Get out of our bedrooms

As a student of irony I can’t help but admire the city commission’s passion for renter’s rights. In that cause commissioners have been pondering an ordinance that has landlords pulling out their hair and predicting that it will send rents sky high.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of the ordinance.

But the irony is that city government is itself Gainesville’s biggest violator of renter’s rights. And has been for decades.

Listen, this is a liberal town. Everybody says so.

We celebrate diversity. We hang banners on Pride Week. We welcome all regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

But since the 1970s city government has occupied our bedrooms, our living rooms and our kitchens in the most intrusive manner imaginable.

Simply put, the city says that no more than three people can share a house unless they are legally related.

How is that not a violation of our civil liberties? Of our right to free association?

I was a student at UF in the 1970s when the city imposed that restriction. And nobody pretended that it was being done for any other purpose than to keep students from infesting the city like…oh, I dunno…head lice.

It’s not like we are Black Jack, Missouri, which used a similar ordinance in 2006 to tell Fondray Loving, Olivia Shelltrack and their three kids that they couldn’t live in the five-bedroom house they had purchased.

Not so long as they lived together out of wedlock.

University of Missouri law professor Rigel C. Oliveri cited that case in a 2016 Florida Law Review article, in which she argued that a decades-old Supreme Court case upholding the right of cities to do what Gainesville and Black Jack do is “wholly incompatible” with “modern jurisprudence.”

We have “seen profound changes in how Americans live: increased numbers of people are living together outside of wedlock; nonmarital births and child-rearing are on the rise; and the Supreme Court has recently recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Direct governmental regulation of private intimate conduct, such as fornication and adultery, has diminished almost entirely.”

Nonetheless, she wrote, some local governments continue to “interfere with people’s ability to live together outside of a traditional marital relationship.”

Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about affordable housing. Amid all the sound and fury generated by the discussion, GNV Rise fell but ADUs rose.

But still nary a word about the impact of Gainesville’s last-century restriction on access to affordable housing.

“We haven’t talked about it as a rule, I think, because of political pressure” from neighborhoods close to the university, says Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who wants to abolish the ordinance. “It is one of the impediments to affordable housing.”

That’s certainly the contention of the Bedrooms Are For People initiative, which aims to relax similar restrictions in another university city, Boulder, Col.

“Given the pandemic, we are now seeing more people losing their jobs, not able to find work, they are facing eviction,” campaign organizer Eric Budd told Reason magazine, “this would allow people more housing options, it would allow people to share resources, allow people to help each other if they come into financial trouble.”

Boulder commissioners resorted to legally questionable tactics to keep that initiative from going to a vote. In this town we seem to take the position that it’s simply not a suitable conversation for polite company.

Hey Gainesville, get out of my bedroom!

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at Email him at

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