Slice of Life, LLC v. Hamilton Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 164 A.3d 633 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017)

Restrictions in zoning ordinances must be interpreted narrowly and must not be construed to restrict the use of land by implication. Ambiguities in zoning ordinances must be construed in favor of landowner.
Case Details:

Landowner owns real property (Property) that is rented out to guests. The Township’s zoning officer issued an enforcement notice (Notice) to the Landowner because the Landowner was using the Property as a hotel or lodging for transient tenancies, in violation of the Township’s zoning ordinance. Landowner appealed the Notice, but the appeal was denied by the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB). Landowner appealed to the trial court, which affirmed the ZHB’s decision. Landowner then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court found the language of the zoning ordinance did not prohibit short-term transient lodging enterprises. In coming to this decision, the Court explained that restrictions in zoning ordinances must be interpreted narrowly and must not be construed to restrict the use of land by implication. Landowner’s use is a permitted use in the zoning district as a single-family detached dwelling. Under the ordinance, the term dwelling excludes hotels, motels, rooming houses or tourist homes. Hotels are defined as “buildings designed or used primarily as a temporary lodging place, containing ten or more rooms.” The terms “single family,” “tourist homes,” “transient lodging,” and “transient tenancies” were not defined by the zoning ordinance. The Notice cited Landowner for use of the home as a hotel or transient lodging, however, the home at issue did not meet the definition of a hotel. Given the lack of defined terms for transient lodging and tenancies, the Court explained an ambiguity existed in the zoning ordinance. Where ambiguities or uncertainties exist in ordinances, the language must be interpreted in favor of the landowner and against any implied extension of restrictions on property. Therefore, Landowner’s use was permitted at the Property.

Date of Decision: 6/21/17

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