In blog posts last year (available HERE and HERE), we reviewed the challenges that municipalities face in regulating short-term rentals under existing zoning ordinances that do not specifically address the use.  One case we discussed was Slice of Life, LLC v. Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board, 164 A.3d 633 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017).  The Commonwealth Court’s decision in Slice of Life was appealed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision.

In Slice of Life, the Township issued an enforcement notice to the property owner alleging that the property was being used as a hotel or other type of transient lodging in violation of the zoning ordinance.  According to the zoning ordinance, single-family residential was the only permitted use in the underlying zoning district.  The Township’s zoning ordinance defined the term “family” as “[o]ne or more persons, occupying a dwelling unit, related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together as a single housekeeping unit and using cooking facilities and certain rooms in common.”  Unlike other recent short-term rental cases decided by the Commonwealth Court, the property owner in Slice of Life did not live at the property.

The Commonwealth Court had found that the fact that the property owner did not live at the property did not ultimately affect the outcome of the case.  What appeared to be controlling was whether the property was being used as a single-family residential use.  What wasn’t discussed in the Commonwealth Court’s decision was whether the tenants actually met the definition of a “family” as that term was defined in the zoning ordinance.

The Supreme Court noted that the majority in the Commonwealth Court’s decision “did not discuss the definition of ‘family’ or specifically apply the definition to the facts of the case.”  The Supreme Court focused on the “single housekeeping unit” aspect of the definition of “family” in the zoning ordinance and stated that although the term was not defined in the zoning ordinance, it is “a term of art that is widely used in zoning ordinances.”  The Supreme Court stated that it has “adopted the common definition of ‘single housekeeping unit,’ used by courts throughout the country, as requiring the person or persons residing in the home to function as a family and to be ‘sufficiently stable and permanent’ and not ‘purely transient.’”  The Supreme Court found that the zoning ordinance effectively excluded purely transient uses of property in the zoning district by including in the definition of “family” the requirement that occupants of the dwelling function as a “single housekeeping unit.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is clear that short-term rentals cannot be considered a single-family use where the definition of “family” includes a “single housekeeping unit” requirement.  However, municipalities and their residents would still be best served by amending existing zoning ordinances to specifically define and regulate short-term rentals, including making a determination as to where they should be permitted.

Please contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group with questions regarding this post or for assistance with any land use issues.