Want to Share a Rental with Roommates? In Some Places, That’s Illegal
A ban on co-living in Kansas sparked outrage; it is not just happening there.
When I was researching my book How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I asked many people how they would like to live if they could choose any way at all. One popular fantasy was the Golden Girls model — a group of people would all live together under the same roof. They could include friends and not just relatives, and they would each have their own private bedroom. They would also share certain spaces such as a living room and kitchen, creating a feeling of companionship and camaraderie.
Other people prefer living alone but can’t afford it. Living with roommates is sometimes their only reasonable option.
Too bad for all of those people if they live in Shawnee, Kansas. The city council recently voted unanimously to ban “co-living” arrangements, which they define as four or more adults who are unrelated. It’s worse than it sounds; if just one person is unrelated to the others, the entire group is classified as unrelated, and therefore illegal. (Group homes for people with disabilities would not be banned.)
In the typical arrangement that the Kansans do not like, each bedroom is rented separately, and the roommates share common spaces. One of the women in the community who was in favor of the ban said she was worried about property values and about “this juxtaposition of people who care about their homes and those who don’t.” Another community member, a renter, objected to the consistent derogation of people like her during the months when the law was being debated; “My home is not an eyesore and I am not a liability,” she said.
The new policy was instantly derided and mocked on social media. A tweet posted on April 28 showed a screenshot of a newspaper article titled “Shawnee unanimously passes ordinance banning co-living.” In less than a week, it was retweeted or quote tweeted nearly 20,000 times and liked nearly 73,000 times. In the Kansas City Star, an editorial (behind a paywall) ran under the headline, “Shawnee, Kansas co-living rentals ban criminalizes poverty.”