Court Rules Zoning Ordinance Arbitrary, Oppressive and Untailored

Scott A. Johnson and Kaitlin L. Hoop

gavel in judge's office   Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled that a City of Bowling Green zoning ordinance violated the Ohio Constitution (Grant Yoder, et al. v. City of Bowling Green, Ohio, et al.).  There often is a conflict between a private property owner’s interest in having free use of his or her property, and the government’s interest in promoting the public’s health, safety and welfare.  This conflict  frequently is seen with local government zoning regulations. While the government has the right to restrict and limit the use of private property in the name of protecting the public, this right is not unlimited.

    A collection of twenty-three Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction (“plaintiffs”), challenged the constitutionality of Bowling Green’s residential regulations, which prohibited the occupancy of “single family” homes by three or more unrelated adults. The ordinance narrowly defined “Family” as “an individual or married couple and natural or adopted children … foster children … and other person directly related to the individual or married couple by blood or marriage.” Anyone who violated the ordinance could be subject to $500 per day in fines and face criminal prosecution. The City alleged the ordinance was supported by a legitimate public interest, namely, to limit “population density.”

    Plaintiffs argued the dwelling limit was unconstitutionally vague and violated equal protection and due process of law under the Ohio Constitution.  The Court agreed, finding the ordinance to be “impermissibly arbitrary, oppressive, and untailored.”  Not only did the ordinance fail to advance the governmental interest of reducing population density, but it also applied unequally and unjustifiably to similarly-situated homeowners and tenants.  As Judge Knepp pointed out, “A house with four unrelated roommates creates no more population density than one with four related roommates. Rather than regulating based on space, the dwelling limit operates based on relationships.” Thus, on February 1, 2019, the Court issued its opinion in favor of the plaintiffs and struck down the city ordinance based on clear violations of equal protection and due process of law. 

    The outcome of the case not only upholds the integrity of Ohio citizens’ private property rights but also lays important precedent for Ohio property owners and developers faced with potentially unjustifiable zoning restrictions.  Eastman & Smith has represented several property owners facing similar zoning ordinances and other push-back from local municipalities.  If you are concerned with the validity of zoning restrictions affecting your residential or commercial property, please contact one of our real estate attorneys to discuss your rights and potential claims.


    Disclaimer: The article in this publication has been prepared by Eastman & Smith Ltd. for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney/client relationship.