The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court and annulling the zoning board’s (ZBA’s) ruling, determined the term “single family dwellings” should not have been interpreted to prohibit short-term rentals. The ZBA reasoned that short-term, transient tenants do not meet the definition of “family:”
“[L]ocal zoning boards have broad discretion, and [a] determination of a zoning board should be sustained on judicial review if it has a rational basis and is supported by substantial evidence” … . So long as a zoning board’s interpretation of its governing code “is neither ‘irrational, unreasonable nor inconsistent with the governing [code],’ it will be upheld” … . However, where, as here, the issue presented “is one of pure legal interpretation of [the code’s] terms, deference to the zoning board is not required” … . * * *
… [U]nder the Zoning Ordinance, the transient or temporary nature of a group is but one factor that “may” be considered to determine whether four or more persons who are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption are the “functional equivalent” of a “traditional family.” … [I]f petitioner rented her property to three or fewer persons, or to four or more persons who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption, those groups would meet the Zoning Ordinance’s definition of a “[f]amily” without regard to whether their tenancy was transient or temporary in nature. The ZBA’s determination to the contrary lacked a rational basis … , and the court erred in sustaining the determination. Matter of Friedman v Town of Dunkirk, 2023 NY Slip Op 05912, Fourth Dept 11-17-23
Practice Point: Where a zoning board purports to make a pure legal interpretation of terms used in the zoning code, a court’s deference to the zoning board is not required.
Practice Point: Here the zoning board’s interpretation of the term “family” within the phrase “single family residences” to exclude short-term rentals to transient tenants was irrational.