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Court strikes down county's lakeshore rental rules

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Looking to rent lakeshore property for a fun-filled, weeklong family reunion or for a short weekend getaway?

Or if you own lakeshore, are you looking for a new source of revenue by renting out your property?

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Now you can.

It's all because of a recent court case involving Douglas County and Dick and Judy Owen, who own three shoreland properties in Douglas County - two on Lake Louise and one on Lake Latoka.

On September 23, Douglas County District Court Judge Conrad Freeberg ruled in favor of the Owens after Douglas County filed a civil lawsuit against them for renting out their shoreland properties on a weekly or daily basis.

When contacted by the newspaper Monday evening, the Owens referred comments to their lawyer, William Leuthner from the Alexandria firm Leuthner Law Office.

He offered an e-mailed response:

"My clients, Richard and Judy Owen, are pleased with the decision. The court correctly decided that the short-term rental of their properties is not restricted by the Douglas County zoning ordinance. The ruling allows the Owens to continue to rent their properties as they have for many years."

Typically, lakeshore property can be rented out to guests on a weekly or daily basis with no problems - when the property is an actual resort.

However, the Owens properties are residential homes that are being rented out for family gatherings, weddings and getaways on a weekly or weekend basis.

The county got involved during the summer of 2006 when neighbors started complaining about noise and disruption at the Owens' property on Lake Latoka. The county determined that renting out a residential home violated its zoning ordinance.

The ordinance, however, does allow homeowners to rent out their homes in time frames greater than 30 days. But it doesn't allow for short-term rentals, noted Douglas County Attorney Chris Karpan at the time.

According to the judgment filed September 23, the civil lawsuit against the Owens sought an order permanently prohibiting the Owens from renting their three shoreland properties on a daily or weekly basis.

The complaint against the Owens contended that for them to rent out their property for periods of less than one month violated the zoning ordinance.

Judge Freeberg ruled that the county's request be denied based on, but not limited to, the fact that the wording in the ordinance is incomplete and because "single family dwellings are permitted uses in the residential shoreland districts; the Owens cannot be required to obtain conditional use permits to rent their properties on a short-term basis."

Karpan, who represented Douglas County in this case, said in an e-mailed statement last week, that while he agrees that the language in the ordinance isn't perfect, he believes it's clear enough to be enforceable and to stop short-term rentals.

"Because this is a civil case, I'll have to run it by the county board and see what they want to do," noted Karpan. "It will be my strong recommendation that we have the court of appeals take a second look at it.

"This is a quality of life issue for the neighbors of these places and I'd like to play every card in our hand before we give this thing up," he concluded.

About the ordinance

Under Douglas County's zoning ordinance, renting a residential home out on a weekly basis is illegal. It only allows homes to be rented out in time frames greater than 30 days.

Resorts or commercial planned unit developments both require conditional use permits because they're located in shoreland areas. There are also typically buffer zones between resorts and the surrounding residential homes.

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