In Heef Realty & Investments, LLP v. City of Cedarburg Bd. of Appeals, No. 2014AP62, slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2015) (recommended for publication), the court of appeals held that the Cedarburg Board of Appeals erred in interpreting the single-family dwelling zoning ordinances to preclude short-term rentals.

Several property owners purchased homes to use for short-term rentals. After the property owners began renting, they received a notice from the City informing them that their property use violated the city’s zoning ordinance prohibiting short-term rental of a single-family dwelling in a single-family residential district. The property owners appealed the citations, and the Board denied their appeals. The property owners appealed the Board denial in circuit court. The circuit court concluded that the zoning ordinance did not clearly prohibit the use of the homes as short-term rentals.The Board appealed.

The court of appeals agreed with the property owners and affirmed. A restriction on the free use of private property must be stated clearly and unambiguously in the ordinances. The zoning ordinance does not create time restrictions. Instead, the ordinance requires that only one family will use each home at a time. Thus, the property owners did not violate the zoning ordinance.

This case reminds municipalities that in order to regulate a use under a zoning ordinance the prohibited proposed use must be clear and unambiguous. With consistent decisions in the circuit court and the court of appeals, it will be interesting to see if the City further appeals this decision.

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