Morgan County v. May

305 Ga. 305, 824 S.E.2d 365 (2019)

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Morgan County v. May

Georgia Supreme Court
305 Ga. 305, 824 S.E.2d 365 (2019)

Facts

Christine May (defendant) built a lake house in Morgan County, Georgia (plaintiff) and began using it as a short-term rental for approximately a week at a time. At the time May began renting out her house, the county zoning ordinance listed several approved uses for properties, and it prohibited any non-listed use. The ordinance allowed the use of single-family detached dwellings, but it contained no language concerning the use of such dwellings as rental property. The ordinance defined a dwelling as a structure designed or used exclusively for residential purposes. In practice, the county allowed rentals for 30 days or more but prohibited rentals for fewer than 30 days. Two years after May began renting out her home, Morgan County amended its zoning ordinance to specifically prohibit rentals for fewer than 30 days. May continued to rent her house for one-week periods, and Morgan County cited her for a misdemeanor violation of the zoning ordinance. May was convicted, and she appealed her conviction until the case was remanded to the trial court. On remand, the trial court dismissed the citation, reasoning that the old zoning ordinance had been unconstitutionally vague and thus it had not prohibited May’s use of her house as a short-term rental. Therefore, the court reasoned, May had a grandfathered right to continue to use the house as a short-term rental. Morgan County appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that the old zoning ordinance had not been unconstitutionally vague. Specifically, Morgan County argued that (1) because the old ordinance did not list rentals as an approved use, a person of ordinary intelligence would understand that short-term rentals of single-family detached dwellings were prohibited, and (2) short-term rentals did not fall under the definition of dwelling because a dwelling is a place where a person lives rather than a place of temporary sojourn.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nahmias, J.)

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