Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 23, 2019

GA Supreme Court Holds Ordinance That Did Not Address Any Permissible or Prohibited Time Limit for House Rentals was Unconstitutionally Vague

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

 

In 2008, Christine May built a vacation home in Morgan County, and began renting her house to others, typically for periods of about a week. The County’s zoning ordinance in effect at that time did not contain any specific language addressing rentals of any duration for houses in May’s zoning district; however, in 2010, the County amended its zoning ordinance to explicitly prohibit most “short-term rentals,” which were defined as rentals for fewer than 30 consecutive days. The County then issued May a citation for violating the amended zoning ordinance, and initiated a misdemeanor criminal proceeding against her. The court denied May’s motion to dismiss on non-constitutional grounds, found her guilty of violating the amended zoning ordinance, and imposed a sentence of 30 days in jail, six months on probation, and a $500 fine. After appeal and remand, the trial court granted May’s motion to dismiss her criminal citation, holding that the County’s old zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally vague as applied to short-term rentals of the sort at issue.

 

The County next contended that even though no language in the old ordinance specifically addressed rentals of houses in May’s district, the ordinance’s definition of “single-family detached dwellings” was sufficient to put May on notice that week long rentals of her house were unlawful. Additionally, the old ordinance’s use of the word “or” in its definition of “single-family detached dwelling” required only that May’s house be “designed” for residential purposes – not that it also be “used” only for residential purposes. Moreover, the court found that the County’s “actually live” versus “temporary sojourn” view of what made a dwelling “residential” did not make it clear that seven-night rentals were prohibited. Specifically, the court reasoned a person could legally establish a residence in only one day., while another could stay in a place even longer than 30 days without “actually” residing there. Accordingly, the trial court’s determination that the County’s old zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally vague as applied to seven-night rentals of May’s property.

 

Morgan County v. May, 824 S.E.2d 365 (GA 2019)


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