Family reunion rental in single-family zoning?

(Utah, USA)

Visitor Question: A 17,000 square foot home is under construction as a "single family residence" in our quiet residential area. It has come to our attention that the owner intends to rent this for large "family reunions" of up to 150 people.

This takes "short term rental" to a whole new level. Clearly this becomes a business venture more on a commercial scale.

The area is surrounded by nicer homes on mainly 5 acre lots surrounding a beautiful river area with owners who purchased for the quiet, peaceful beauty.

What can we as citizens and neighbors of this "residence" do now to prevent this flagrant mis-step in this quiet area before the home is completed and major problems arise, as the owner is mis-representing his intentions to the planning commission and just stating that it is a "single family home."

Editors' Reply:
You do have our sympathies. This is a ridiculous zoning problem for you to have to put up with!

You say that this owner is telling the planning commission that he is building a single family home, but you also say that this large house already is under construction.

This is interesting, because it implies that the owner took out a building permit (or otherwise received permission from the city or town) to build a single family home.

If the property owner now (or since construction started) is appearing before the planning commission, maybe he or she "got caught" after word of the true intention became known, and was sent to the planning commission after the fact to get a rezoning to allow commercial rental.

Be assured that if the zoning question is still under deliberation within your city government, they are under absolutely no obligation to capitulate and give the person the zoning they need in order to rent out the building to large groups.

So you and your neighbors are in a pretty strong position, and you need to make a show of strength and unity by all turning out at the public hearings, creating a petition, and talking and meeting personally with your elected city councilperson (whatever that person may be called in your village, town, or city).

You need to tell that elected official that the fact that the construction is underway just means that the property owner has to use the new building as a single-family home, if that is what the zoning classification allows. Yes, that's impractical, but it's really not the fault of the city or the general public if someone lied in order to get a building permit.

We agree with you fully that renting out a super-large house for family reunions is extremely unlikely to meet your jurisdiction's definition of "single-family" under the zoning ordinance. Look on-line or go to city hall to read the wording in the definitions section.

We think it's very likely that the family reunion rental actually meets the definition of a hotel, motel, or inn under your zoning. This definitional question could be discussed with your city attorney.

By the way, the situation is slightly different if you just got excited or were tired when you were writing, and you intended to say that the statement before the planning commission occurred some time ago before the construction began. Commonly, neighbors think that statements before the planning commission are binding, but that isn't the case.

(Where this property owner may be wrong is in what was said at the time of applying for the building permit, not what was said or not said before the planning commission.)

OK, enough speculation on our part. To answer your question, you can do these things:

1. If the property owner is still trying to obtain zoning that would allow this family reunion rental idea, fight the rezoning.

2. If the owner already has obtained a rezoning that would allow the short-term rental to large groups, you are out of luck, with the possible exception of filing a lawsuit. (This last option would have to be carefully discussed with an attorney, as it might well be unsuccessful.)

3. If the owner took out a building permit for a single-family residence, is not now seeking a rezoning, and denies his or her true intention, your best or only option may be to wait until the lodging is completed and then document by video and note taking how many people are staying there, and when they are coming or going. (Don't trespass while you're collecting this information though.) Then you have to ask your city to enforce their zoning ordinance, taking it political. If they refuse, it would seem likely you have a good lawsuit against the city.

4. If by any chance the city zoning administrator doesn't agree with you and me that renting out to large groups is a commercial venture, your zoning ordinance probably gives you a way to appeal that administrative decision. Typically that appeal would be heard by a zoning board of appeals, or board of adjustment.

Tough situation, but one that you and your neighbors should be able to resolve, unless the party sought and received a rezoning to allow short-term rental zoning.

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