Utah Court of Appeals
The Utah Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against the ongoing use of an owner’s property for short-term rentals in the city’s agricultural zone as not qualifying for a legal nonconforming use against recent ordinance changes.
In 2019, South Weber adopted an ordinance regulating short-term rentals (STR), requiring both a conditional use permit and a business license fee. Cobblestone had operated a short-term rental on the property they purchased in 2018 within South Weber’s agricultural zone. South Weber filed a complaint in district court seeking to enforce its STR ordinance against Cobblestone, and the district court granted an injunction against the ongoing use of an owner’s property as violating the STR ordinance. Cobblestone appealed, arguing that it had a legal nonconforming use to the property as an STR in the agricultural zone under prior ordinances.
The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling that Cobblestone’s use of the property as an STR was not a permitted, legal nonconforming use. The City’s ordinances provided that “dwellings, one-family” was a permitted use in the agricultural zone, and disallowed all other uses of property other than those listed as permitted or conditional uses. Cobblestone argued that an STR fell within the City’s definition of “dwelling” as merely a “building designed and used for residential purposes.” The Court of Appeals rejected this argument as “unpersuasive because it focuses on only the building as a structure itself rather than the structure’s use,” wholly ignoring the “one-family” restriction, and found that an STR clearly fell within enumerated exclusions of permitted uses of dwellings, including “boarding house” or “lodging house.”
This Court also rejected Cobblestone’s argument that South Weber should be estopped from enforcing the business license requirement under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Cobblestone argued that South Weber knew of their STR operation without a business license for many months, and never issued a complaint, and that a message on South Weber’s website stated that business licenses were no longer required for rentals. This Court found neither argument persuasive, as failure to enforce zoning for a time does not forfeit the power to enforce, and the website reference to “rentals” was distinguishable from STRs, specifically.