Grandmother faces judgment March 23 concerning short-term rental

Christine May, owner of a shore-side house on Lake Oconee, faces judgment in Superior Court at Madison March 23 for letting the house to vacation renters.

Christine May’s house by Lake Oconee forms a backdrop to a county-placed warning near the public road.

Jeff Warren

Christine May, a 74-year-old New Jersey grandmother, faces judgment March 23 in a Morgan County court on a charge of making a short-term rental of her lakefront home here.

May’s connection to Morgan began in 2004, she detailed to the Lake Oconee News, when she bought a shoreline parcel on Lake Oconee to site a second home. Construction began in 2007 on the 2,700 square-foot, timber-frame home May envisioned for the Grayson Pointe Drive address. She received a certificate of occupancy and began making weekly rentals of the home in 2008, she said. She planned to generate retirement income from the short-term rentals and to enjoy the lake with her children and grandchildren during vacation stays at the house, she related.

At the time, no county zoning restrictions prohibited short-term rentals of such properties, May said, and vacation rentals of Lake Oconee homes were a common practice, she recounted.

Asked to clarify the zoning situation of that time, Morgan County Planning & Development Director Chuck Jarrell explained things were not as wide open as May implied. Even then the county maintained a list of permitted uses for each type of zoning, Jarrell said. “If a use is not listed in a use chart, then it is prohibited,” he explained. “Short-term rentals were not listed in 2007 or before, so the county stance is they were prohibited,” Jarrell said.

In 2008, county government mailed May a letter explaining a then recent ruling by Morgan County Chief Magistrate Connie Holt in the case of a lakefront homeowner cited for making daily rentals of his property, May said. Complaints from a neighbor prompted the case.

Holt’s ruling defined a short-term rental as a rental made for less than 30 days and said such rental activity was not a permitted use under zoning for a single-family dwelling. Believing Holt’s ruling was specific to the one case and did not apply to all lakefront homeowners, May continued her rental activity as before, she indicated.

In December 2010, Morgan County government informed her of a new zoning regulation which defined and restricted short-term rentals, May recalled. She said lakefront homeowner Ron Milton, later elected to the county commission, led the push to establish the zoning regulation. Milton denied he led that effort but described the rule as a protection for homeowners. The rule prevents a structure zoned as a single-family dwelling from becoming a nuisance “party house” to neighbors, Milton said.

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