Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision that may affect the future of the short-term rental industry in the entire Commonwealth. In recent years municipalities have struggled to deal with the increasing impact of web-based rental services such airbnb.com and vrbo.com. In Slice of Life, LLC and Val Kleyman v. Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board and Hamilton Township, the Court concluded that the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district that limits use to single family homes by “a single housekeeping unit.”
The case involves a home in the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania owned by the limited liability company Appellee. Val Kleyman, the individual Appellee, is the sole member of the LLC. The limited liability company was organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to acquire and own the subject property located in Hamilton Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Kleyman never resided at the premises nor did he consider it to be his personal residence. The home was acquired solely for investment purposes, to be used exclusively for short-term rentals.
The subject property is located in a Residential zoning district permitting, “single family detached dwellings and accessory uses and essential services.” The homeowner was cited for a zoning violation and was instructed by the township zoning officer to cease use as a hotel/transient rental facility. Appellees filed an appeal which was denied by the Zoning Hearing Board. The Court of Common Pleas affirmed the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board and that decision was reversed by the Commonwealth Court. The appeal to the Supreme Court followed.
In its Slice of Life ruling, the court balanced the long standing constitutionally protected right of a property owner to the enjoyment of his or her property against the recognized permissible limitation on that right by a zoning ordinance that is substantially related to the protection of the public health, safety, morality and welfare. It remains to be seen how this broadly decision will be interpreted and applied in zoning enforcement actions, but property owners and municipalities need to take notice. The Municipal and Real Estate practice groups at Stock and Leader will continue to monitor this dynamic area of the law.