Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 3, 2015

WI Appeals Court Finds Ordinance Unambiguously Prohibited Short-Term Rentals of Single-Family Detached Dwelling Units in R–1 District

The Accolas purchased a home on Rosalind Lake in the Town of Presque Isle and, shortly after they purchased the property, began advertising it for rent on the internet for stays as short as two nights. The County notified the Accolas that single-family residences in the R–1 district could not be rented for periods of less than one month, and asserted rentals of less than one month constituted “transient lodging,” as that term is used in the section of the ordinance governing the RL district. The Accolas subsequently created a corporation called A Better Way to Live, and began asking for donations in return for allowing people to stay for periods less than a month. The County then informed the Accolas that soliciting donations on a weekly basis in exchange for housing was the functional equivalent of renting the property. The County then initiated the instant enforcement action in August 2013, seeking forfeitures and an injunction prohibiting the Accolas from renting the Rosalind Lake property for periods of less than thirty days. The Accolas now appeal an order granting summary judgment to Vilas County in the County’s action to enforce the zoning ordinance.

The Accolas argued that the ordinance permitted short-term rentals of single-family detached dwelling units located in the single-family residential district. While the court agreed with the Accolas that § 4.1(B)(1) neither expressly permits nor prohibits either short-term or long-term rentals of single-family detached dwelling units, it held that when an ordinance simply lists “single-family dwellings” as a permitted use in a zoning district, without more, the ordinance does not unambiguously prohibit short-term rentals of single-family dwellings in that district. However, the court agreed with the County and the circuit court that the phrase “rental of residential dwelling unit” must be read in context with the definition of transient lodging in § 4.2(A), which contains a one-month time limitation. Thus the court held that the rental of single-family detached dwelling units for periods of less than one month is not a permitted use in the R–1 district because a contrary interpretation would render § 4.2(B)(4) superfluous. Accordingly, the holding of the circuit court was affirmed.

Vilas County v Accola, 2015 WL 2193002 (WI App. 5/12/2015)

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