Morgan County v. May

Court: Georgia Supreme Court
Case Number: S18A1622
Decision Date: February 18, 2019
Case Type: Short Term Rentals
The Supreme Court of Georgia held that a county zoning ordinance did not address rentals of residential houses and was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process rights of May. May built a vacation home in the county in 2008 and began renting out her home to others for short periods of time, usually around a week. At the time, the county zoning ordinance did not contain any language addressing rental of residential houses but the county, in practice, took the position that rentals of property for less than thirty days was prohibited. In 2010 the county amended the ordinance to specifically prohibit most short term rentals, but May continued to rent her house for short time periods thereafter.

In August 2011 the county issued May a citation for violating the amended ordinance but the criminal case was stayed for years while May and the county litigated a civil lawsuit challenging the short term rental ban. May argued that the old zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and that she had a grandfathered right to continue renting her house in a way that would preclude her from being prosecuted under the amended ordinance. In March 2016, after her criminal case was revived, the trial court found her guilty of violating the amended ordinance. May appealed and the case was ultimately remanded to the trial court for a ruling on her constitutional vagueness challenge.

On remand, in May 2018, the trial court granted May's motion to dismiss her criminal citation after ruling that the old zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally vague as applied to short term rentals. Morgan County filed an appeal and May cross-appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.  The Court held that the old ordinance failed to contain any guidelines that would enable May to know that rentals of less than 30 days were prohibited. The county attempted to argue that the old ordinance, while it did not address rentals, did speak to single-family detached dwellings. The Court held that the definitions in the old ordinance were vague and the county had failed to explain how it applied the ordinance, without most of the definitions and prohibitions not being in writing. The Court held that because of the vagueness, May's property was grandfathered and not subject to the short term rental ban in the amended ordinance.