Attorney and real estate property manager Steve Myers is challenging the city-parish in state court Tuesday to try to overturn a zoning regulation that bans more than two unrelated people from living in the same rented home.
The rule is more frequently enforced by the city-parish when three or more college students try to rent a home together, but Myers and his attorneys say the law has more far-reaching impacts that target the evolving, nontraditional family structure.
Myers, an unsuccessful candidate for mayor-president last year, has said he owns about 40 properties parishwide, many of which he rents. He has been sued by the city-parish at least three times for renting homes to unrelated residents.
Myers countersued the city-parish last year, claiming its zoning regulation is unconstitutional.
According to the city-parish’s Unified Development Code, residential neighborhoods zoned A-1 must be occupied by a “single family” — with family being defined as “an individual or two or more persons who are related by blood, marriage or legal adoption living together.”
It stipulates that if the owner lives on the premises, up to four unrelated people can live together by joint agreement.
“The city-parish’s ordinances would have the Golden Girls not being able to live together if they were renting,” said Grant Guillot, one of the attorneys representing Myers.
“Family is no longer limited to biological siblings and parents,” Guillot added. “It’s a much broader notion today, especially in today’s economy with people needing to live together to save money.”
The ordinance could also impact foster families, homosexual couples with children and co-habitating couples with various kinship arrangements, Guillot said.
He said the city-parish ordinance violates the constitutional rights of privacy, association and equal protection.
Frank Gremillion, senior special assistant Parish Attorney, said in court documents filed last week that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that an identical ordinance to the city-parish’s did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
He also argues that changing the law is a legislative matter for the Metro Council.
Gremillion wrote that “whether or not the definition of a family is old-fashioned and out-dated is irrelevant and not the question” before the court.
Paul Naquin, a homeowner in University Gardens, said he notified the city-parish about Myers’ zoning violations by taking pictures of parked cars in the driveway of a home that Myers rents out. The photos were taken at 6:30 a.m. for 30 days in a row.
He said the Parish Attorney’s Office advised him to take the photos to prove residents of the homes were living there and couldn’t claim to be just visiting.
“We bought into A-1 single-family neighborhoods because we want to live in family-type neighborhoods,” Naquin said. “People buy and rent a house to five, six or seven kids and their front yards are full of cars and there’s loud parties.”
He said Myers is attempting to change the law so he can earn more money from his rental properties.
But Myers said Naquin and other opponents are missing the larger issue.
“The public looks at this as an issue of drunk college kids, but it’s so far beyond that,” he said. Myers said the city-parish’s zoning rule rejects families that are not “nuclear, white heterosexual parents with children like things were in the 1950s when the ordinance was drafted.”
He said there are more people who don’t fit into the definition contained in the law.
“There’s more people that don’t fit into that definition than who do,” he said.
Myers noted there are other laws on the books to regulate noisy college students, including noise ordinances, laws preventing cars from being parked in yards and rules that garbage cans must be brought back in from the curb.
Guillot noted that the zoning law also penalizes property owners who are limited in their ability to rent their properties.
“Many judges, businesspeople and lawyers rent out homes to these types of familial situations, and they stand to be penalized as well if this is not addressed,” Guillot said.
District Court Judge Janice Clark is presiding over the trial.
Clark ruled on Jan. 14 against Myers’ request for a summary judgment, but suggested that she agreed that the changing model of families had legal relevance.
When Gremillion told her the definition of “family” had not changed over several years, she responded, “Well, they’ve changed all across America. In fact, in certain districts, more children were born outside of wedlock than inside. Washington, D.C. being one of them,” according to the court transcript.
She also said that the “court is well aware that the police power of the state is very necessary, but it cannot be applied in such a way as to deny equal protection of the citizens.”