• Welcome to the new and improved Building Code Forum. We appreciate you being here and hope that you are getting the information that you need concerning all codes of the building trades. This is a free forum to the public due to the generosity of the Sawhorses, Corporate Supporters and Supporters who have upgraded their accounts. If you would like to have improved access to the forum please upgrade to Sawhorse by first logging in then clicking here: Upgrades

"but it's not a group home" says the owner.

Oct 19, 2009

I enforce zoning regulations.

Our zoning regulation allows a single family to occupy a single family home.
Our definition of FAMILY allows for an unlimited number of blood-related family members to live under one roof. In addition to those blood-related family members, any number of adopted children and foster children may live there as a family. In addition to the family unit, only two more people may reside with the family that are not related by blood or adoption or otherwise assigned to the care and custody of the family as parental guardians. A typical example of three unrelated college students is allowed by the zoning code. And if two of those college students are brothers, then there could be four total.


Twelve people are living in a single family house. The owner of the property lives there. The owner tells neighbors that he is allowing transients to live in his house. This sounds like a group home but it is not licensed as a group home. For a single family home to be converted into a group home (or halfway house or alternative to imprisonment or alcohol rehab, etc.) a permit application and approval is required.

The neighbors notice the increase in activity at the house. Most notably is the frequency of visits by the police. A building inspector stops by to inform the home owner that a conversion from a single family home to any other type of residential use requires a permit application and approval. But the home owner explains to the inspector that the only people living there are him and his sister-in-law. He goes on to explain that his sister-in-law is being harassed by her husband. Hence the reason why the police continue to show up.

Based on the testimony from the home owner, the building inspector closes the complaint. No further action required because it is not a building and safety issue.


1) As a building official, what would you do when the neighbors continue to complain about this situation?

2) Knowing that the home owner is not being truthful, what more can be done?

Thanks in advance.

ICC Certified Plan Reviewer
NFPA Certified Fire Plan Examiner
Based on your description … its a violation. The sister in law could probably be allowed, but not the transients. The HO probably thinks of them as overnight guests not residents, but that’s not right.

So ... it’s a violation. What options do you have? can you suspend the CofO?
I don't think you could pull the CO, based on the neighbor's complaint. I would consult the City's legal folks before I went down that rabbit hole.
Thanks for your comments. I took a walk by the house this morning and said “hello” to the home owner. He was doing a great job taking care of his yard. Two cats and three trucks were in his large driveway. There was NOT a lot of evidence to suggest that several transients were living under one roof without first obtaining a special permit from the housing department.
Having a visit from a building inspector might put a damper on the increased activity and police visits. I have gotten lucky and visited the property when the owner was away. The occupant invited me in and I found rooms divided, extra doors with hasp and padlock. It is hard to deny the facts.
It turns out that the report of a zoning violation from the neighbors was valid. Below is an update:

1) Owner modified his gas line by cutting the connection to the city gas supply and reconnecting the supply line to multiple propane tanks.
2) Someone called the fire department when the faulty connection to the propane tanks started to leak.
3) When three fire trucks and ten police cars arrived to evacuate the neighborhood, they escorted eight transients out of the house.
4) Drug paraphernalia was found in plain sight.
5) Neighbors witnessed a large gun along with bags being removed from the residence.
6) Home is now placarded (red tagged) while the owner sits in jail waiting for trial.

It's your house but you are not allowed to make non-code-compliant modifications. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Owner modified his gas line by cutting the connection to the city gas supply and reconnecting the supply line to multiple propane tanks.
What was that all about? Any appliance that can utilize a propane tank connection usually has an orifice for propane and not natural gas. Using natural gas in an appliance that is set up for propane might not be as dangerous as using propane in an appliance that is set up for natural gas.....but what do I know?
So you go to jail there for cutting a gas line?
No. I don't think that you go to jail for making a faulty gas connection. But unlike California, we do enforce a number of other laws here in the middle of nowhere. For example: You may not have a crack house full of junkies without first obtaining a home-based pharmacy permit. It's one of those "Health, Safety, and Welfare" things that is difficult for liberals to understand. :rolleyes:

While the owner has a time-out in jail, the property continues to have a lot of activity outside the house. The garage door is now knocked off the track in such a way that anyone can walk in and out of the house. The police were called to the house again and they arrested a woman. Not sure why she was arrested. But it seems apparent that folks understand that nobody should be inside the house. Instead, the transients spend their time swimming in the pool outside. These people are persistent.
Last edited:
Propane has been comply taken out of our codes in PA and you can do anything you want with it. If a new house that has a garden hose for propane I can't say anything.
Years ago I was talking to a housing rights attorney in California. He said that in the 1960s(?) a lawsuit involved hippies that had set up a commune in a single family residence. IIRC, the CA court ruled that unrelated -expel could share a residence, and they capped the occupancy load at 25 SF/person. I haven’t yet found that case, though I haven’t spent much time looking for it either, and in any case it probably only affects CA.
The same home owner who told the building inspector that nobody lives there except him and his sister-in-law is now asking for help from law enforcement to evict the squatters while the home owner continues to sit in jail. What we are learning from this is that once you invite twelve transients to live in your residence (a zoning violation) it is really difficult to make them move out. Meanwhile the neighbors are pulling their hair out wondering what more can be done towards having a normal house with a somewhat normal family.
Last edited:
it is really difficult to make them move out
California takes that to an extreme. Many times I have responded to a complaint about an illegally converted garage and found out that the occupant of the garage is the person that called in the complaint. The owner is trying to evict the renter for nonpayment and the renter wants something to show a judge that the domicile is not even legal. The process can drag on for months.

I had a case of a converted garage called in anonymously. It was nice....had a slider to the back yard and a little old lady in a rocking chair. The layout of the lot precluded building covered parking so I told him it had to be restored to a garage. The owner asked how long he had to get it done. I said ninety days. He became upset and said that he wanted the order to state one week.
The little old lady was his mother inlaw.
Last edited:
The following cases addressed how many remotely-related or unrelated people can reside in a building zoned as a single family residence.
Santa Barbara v. Adamson (1980)
Here's some previous cases cited:
Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas (1974)
Moore v City of East Cleveland (1977)
State of New Jersey v. Baker (1979)

This one on Santa Barbara v Adamson will give you an overview:

There's been lots of "what if" history on this issue, including a household with lots of servants; religious institutions; fraternities and sororities; communes, etc. there was even one case that speculates whether the number of cars indicated a level of mobility wherein a family unit might not be close relatives.
Last edited: