City loses appeal
Jun 19, 2013 at 5:00 AM
The Chaussee property owners targeted by the city got vindication this week after two years battling with Sandusky's lawyers and other property owners over whether they had the right to rent out their swanky digs to tourists.
A ruling by the Ohio’s Sixth District Court of Appeals found Sandusky officials unlawfully attempted to restrict the property owners from letting others stay in their houses, affirming an earlier ruling by Erie County Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone.
The ruling — rebuking city commissioners and Sandusky’s zoning appeals board — will allow Doug Ebner to once again lease his Chaussee property on a short-term basis to tourists visiting Sandusky.
“As local property owners, we are pleased to see that the court of appeals chose to take a common-sense approach,” said Ebner, who battled the city in court.
The city spent about $50,000 in the unsuccessful effort to limit Ebner and others, city finance director Hank Solowiej said.
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The city launched the legal battle after other Chaussee property owners complained about Ebner’s short-term rentals.
It’s not known what direction city commissioners will take on the issue now.
They’re scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 222 Meigs St.
“They’ll want an explanation of what happened from (city-hired attorney) Bill Lang,” Sandusky’s law director Don Icsman said.
Lang handled most of the legal proceedings involving the Chaussee homeowners. It’s standard practice for commissioners to contract out legal work since the Sandusky’s law department only has three employees — a lawyer, paralegal and assistant.
Ebner said the city was fighting a losing battle from the beginning and should have known that. The city wasted $50,000, he said, and likely feels no remorse for the entire debacle.
“Because the city was playing with house (taxpayer) money, it was poised to continue to fight this fight when there was no real common-sense basis to do so,” Ebner said. “Unlike the city, myself and other property owners had to dig into their own pockets to defend these matters.”
Ebner said he wants restitution.
“Now that the final decision has been issued, I would hope the city would do the right thing and reimburse the property owners for the tens of thousands of dollars they spent in defending these prosecutions,” Ebner said.
Chaussee lawsuit timeline:
• Summer 2011: The Chaussee controversy started when city officials told several property owners they violated Sandusky’s zoning code by letting vacationers pay to stay at their homes. City-approved cease-and-desist letters ordered homeowners to immediately stop renting out properties or face criminal punishment.
• Fall 2011: Most homeowners tried appealing the order to Sandusky’s zoning appeals board. Board members, including chairman John Feick, eventually agreed with the city’s original ruling, restricting Chaussee homeowners from renting out their luxurious pads.
• January 2012: Curran Street residents Ann and John Arnold, who received cease-and-desist letters also, received a special permit granted by the city’s zoning board, allowing them to continue renting out their homes to tourists. Chaussee homeowners said they deserve the same treatment but never obtained it from board members.
• March 2012: Chaussee homeowners Doug, Mark and Julia Ebner threatened to file a lawsuit against the city.
• September 2012: Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone sided with the embattled homeowners, effectively overruling a previous decision by city officials. He cited the city’s definition of a transient or temporary rental is poorly written and vague.
• Fall 2012: Sandusky officials, including city manager Nicole Ard, appealed Tone’s decision by filing a case with Ohio’s Sixth District Court of Appeals
• November 2012: City officials altered Sandusky’s zoning code, limiting areas where local homeowners can rent out their homes to tourists as the lawsuit weaved its way through court. The change directly stems from Tone’s decision.
• June 2013: Appeals court judges sided with the homeowners and ruled against city officials.
“The fact remains that the trial court (in Erie County) did not err as a matter of law when it found that the language employed in that effort is unconstitutionally vague,” the ruling states.