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Short-term Rental Woes in the Poconos

Would you like to live next to a party house? Are weekly or daily rentals consistent with single family use? The answers to these questions may depend on whether you’re the renter or the neighbor. Here’s what happened this past week in the Commonwealth Court.

 An issue heard with increasing frequency in the Poconos is what to do about short-term rentals of homes zoned for single family use.

With the popularity of Airbnb, companies are buying homes in single family neighborhoods and renting them out weekly, and sometimes daily, to more than a dozen people at a time. No one who purchased a single family home in such a neighborhood reasonably expected dozens of people to rotate in and out of what sometimes becomes a “party house.” Many of Monroe County’s zoning ordinances do not address the short-term rental issue and this is a problem being increasingly litigated in Monroe County.

Against this backdrop, a deck collapsed a week ago in a Saw Creek home, injuring 12 juveniles. According to the Pocono Record, Airbnb listed the house for a weekend price of $666 per night, with a two-night minimum. The description says the home sleeps 24 guests and has almost 600 square feet of deck. It names the owner only as “Sukhendu.” http://www.poconorecord.com/news/20170417/12-injured-in-saw-creek-deck-collapse.

Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in Albert v. ZHB, 854 A.2d 401 (2004), that transiency is incompatible with the notion of a single family household, the Commonwealth Court faulted zoning ordinances for failing to provide for short term rentals and allowed their use in Marchenko v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Pocono Twp., 147 A.3d 947 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) and Shvekh v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 154 A.3d 408 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017), two Monroe County cases. These two decisions were authored by Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hanna Leavitt who has refused to limit owners’ uses of their property unless specifically prohibited.

This past week, Newman Williams Attorney Jerry Geiger argued a case for Hamilton Township before the Commonwealth Court. Judge Leavitt presided. Judge Cosgrove and Judge Collins were on the panel as well. Later on the argument schedule was a very similar case involving a Smithfield Township ordinance.

It remains to be seen how the Court will rule. Judge Leavitt’s comments suggested her decision will be consistent with Marchenko and Shvek. Judge Collins appeared to be sympathetic to the Township’s position and even commented that Attorney Geiger’s comments were “persuasive.” Judge Cosgrove appeared to be leaning toward Judge Leavitt’s position.

While argument comments are not a perfect predictor of a ruling, we believe that this is an issue that should be taken up by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court given our view that these decisions are inconsistent with the Albert case and its conclusion that transiency is incompatible with a single family neighborhood.

Stay tuned. We expect a decision by the end of the summer. Meanwhile, Townships are looking at modifying their ordinances to address this issue, at least prospectively.


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