In this case the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether “short-term rentals” of residential dwelling units were encompassed within the definition of a “single-family dwelling,” or constituted a separate commercial use. In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Commonwealth Court concluded that such rentals must be permitted, unless expressly prohibited by, or encompassed within another defined use in, the applicable zoning ordinance.
Marchenko owned a single-family dwelling in the R-1 zoning district of Pocono Township. To defray her housing expenses Marchenko rented the Property out on weekends. In total, Marchenko occupied the property 62% of the year, and rented it out 38% of the year. Neighboring property owners complained to the Township zoning officer about Marchenko’s rentals. The zoning officer subsequently investigated and issued a notice of violation, asserting Marchenko used the Property for commercial purposes, describing it as a “vacation rental” use.
Marchenko appealed the notice to the Township Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”). The ZHB denied the appeal, concluding her use constituted a “lodge,” an undefined term in the Township’s zoning ordinance (the “Ordinance”) that was referenced as an example of a “transient dwelling accommodation.” Specifically, the ZHB relied upon three definitions of “lodge” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. As a “lodge” was not permitted in the R-1 district, the ZHB concluded it was prohibited. On appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County the ZHB’s decision was affirmed.
On further appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed. First, it found that the ZHB erred in concluding that short-term rentals were prohibited in the R-1 district and were not consistent with a “single-family dwelling” use. As Marchenko resided on the Property a majority of the time and was the only family occupying it when she did reside there, the court concluded it was primarily used as a “single-family dwelling.” Because the Ordinance’s definition of “single-family dwelling” did not prohibit “short term rentals,” nor were they encompassed by any other defined use, the ZHB should have broadly interpreted the Ordinance to allow her use. Second, it found that the ZHB had erred in concluding short-term rentals constituted use as a “lodge.” The court disregarded the first two “lodge” definitions cited by the ZHB because they were verbs rather than nouns. Because “lodge” was used in the Ordinance as a noun, these definitions were inapplicable. As for the third definition, this too was inapplicable because the definition framed the term as being a “base for outdoor activities” and for the purpose of providing “short-term accommodations.” As the ZHB did not find that renters had used the Property as a base for outdoor activities, but did find the Property was used a majority of the time as Marchenko’s primary residence, this definition was similarly inapplicable.
Click here to read: Marchenko v. ZHB of Pocono Twp., 2021 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sep. 19, 2016).