Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 9, 2017

PA Appeals Court Holds Language of Zoning Ordinance Did Not Bar Owners from Using Property for Short-Term Transient Tenancies

The Hamilton Township Zoning Officer issued an Enforcement Notice to Appellants Slice of Life, LLC and Val Kleyman, charging them with violations of the Township Zoning Ordinance for “use of the Property as Hotel and/or other types of transient lodging, Rental of Single Family Residential Dwelling for transient tenancies.” The Board denied Appellants’ appeal of the Enforcement Notice, and the trial court affirmed. The trial court found that based upon the totality of the circumstances, Appellants were not operating a single family dwelling, but instead conducting a short-term, transient lodging business, using the property as part of that business enterprise, with a clear profit motive.

On appeal, Appellees contended that a “transient lodging business” was not listed as a permitted use in any of the Zoning District A Use Classes. The record indicated that no evidence had been presented indicating that the guests of the tenant under the lease were legal occupants or part of the tenant’s family. However, Appellants claimed that the terms “transient lodging” and “transient tenancies” did not exist in the Ordinance, so Appellees could not improperly establish undefined permitted uses. The court agreed, finding that because of this ambiguity arising from these missing terms, the court was obligated to interpret the language of the Ordinance in favor of the landowner and against any implied extension of restrictions on the use of the property.

The Board next identified three areas of issue regarding the property related to the health, safety and welfare of the public: the occupancy limit, the septic system, and disruptive tenant actions. The court found that while there was conflicting testimony as to the number of bedrooms at the property, the record was devoid of evidence of any violation pertaining to occupancy. Additionally, the record indicated that there was never a septic system problem or violation at the property. Finally ,while the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) came to the Property on at least five separate occasions after the Township gave Appellants the Enforcement Notice, no citations were issued by the PSP for any of the reported activities taking place on the property. Accordingly, the court held that the trial court’s findings were not supported by substantial competent evidence.

Slice of Life, LLC v Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board, 164 A. 3d 633 (PA Commwlth 8/7/2017)

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