More on Black Jack

Some commenters below raised questions about various aspects of the law in Black Jack. I had not read the law, and my comments had to do somewhat superficially with the actual case. I was more concerned with Black Jack’s definition of family. Here’s the actual definition from their Code of Ordinances: “Family. An individual or two (2) or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption, or a group of not more than three (3) persons who need not be related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together as a single non-profit housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit.” The purposes of Article V of the Code of Ordinances on Housing are described as:

The general purpose of this article is to protect the public health, safety, comfort and the general welfare of the people of the city. These general objectives include, among others, the following specific purposes:
(1) To protect the character and stability of residential areas within the city.
(2) To provide minimum standards necessary to the health and safety of occupants of buildings.
(3) To provide facilities for light and ventilation, necessary to health and safety.
(4) To prevent additions or alterations to existing dwellings that would be injurious to the life, health, safety or general welfare of the occupants of such dwellings or neighboring properties.
(5) To prevent the overcrowding of dwellings by providing minimum space standards per occupant of each dwelling unit.
(6) To provide minimum standards for the maintenance of existing residential buildings, and to thus prohibit the spread of slums and blight.
(7) To thus preserve the taxable value of land and buildings throughout the city.

Despite my beliefs about what a family is and is not, is the current case really about the definition of family or about overcrowding? If it is about overcrowding, perhaps they need to amend the law so that it has requirements about square-footage per person (which they have; just not for unmarried or unrelated people), rather than a simple number of people. Then again, the above statements show that this is really about both family and space, and it is hard to disentangle them.

All I’m really saying is that valid points have been raised about the propriety of the law, but those points generally coalesce with a person’s definition of “family.” In other words, I may be willing to concede from the perspective of the law, but not from the perspective of what makes a family.


10 thoughts on “More on Black Jack

  1. I think the statute is very clear in it’s definition regarding “public health, safety, comfort and the general welfare of the people of the city”.

    Our problem is that the only social discriminator that defines what is or is not a “legal” family is marriage.

    The point is that an unmarried couple represents not one family, but two. (Regardless of the number of residents in the home).

    While more than 4 people can live in a small trailer. Four or more, consisting of 2+ families, living in that same trailer just doesn’t work.

    Further refining the square-footage per person would only make the situation worse. Do we really want to start dictating that a poor family can only have 2 kids in their home because they can only afford to live in a small trailer? (I think this is one of the excuses China uses to justify dictating only two kids per family).

    On the slipper slope side of the debate. If we start saying that it is okay for a non-married couple (representing two families) to live in a single family dwelling, we open the door for law-suites dictating that marriage no longer defines what a family is.

  2. I guess I’ll take issue with both aspects, the ordinance itself and the issue of what is family. I offer these arguments in respect, though they sound quite tough, I offer them in all friendliness.

    1) The ordinance is in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which says that one cannot discriminate on the basis of “familial status”:

    from HUD:
    “Fair Housing Act
    Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability).”

    2) And sometimes people act as families when there aren’t other options and that is something that Christians should encourage not discourage. My father left us and my care was in part taken on by family friends. Under this STUPID law, I could not move in with them to take care of them in their later years. And yes, they are family, but they are not blood, I am not adopted, but we are family.

    This is not delegitimate the very special blessing that happens when a man and a woman have children together during marriage and they act as a unit to take care of each other.

    Far from it. It goes to show that people can, apart from their expected roles, step in and make sure that children, those in need and the elderly get proper care.

    No law should stop any of these things. The current law we are discussing does stop those things and some of those things are good.

    And in our system of Federalism, a city ordinance does not trump a Federal Law.

    I guess that’s my more than 2 cents.

  3. David,
    You completely miss my point (whether it’s the point of the city of Black Jack or not is irrelevant). My dispute is not with needs and “have-tos,” it is with the desire on the part of some people to have children without giving them the necessary security that comes with marriage. I don’t care what examples people will raise: “Oh, I know all sorts of loving parents who aren’t married,” blah, blah, blah. Who cares? It’s really beside the point since the *best* place to raise children is in a home bound by the marriage vows between one man and one woman. And if you grant that point, then it stands to reason that *willingly* putting children in an extra-marital situation is not the best. Where has necessity been in any of this? It’s about parents who are unwilling to do what’s right.


  4. Tim,

    Well, we are dealing with the law and with raising children after the fall of man, so I’m simply not done with the issue of the Black Jack code and with the definition of family –which is not blah blah blah to me.

    But I’ll grant you that a stable mother and father united in marriage (who are doing a good job raising their kids) is better than not having that.

    That said, dysfunctional parents, abusive parents, etc. are not necessarily a better environment for raising kids than other types of families. And there’s the rub. Being a married, nuclear family doesn’t make one a better family than others, it’s what the people inside that unit do. And also about what God does within a family for people. Luckily, God blesses even those without “traditional” families in all sorts of ways.

  5. David,

    The Federal statute you mention is a good point to support your argument.

    Something as yet undetermined by me is if both people living in the home were on the lease agreement with the landlord. If only one adult person was on the lease then the other adult was living there illegally, and landlord would have cause to evict them for breaking the lease.

    Another consideration untouched so far is if the couple could be considered common law spouses? But still, is the spouse on the lease? In this case I’m guessing no.

