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Lodi Zoning Code Provision Found Unconstitutional

One sentence specific to mobile homes in a Lodi zoning ordinance deprives mobile-home park owners of their property rights and is therefore unconstitutional, the Ohio Supreme Court held today.

In a 5-2 decision, the court severed the unconstitutional last sentence from the three-sentence local law.

Writing for the majority, Justice William M. O’Neill returned the case to the trial court to determine the appropriate remedy following their ruling. The decision affirmed the judgment of the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

Lodi’s Law
Sunset Properties and Meadowview Village each operate licensed manufactured-home parks on property they own in the village of Lodi. The parks were established, and Lodi later zoned the areas where they are located to prohibit mobile homes. Because the parks were already there, they were grandfathered in. While the parks do not comply with the zoning prohibition, the owner’s use of the property is legal but considered a “nonconforming use.”

In 1987, Lodi passed a local zoning law providing steps that can be taken when a nonconforming use has been discontinued or abandoned. When a grandfathered property use stops for six months or more, the nonconforming use cannot be reestablished, and the property must then adhere to current zoning law. The ordinance also states in its last sentence that the absence or removal of an individual mobile home from its lot means that the use has been discontinued from the time it is removed.

Based on this sentence, Lodi refused to reconnect water and electrical services when a new tenant rented a lot that had been vacant for more than six months at one of the mobile-home parks.

Court’s Ruling
Citing a 1953 Ohio Supreme Court decision, Justice O’Neill explained that municipalities expect nonconforming uses to eventually be removed over time, but he noted that eliminating those uses cannot deprive a property owner of its property rights.

“The plain language of the last sentence of the [Lodi] ordinance imputes a tenant’s abandonment of a lot within a mobile-home park on the park’s owner,” he reasoned. “In so doing, the provision impermissibly deprives the owner of the park of the right to continue the use of its entire property in a manner that was lawful prior to the establishment of the zoning ordinance.”

“Pursuant to the due-process clauses of the United States and Ohio Constitutions, this impermissible deprivation of the vested private-property rights of mobile-home-park owners defeats Lodi’s argument that the provision is rationally related to its legitimate goals of protecting property values and encouraging development,” he concluded. “Thus, the last sentence of the ordinance is an unconstitutional deprivation of a property right and may not be applied.”

Joining Justice O’Neill’s opinion were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Judith Ann Lanzinger.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Judith L. French.

Dissenting Opinion
Justice Kennedy concluded that the court of appeals should have analyzed the nonconstitutional issues in the case before considering the constitutionality of the Lodi zoning ordinance.

She pointed out that the Ninth District found the zoning law was unclear as to whether Lodi meant to designate each individual mobile-home lot as a nonconforming use. In addition, she noted that the appeals court did not determine whether the ordinance conflicted with state law.

While expressing no opinion about how those issues should be resolved, she wrote, “I would hold that the court of appeals failed to exercise judicial restraint in deciding this case on constitutional grounds without first fully addressing nonconstitutional issues that could have resolved this case. Therefore, I would vacate the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the cause for the court of appeals to address the nonconstitutional issues.”

2013-1856. State ex rel. Sunset Estate ProperL.C., v.ties, L. Lodi, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-790.

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