Local Attorney Says J-town Airbnb Law is Fatally Flawed

Since receiving a visit for Jeffersontown Code Enforcement Officer Kim Weber on Nov. 30, informing me that using my house as a short-term rental was a violation of Jeffersontown law, I’ve been asking city officials to show me the law in question. Neither Mayor Bill Dieruf, city clerk Bill Fox or anyone on the Planning and Zoning Committee has provided a satisfactory answer.

Next I consulted with Steve Emery, a partner in the firm of Howell and Emery PLLC in LaGrange. I provided him with the specific sections of the code to review. His response:

“How is leasing a short term rental NOT a single family residential use?,” Emery wrote. “Is it due to the 30-day rule in the LDC definition for “dwelling unit”? Your home appears to be a “dwelling” and a “dwelling – single family (or One Family). However, it may not qualify as a “dwelling unit” as defined in the land development code at 2.2.7.

“Does that really matter?  It appears that J-Town is clinging to that one definition to disqualify you, but I am not so sure that your home isn’t actually just a “dwelling” or a “dwelling – single family (or One Family).”

“Further, — why 30 days?  That seems like a pretty arbitrary choice to me (which is not constitutional, if the court agrees).  See Kentucky Constitution at Section 2.”

The Jeffersontown City Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee opened its Jan. 16 meeting with all parties agreeing on one thing — that the city’s Land Development Code has language that makes short-term rentals illegal throughout the city.

Chairman Bill Young opened the meeting asking if there was any reason to change the existing law. A short discussion followed,  and then the group decided to do nothing, with the members all on board with the city prohibiting all short-term rentals.

I examined the Ordinance in question, and asked the Mayor and others about it. I filed an Open Records request to see the law, and asked City Clerk Bill Fox to show me the specific law. None were able to point to clear language that showed a prohibition against short-term rentals. I asked attorney Steve Emery for a clarification, and his response (above) clarifies that as written, the Jeffersontown code does not prohibit short-term rentals for dwellings. Plus, he believes that enforcement of the law would be unconstitutional in Kentucky.

The Code Enforcement letter to me, dated Nov. 30, 2017, points to this:

“You must cease immediately using this property in violation of the Jeffersontown Land Development Code, Ordinance No. 1185, Series 2004, Chapter 2.2.6 (R-4 Zoned Residential Property).”

That part of the code points to “Permitted Uses” being all uses permitted in the R-1 Residential Single Family District. That list includes “Dwellings, Single-Family.”  And the definition, in the code, of that phrasing is this: “A dwelling designed for and occupied exclusively by one family.”

There is no mention in this definition of any restricted time period. The only mention in the code of a 30-day minimum is in the definition of “Dwelling Unit”, which refers to a room in a building.

It’s a mystery to me how the Council Committee read this section of the law and determined that short-term rentals are illegal in Jeffersontown, and that it would begin enforcing a law that no one seems to have read. I live in a house, and offer short-term rentals, that is a single-family dwelling.

Of course, the Committee is likely taking advice from city attorney Schuyler Olt, who appears to have a dog in the fight, because he argued against it in a response to my first Facebook post about the topic, saying he thought Airbnbs are likely to attract meth lab operators.