    Now, before we go too far with all this we must consider our viewpoints. Are we arguing about what we think the law should be, or debating what the law actually is?

    My point is that I just do not see this as an equal protection issue per the federal statute. The news article leads us to believe so, by focusing on the unmarried status of the couple, but there are a lot of facts left out that could/can impact the eviction status of the couple.

    I hate to see people evicted due to quirky laws, but if we are to be law abiding citizens we can’t choose which laws we follow and which we don’t.

    Let me throw out another example:

    A large three bedroom home in a normal residential neighborhood rented out to 3+ single young men as room-mates (say college students). Landlord is okay with this and has all on the lease. How does this impact that neighborhood?

    Instead of one faimily with one-two cars, we now have a minimul of 3+ cars. We now have 3+ guys dating and having friends over, causing a significant increase in traffic and with partying an increased irritation to neighbors. We also increase the risk of alcohol and drug abuse influences into the neighborhood.

    It would be laws like the Black-Jack statutes used to evict the young men from the property, and thus return a normal level of safety and propriety back to that neighborhood.

    If we use a strict Equal Protection point of view, given all where on the lease and paid up on rent, there would be no way to evict them. Arrest them on minor drug charges, then released to continue living in the house. And the problem to the neighbor hood remains.

    If they stay, the neighbors begin to move out, people of less quality moral standards move in, property values decrease, homes become vacant, and the neighborhood degrades to a slum.

    So,.. how do we define who can and cannot live in a single family dwelling? Do we measure with regard to one legal family, that limits unmarried couples from cohabitating? Or do we dictate a head count, that limits the number of children a poor family can have? Or is there a better way to measure?

    I argue that measuring one legal family per single family residence is the best measurement of the two viable options.

  6. Lawrence,

    The Fair Housing Act says that you cannot discriminate in housing on the basis of familial status, period. You cannot choose a family over a grroup of guys based on that, or else it is discrimination. That is the law of the land. If the city puts a law in conflict with that, we are oblliged to follow the law of the land.

    Further, fair housing laws prohibit being evicted as a result of marriage or having a child.

    Probably some of these laws were passed because some black folks and white folks had the temerity to marry each other and could not find a place to rent. In those times, many states had laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

    Regarding your points on the peace of a neighborhood, while what you say seems logical, it is not legal.

    We have decided in this country through our laws that all people have a right to housing whether they are married or not, of a specific race or not, of a specific religion or not.

    Some good came of the 1960’s and this is an example in the opinion of this confessional Lutheran. ;o)

  7. Very true, David,

    I agree with you, mostly. I’m just pointing out that there is one more aspect of the story than simply looking at the marriage status.

    People do not have a right to live in a home without a legal rental agreement with the landlord. Period. This has nothing to do with marriage. If one spouses signs a rental agreement with a landlord, only that spouse has legal legitimacy to live there. Unless the landlord agrees otherwise, both spouses must be signators to that agreement.

    If they move Grandmother in with them, then she too must become a signator of the lease (with the okay of the landlord) or the lease is broken.

    Furthermore, the fair housing act does not bar discrimination in all scenarios. Landlords may still set up legal screening criteria to evaluate tennants. This is often based on credit history, legal citizenship status, whether or not the have a job indicating they can afford the property, and in many cases criminal history and/or pending criminal litigation.

  8. Now,..

    If the landlord in question has signed a lease agreement with the unmarried couple, then I can see the validity of an equal protection argument.

  9. Lawrence,

    Agreed. The key is “legal” criteria. Landlords can set criteria for their prospective tenants. The Fair Housing Act specifies that race, familial status, religion, etc. cannot be used as criteria. Credit reports, criminal records are okay as criteria. Marital status, if you’re a Lutheran, if you’re white or black, or disabled –those are not okay as criteria.

    Also, just because a contract with provisions or made on the premise of things prohibited by the Fair Housing Act doesn’t mean the contract is enforceable on those items.

    But what is interesting is that it is the city that is denying the occupancy permit on the basis of marital status. I’m surprised that the usual suspicion of lawyers and public officials was not roused when the public official in Black Jack said the case was not about marital status, but about “overcrowding”. If he knows anything about the law, then he knows that the former is not a legal basis and the latter is a legal basis. Thus, I would suggest the official is shading the truth because the city has no case if their statute is about “marital status”.

    But I think this is simply dumb. Evicting these people for this reason would be an injustice, not just legally, but on the face of it. They are essentially acting as though they are married. Yeah, they should get married, but if a marriage is forced by the law, then what good is that? We are not preventing violence, harm or theft through enforcement of a suspect law, the city is simply enforcing a moral code.

    Perhaps this is the one place on the earth where the presence of a law will reduce the amount of sin. ;o)

  10. Everyone’s comments seem to miss the fact that the Black Jack couple (Loving & Shelltrack) were denied an occupancy permit for the 5 bedroom home they PURCHASED earlier this year! So much for rental/landlord whims or regs.
    City councils should not define FAMILY. As the St. Louis newspaper surmised before the ordinance was recently overturned, “City councilmen are elected to fix the potholes, collect trash and keep the peace, not ot impose their personal feelings about cohabitation on the populace.”
    Could it have had something to do with Mr. Loving being black and Ms. Shelltrack not?

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