Court Upholds Denial of Short-Term Rentals

Zoning Board’s Decision Denying Short-Term Rentals Upheld

Takeaways: 

  • Residential zoning ordinance’s definition of single-family use or family may vary by state.
  • Check state and local laws to ensure desired use of the property is not restricted.
  • Consult counsel to ensure use of a property is consistent state and local laws.

In Slice of Life, LLC v. Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the ruling that a local zoning ordinance clearly and unambiguously excluded purely transient uses of property.

The issue before the court was whether the Hamilton Township zoning ordinance in question permits the purely transient use of properties located within the zoning district.  Here, the property at issue was a three-bedroom house located in the Poconos, and owned by Appellees, Slice of Life, LLC, a Pennsylvania limited liability company that was organized and existing under Pennsylvania law and with a sole member, Val Kleyman.  Mr. Kleyman lived in Brooklyn, New York, and never lived in the Poconos house or considered it his residence.  Instead, the property was purchased as an investment property, intended to be used exclusively for short-term rentals.  Kleyman advertised the property online through companies specializing in internet-based short-term rentals, allowing a minimum of two nights and a maximum of one week rentals of the Pocono home by various groups. 

The relevant Hamilton Township zoning ordinance included a permitted use for single family residences, and included as their permitted uses were “[s]ingle family detached dwellings [and a]ccessory uses and essential services.”  The Appellees were issued an enforcement citation, citing Appellees’ use of the house “as [a] Hotel and/or other types of transient lodging, Rental of Single Family Residential Dwelling for transient tenancies”, as a violation of the permitted uses of the residence under the Hamilton Township zoning ordinance.  Appellees appealed to the Zoning Board, which was denied, and the Zoning Board’s decision was later upheld by the trial court.  The Appellate Court, however, reversed the Zoning Board’s decision based upon its assessment that “family” was not defined in the ordinance and that the individual signing the short-term rental lease for the property was the “family” for ordinance purposes, and that the other individuals in the large group were “guests” of the “family.” 

The Supreme Court disagreed.  While the Supreme Court recognized a property owner’s constitutionally protected right to the enjoyment of their property, that right is limited by zoning ordinances, which are aimed at “the protection of the public health, safety, morality and welfare.”  The court further noted that a municipality’s police power is well established, and includes the right to establish residential zoning ordinances to protect residential areas from factors that compromise the residential character of a neighborhood, such as increased noise and traffic.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the use of the Pocono house was not by a “family” because the group did not function as a family as defined by the Ordinance, and the Court found no ambiguity in zoning ordinance’s use of the phrase “single housekeeping unit, which “is at the heart of the definition of ‘family’”.  Therefore, in upholding the Zoning Board’s decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the regular rental of a property for two nights to a week was not use as a “single-family dwelling”, and was therefore not permitted under the zoning ordinance.

Slice of Life, LLC and Val Kleyman v. Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board and Hamilton Township, 207 A.3d 886 (April 26, 2019)

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