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Bostick v. DeSoto County

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 9, 2017

CHARLES THOMAS BOSTICK AND LARRY S. POE APPELLANTS
v.
DESOTO COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, BY AND THROUGH ITS BOARD OF SUPERVISORS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/17/2015

         DESOTO COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. MITCHELL M. LUNDY JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: WILLIAM P. MYERS.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: ROBERT E. QUIMBY.

         EN BANC.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Tom Bostick and Larry Poe own houses in a residential subdivision in DeSoto County. Bostick and Poe began offering their houses for short-term rent to transient guests on HomeAway.com and other websites. DeSoto County contends that such rentals are not a permitted use under applicable DeSoto County Zoning Regulations, which permit, as relevant in this case, "single family dwellings." The DeSoto County Chancery Court agreed and permanently enjoined Bostick and Poe from offering their houses as "vacation rentals" to short-term, transient renters. On appeal, Bostick and Poe argue that the chancery court misinterpreted the applicable regulations. However, we agree with the chancery court that such rentals are not a permitted use. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Bostick owns a house in Blue Lake Springs, a residential subdivision in Lake Cormorant, an unincorporated community in DeSoto County. Bostick once lived in the house, but he now resides near Auburn, Alabama. After he moved, Bostick began offering the house for rent on HomeAway.com, with a two-night minimum stay. Bostick's online listing touts the house's proximity to Graceland, Beale Street, Tunica, and the University of Mississippi. Online reviews for the house indicate that he has rented it for, among other purposes, family gatherings, vacations, "guys" and "girls" weekends, a "bachelorette gathering, " and as a place for out-of-state wedding guests to stay.

         ¶3. Poe owns three houses in Blue Lake Springs. He has offered the houses for short-term rent on Craigslist, HomeAway.com, and other websites. Neighbors have complained about raucous parties, loud music, and out-of-state vehicles coming and going at the houses.

         ¶4. In December 2014, the County filed an application in the DeSoto County Chancery Court for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction to "halt the short-term rental" of Bostick's home.[1] The County alleged that the property was "not [being] used as any person's residence but [was] rather being continually rented on a 2 to 3 night basis." The County further alleged that such use of the property violated the applicable county zoning regulations for property zoned "A-R Overlay." The County filed a similar application to enjoin Poe from renting his houses on a short-term basis.

         ¶5. On January 30, 2015, a hearing was held in the Bostick case. Following the hearing, the chancery court entered an order preliminarily enjoining Bostick from renting the house "to transient guests for compensation." Bostick and Poe are represented by the same counsel, and the court subsequently entered an agreed order consolidating the Bostick and Poe cases.

         ¶6. The consolidated cases proceeded to a final hearing on June 4, 2015. Benny Hopkins, the director of planning for DeSoto County, and Jeremy Sartain, a longtime resident of Blue Lake Springs, testified in the County's case-in-chief. Shelley Johnston, a certified planner and planning consultant, testified for Bostick and Poe.[2]

         ¶7. Sartain testified that neighbors were concerned about parties at the subject properties with "loud music" and numerous vehicles with out-of-state license plates. He testified that during a recent weekend, "15 to 20 motorcycles [were] parked in the driveway" of one of the houses and "loud music" was playing. "All weekend, " "all you heard was the motorcycles rip[-]roaring through the neighborhood." The motorcycles all had out-of-state tags, and no one knew why they were there. Sartain and others were afraid to allow their children to ride bikes or play outside. Another weekend, Poe rented a house to University of Memphis students for a party. Poe told Sartain that he knew that the students had a "stripper" at the party-or, if not a stripper, "a female [who] was not dressed appropriately."

         ¶8. The chancery court subsequently ruled "that a permanent injunction [was] justified, " finding as follows:

Single family dwellings permitted in the AR zone are dwellings designed or used as a residence, and they do not include a room in a hotel which is open to transient guests. It is not the intention of the DeSoto County Zoning Regulations to allow so-called vacation rentals in a residential subdivision.

         Therefore, the court "permanently enjoined" Bostick and Poe "from renting their homes as so-called vacation rentals." Bostick and Poe filed a timely motion for a new trial, which was denied, and a timely notice of appeal. On appeal, they argue that the DeSoto County Zoning Regulations do not prohibit the rental of a "single family dwelling" to "transient guests" on a "short-term basis."[3]

         DISCUSSION

         ¶9. "The findings of a chancellor will not be disturbed on review unless the chancellor was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous, or applied the wrong legal standard. . . . However, for questions of law, the standard of review is de novo." McNeil v. Hester, 753 So.2d 1057, 1063 (¶21) (Miss. 2000). There are no significant or material facts in dispute in this case. Rather, the appeal turns on the proper interpretation of applicable zoning regulations, an issue of law. Therefore, we review the chancery court's decision de novo.

         ¶10. "Zoning ordinances should be given a fair and reasonable construction, in the light of their terminology, the objects sought to be obtained, the natural import of the words used in common and accepted usage, the setting in which they are employed, and the general structure of the zoning ordinance as a whole." City of Gulfport v. Daniels, 231 Miss. 599, 604-05, 97 So.2d 218, 220 (1957). "The cardinal rule in construction of zoning ordinances is to give effect to the intent of the lawmaking body." Columbus & Greenville Ry. Co. v. Scales, 578 So.2d 275, 279 (Miss. 1991). "[The Supreme] Court has held that, 'in construing a zoning ordinance, unless manifestly unreasonable, great weight should be given to the construction placed upon the words by the local authorities.'" Hall v. City of Ridgeland, 37 So.3d 25, 40 (¶50) (Miss. 2010) (quoting Scales, 578 So.2d at 279).

         ¶11. Under the DeSoto County Zoning Regulations, the houses at issue in this appeal are in a "Residential Overlay District" referred to as "A-R Overlay." As relevant in this case, permitted uses in the A-R Overlay District are the same "[u]ses permitted in the underlying base zone district, " which is "A-R"-the "Agricultural-Residential District." "Permitted Uses" in the A-R District include, as relevant in this appeal, "[s]ingle family dwellings."[4]The issue in this appeal is essentially whether a "single family dwelling" may be continually rented to a succession of transient ...


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