A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit over Walworth County’s new short-term rental ordinances, saying the regulations do not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Walworth County’s new ordinances restrict a rental’s occupancy to the size of its septic system, impose a seven-day minimum stay, and require renters to obtain a county license and pay an annual fee to operate a rental property.
Attorney Martin Murphy, who owns three short-term rental units near Lake Como, filed the lawsuit last year. He argued the new ordinances violate the 14th Amendment because they treat homeowners who operate short-term rentals differently than other single-family homeowners.
U.S. Judge J.P. Stadtmueller denied Murphy’s claim Thursday, writing in a 15-page order that a single-family home inhabited by an average-sized family is “differently situated” than a home intermittently inhabited by short-term tenants.
Tenants in short-term rentals use different amounts of electricity, water and gas, he wrote. The number of automobiles in the driveway varies, he wrote, and vacationers tend to generate more trash than average single-family homeowners.
Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the county’s Land Use and Resource Management Department, praised the ruling Monday, saying the court’s decision has state and national implications.
She said Stadtmueller’s ruling likely would have set a precedent on short-term rental ordinances had he ruled in Murphy’s favor.
“There are a lot of communities throughout the state and United States that have these rules, so if a federal judge had found that we couldn’t have them, that throws a lot of people out, including the state of Wisconsin,” she said.
Murphy has 30 days to appeal. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Haydin said there are no pending lawsuits over the county’s new short-term rental ordinances.
She said Monday the county has issued 76 short-term rental licenses, up from 67 issued in December. The county estimates there are 160 to 170 short-term rental units in its jurisdiction.
In February, the Walworth County Board voted to lower the annual licensing fee to $600. The previous annual fee of $904 met considerable hostility from short-term renters.
Doug Wheaton, government affairs director for the Lakes Area Realtors Association, said in February the association “sincerely” appreciated the county reducing the fee.
“However, to the best of our knowledge, it is still the highest county home rental license fee in the state,” Wheaton said.