HARTFORD -- A legal battle, with flavors of a TV sitcom, is underway in Hartford City Hall.
The question at hand: does the government have the right to decide what constitutes a family in a modern world?
The group of 11 close friends who are at risk of being evicted from their 68 Scarborough St. home said Wednesday their constitutional rights are being violated and they will fight the city in court.
Peter Goselin, an attorney for the residents, said he has filed a complaint in federal district court arguing the eight adults and three children, known as the “Scarborough 11” is made up of a functional, tax-paying household. But Hartford’s definition of family forbids them from living together, and it's caused a fight against the zoning board.
“We never wanted this day to come. We've been left with no choice,” said Joshua Blanchard, a resident of 68 Scarborough St.
The family includes three couples and their children. They're all friends and just enjoy living together. They share a bank account, divvy up the chores, all are listed as owners of the 6,000-square-foot property, but according to zoning laws that date back to the 1970s, the house is a single-family dwelling, and because the group is not related by marriage, blood, civil union, or adoption they are in violation of the code.
“By the city's attempt to enforce this definition of family—that has incredibly outdated and simply doesn't correspond to reality,” said Goselin.
The group was served with a cease-and-desist order in October, and it was upheld by the city's zoning board of appeals on February 17.
John Gale, the chairman of the zoning board for the West End Civic Association, says he hoped both sides could resolve this out of-court. “I believe they are good people and believe their neighbors are good people, and I’d like to believe reasonable people can work these things out,” said Gale.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and now the city is suing the family in the state Superior Court to force out "additional families" from the nine-bedroom home. Anyone not directly related to the two owners on the property record would be evicted.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Julia Rosenblatt, a resident of 68 Scarborough Street.
Goselin says he hopes the complaint will allow a federal judge to issue an injunction against the city of Hartford’s lawsuit. The suit was specifically filed against the two property owners of the home: Laura Rozza and Simon Disantis.
The city requests a court injunction to enforce the cease-and-desist order and collect fines. "The time for compliance has passed," said the city's suit, which was signed by Lisa Silvestri, an assistant corporation counsel. "The defendants still continue to use the property as before the ZBA's denial, in violation of the Hartford zoning regulations."
The family has gathered donations to pay for their legal fees and are looking for loopholes in the system so they can stay in their home.