What does “single family residence” mean?

Does it include a house which was clearly built to be a single family unit, which is a time-share where different families occupy the residence for a week at a time, but only one family at a time?  Does it include such a house which is rented out for short term rentals?

A recent court of appeals decision says yes, at least under circumstances where the zoning code is otherwise silent about duration.  If a zoning code allows a single family residence, and sets no other time constraints, then a zoning board cannot later arbitrarily impose such a time constraint.

In a decision recommended for publication, Heef Realty v. City of Cedarburg Board of Appeals, two homeowners were renting out single family homes they owned.  The Cedarburg zoning code allowed single family homes, and did not have any language at all about whether short term rentals of such homes was allowed.  But the City determined that short term rentals were not permitted by the code.  The appeals court, upholding a lower court decision, found that a restriction on the free use of property must be explicit – it cannot be implied into otherwise unambiguous language.

While the court did not decide that a municipality could never restrict short term rentals, it was clear that such restrictions must be unambiguous.  I would add that they cannot be arbitrary – they should be reasonable restrictions which have a rational relation to a legitimate government objective.

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