greatest
potential for independent and productive living by participating
in inclusive community activities; and . . .
live in their own homes and
apartments or in facilities located within their own communities
and in contact with other persons living in their
Family Unit Composition
Other jurisdictions have consistently held that restrictive
covenants mandating single-family residences do not bar group
homes in which the occupants live as a family unit.
Prohibits occupancy of more than one family unit
When . . . the restrictive covenant under consideration
prohibits occupancy of more than one family unit but does not
address itself to the composition of the family,
a court is loathe to restrict a
family unit to that composed of persons who are related, one to
another, by consanguinity [Relationship by blood or by a
common ancestor] or affinity.
Rejects the Neighbors family argument definition.
The controlling factor in considering whether a group of
unrelated individuals living together as a single housekeeping
unit constitutes a family . . . is whether the residents bear
the generic character of a relatively permanent functioning
Findings Regarding Increased Traffic
Neighbors argue (Increased Traffic Impact)
The covenant should be interpreted
to exclude the group home because the group
home's operation has an
adverse impact on the
The Neighbors point to the trial court's findings that "the
amount of vehicular traffic
generated by [the] Community's use of the house . . .
greatly exceeds what is expected in
an average residential area" and that, as a result, "the
character of [the] residential neighborhood relative to
traffic and to parked vehicles has been significantly altered
to the detriment of this residential neighborhood and is [sic]
Neighbors' traffic argument is without merit
The amount of traffic generated by the group home simply does
not affect the threshold question whether Community's use of the
property as a group home violates the restrictive covenant
requirement that the property not be used for any purpose other
than single-family residence purposes.
Accordingly, because the covenants do not regulate traffic or
off-street parking, and because the amount of traffic generated
by the group home is irrelevant to whether the home is used for
single-family residential purposes, we conclude that the
Neighbors' argument is without merit.