Murdock Law has been fighting to protect Walworth County Property Owners’ right to use their vacation homes for short-term rentals.
About Walworth County Vacation Rentals
Walworth County and Lake Geneva were once a popular tourist retreat for Chicago barons who made their fortunes in lumber, cattle, oil, steel, cement, manufacturing, and durable goods. In fact, the area was known as a haven for Al Capone and other prohibition era mobsters. There is a good reason for the area’s popularity.
Summers in Walworth County are beautiful. There are few better places to watch a sunset over than over pristine lakes. The memories with your family vacationing in Walworth County will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, Walworth County has taken actions to ban vacation rentals and discourage tourism from the area.
History of Walworth County Short-Term Rentals
In some parts of the County such as Assembly Park, short-term rentals have long been accepted. Those in power in Walworth County have adopted a negative view towards tourism and have sought to eliminate vacation rentals in the county.
Murdock Law’s Involvement
In 2013, Andrea Murdock represented a property owner who, like many others, was using his property for short-term rentals. Murdock successfully argued that the County had never adopted an ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals and that Walworth County’s attempt to regulate short-term rentals was unconstitutionally vague.
The Courts agreed with Murdock and issued a landmark decision holding that the County’s ordinance did not prohibit short-term rentals. In the words of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals:
A zoning board cannot arbitrarily impose time/occupancy restrictions in a residential zone where there are none adopted democratically by the municipality. We conclude that the Board did not act according to law when it interpreted the single family dwelling zoning ordinance to preclude periodic rental of the owners’ single-family homes.
Walworth County Changes Its Ordinance
After Murdock beat Walworth County at the Circuit Court level, Walworth County revised its ordinances to ban short-term rentals. On December 9, 2014, the County passed a new ordinance that defined short-term rentals to a period of fewer than 30 days.
Walworth County’s revisions to its ordinances may have prohibited short-term rentals going forward, but it should not eliminate vacation rentals in Walworth County where the owners have been using their properties before the Ordinance was revised in December 2014.
Murdock Law has prepared a list of Frequently Asked Questions for Walworth County Short-Term Rentals.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is a Walworth County Short-Term Rental?
A Short-Term Rental is any dwelling unit or a portion of a dwelling unit rented fewer than 30 consecutive days per tenant. These types of vacation rentals are popular with families and are commonly posted on sites such as www.VRBO.com, and Airbnb.com.
Are Short-term Rentals Legal In Walworth County?
It depends. If you have not used your property for short-term rentals before December 9, 2014, you cannot start now. Under the revised ordinance, your use of the property for vacation rentals would fall under the definition of “lodging facilities”–
Lodging facility: A structure or part thereof rented, used or advertised for stays by transients including but not limited to hotel, motel, tourist court, cabin, lodge, rooming house, lodging house, bed and breakfast. The use of any building or structure for transients deems the structure to be a lodging facility.”
Walworth Cty. Ordinances § 74-131, 74-263.
There are no sections of the zoning code, which permits lodging facilities, which means that short-term rentals are prohibited from the entire county. Ultimately we suspect that this will be problematic for the County because they have arguably banned all hotels and motels from Walworth County through this sloppy drafting.
What If I using My Property for Vacation Rentals Before the 2014 Ordinance Revision?
If you were using your property for short-term rentals, it is Murdock Law’s position that you would have a pre-existing non-conforming use. A pre-existing non-conforming use is commonly called grandfather rights and is considered a constitutional right to continue to use your property for that particular use. Both Wisconsin law and Walworth County ordinance expressly permit the continued use of pre-existing non-conforming uses.
Under Wisconsin law, the test for non-conforming use is a financial test that evaluates whether there has been a substantial investment in the use or whether there will be a substantial financial loss if the use is discontinued. Murdock Law has argued that the loss of income from short-term rentals and loss of the investments owners have made in developing their properties for short-term rentals would cause owners to suffer a substantial financial loss.
What Can Happens If I Continue To Use My Property For Short-Term Rentals?
If you are caught the County can issue violation notices. The County has hired personnel to enforce its ordinances. The fines may exceed $600 per violation.
Why is this an Issue?
The County has chosen to ignore the existence of the Growth Management case and has taken the position that short-term rentals have been illegal in Walworth County since 1974. Walworth County has taken the position that NO other property owners may rent their properties on a short-term basis. Murdock Law strongly disagrees with Walworth County’s position as the County’s position is unprecedented in its brazen attempt to deprive property owners of their constitutional property rights.
How Can Murdock Law Help?
Murdock law has represented over two dozen property owners who have rented their properties for vacation rentals. We have established that Walworth County has proceeded under an incorrect theory of law in every instance. We have helped Walworth County property owners establish their right to continue using their properties for short-term rentals by navigating the process of the zoning board and the circuit court.