Plaintiff homeowners who offer up their properties for short-term rentals are not subject to a Newport ordinance directing “transient guest facilities” and “guest houses” to register with the city, according to a recent decision of a Superior Court judge.

The plaintiffs, who all own single-, two- or multi-family residences in Newport, have rented out their entire dwelling units to others, but not Counsel for plaintiffs individual rooms. They brought suit after receiving notices that they had violated the registration requirements of $5.40.020 of the municipal code. The notices also stated that the city would begin issuing fines of $200 per day if the plaintiffs did not discontinue short-term renting or apply for a special use permit.

According to the homeowners, their properties are not covered by the registration ordinance because it makes reference to facilities “offering one or more rooms.” On the other hand, the city maintained that “units” are comprised of “rooms.”

Declining to equate the two terms, Judge Richard A. Licht sided with the plaintiffs in analyzing the “awkwardly drafted” ordinance. “Renting of ‘rooms’ and renting of ‘units’ is clearly distinguishable on its face; importantly, even the Zoning Ordinance definition makes this distinction,” Licht wrote.

Because the plaintiffs rent dwelling units, as opposed to rooms, their Counsel for plaintiffs properties do not fit within the definitions of “guest house” or “transient guest facilities” in the ordinance, the judge held. The fact that the dwellings all have full kitchens also cut against the city’s stance.

Licht therefore held that as currently written, the ordinance does not require the homeowners to register their units. However, he disagreed with the plaintiffs’ assertions that the registration ordinance is unconstitutional as violative of the Takings Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution, because it “in no way deprives them of use of their properties.” The plaintiffs’ additional arguments, that the ordinance as applied violated their equal protection and procedural and substantive due process rights, were also rebuffed.

The 17-page decision is 183 Eustis Ave LLC, et al. v. City of Newport, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 61-112-19. The full text of the ruling can be found here, Michael A. Kelly and Joelle C. Rocha of Providence were counsel for the plaintiffs, with Newport Solicitor Christopher J. Behan and Michael A. Desisto of Providence representing the city in the lawsuit.