Zoning Rules that Provide Limitations and Restrictions on the Manner of Using Travel Trailers Interpreted to Permit Short-term Rental of Such Trailers

Appeal of Elizabeth Hoekstra
New Hampshire Supreme Court Case No. 2023-0189
Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Hoekstras own a single-family home in the residential district in Sunapee and maintain a travel trailer on their property they use as a short-term rental.  The town’s zoning administrator notified the Hoekstras the use of the travel trailer as a short-term rental was prohibited under the local zoning provision that states that any use not specifically permitted is prohibited.  The Hoekstras appealed that determination to the Sunapee ZBA which upheld the zoning determination.  The Housing Appeals Board upheld the decision of the ZBA. 

Sunapee has a “permissive” zoning ordinance under which any use not expressly permitted is prohibited. Article IV of the ordinance is titled “Use Regulations,” and within that article, section 4.10 contains a list of uses permitted by right or by special exception in each zoning district, “subject to the other provisions of this ordinance.” Separately, Article III of the ordinance, titled “Dimensional Controls,” contains a section, 3.40, titled “Additional Requirements,” which apply in all districts. Subsection 3.40(m) states that travel trailers “are permitted,” subject to certain restrictions. 

The town argued that since the short-term rental of a travel trailer was not a use permitted under section 4.10, it was prohibited. The Hoekstras did not claim that section 4.10 permitted their use but argued that the "additional requirements" essentially created an additional permitted use, rather than imposing a restriction on uses permitted under section 4.10. The town acknowledged that a travel trailer was allowed on the property but stated that offering it to the public as a short-term rental constituted a separate use that is not permitted.

The Supreme Court concluded that under the plain language of the “additional requirements” a travel trailer is a permitted use and may be used for temporary sleeping quarters for not more than ninety days in a twelve-month period so long as it complies with State or Town sewage disposal requirements and all other provisions of the ordinance including building setbacks.  The Court further declined to address any policy considerations regarding the effect of short-term rentals, limiting its decision to a review and interpretation of the plain language of the Town’s ordinance. Town of Conway v. Kudrick, 175 N.H. 714, 721 (2023). 

The Court concluded that the Housing Appeals Board erred as a matter of law and reversed its order upholding the ZBA’s decision that the Hoekstras’ rental of their travel trailer for short-term occupancy is not permitted under the Town’s ordinance.


Additional Information: 

Practice Pointer: Municipalities should carefully examine zoning regulations that seemingly only dictate use limitations on permitted uses and scrutinize those provisions to be sure uses not listed as permitted uses in a table of uses do not get inadvertently permitted.