Styller v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Lynnfield, SJC-12901

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBUDD, C.J.
Citation487 Mass. 588,169 N.E.3d 160
Docket NumberSJC-12901
Decision Date07 June 2021

487 Mass. 588
169 N.E.3d 160

Alexander STYLLER


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

Argued October 9, 2020.
Decided June 7, 2021.

Lester E. Riordan, III, Concord, for the plaintiff.

Thomas A. Mullen, Wakefield, for the defendants.

Present: Budd, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.


487 Mass. 589

General Laws c. 40A, § 6, generally protects property uses that were lawfully in existence prior to newly adopted restrictive zoning regulations.2 In this case, the plaintiff, Alexander Styller,3 contends that use of his family home for short-term rentals constituted a prior nonconforming use that is exempt from a zoning bylaw of the town of Lynnfield (town) that, as amended in 2016, expressly forbids such rentals in single-residence zoning districts. He asks the court to overturn the Land Court judge's decision and rule that short-term rentals were permissible prior to the bylaw amendments. We decline to do so.

1. Overview of town bylaw governing single-residence district uses. Section 4 of the town's zoning bylaw prohibits any property use that is not specifically authorized. During the relevant period, section 4.1 of the bylaw laid out permissible principal, additional, and accessory uses of property located in single-residence districts. Insofar as are relevant here, principal uses included use as a "[o]ne family detached house, with not more than one such house located on any lot." With the approval of the zoning board of appeals of Lynnfield (board), certain "additional uses" were permitted, including use as a "[t]ourist home, boarding or lodging house," pursuant to section 4.1.1(3) of the bylaw. Finally, section 5 of the bylaw permitted "accessory use[s]" of the property, as of right, defined as "subordinate" uses:

"1. Whose use is customary in connection with the principal building,[4 ] ... and
169 N.E.3d 164
"2. Whose use is clearly incidental to the use of the principal building, ... and

"3. Which is located on the same lot with the principal building ... or on a lot adjacent to such lot, if in the same ownership, and
487 Mass. 590
"4. Which does not constitute, in effect a conversion of the principal use of the premises to one not permitted."

Effective October 17, 2016, the bylaw was amended to prohibit explicitly any short-term rentals of homes.5

2. Factual and procedural history. The material facts are largely undisputed.6 The property at issue consists of a five-bedroom single-family house, on three acres of land, in a single-residence zoning district. The Styller family lived on the premises. Beginning in July 2015, the plaintiff offered the premises for short-term rentals through various Internet-based platforms. Between July 16, 2015, and May 21, 2017, he rented the premises thirteen times, for a total of sixty-five days: four times in 2015, seven times in 2016, and two times in 2017. Each rental was between two and fifteen days in duration; most were for five days or less.

Most frequently, the rented premises were used for family reunions, but they also were used for a college reunion, a corporate board meeting, business retreats, and "photo shoots." Renters were given exclusive possession of the property during the applicable rental period; the Styller family stayed elsewhere. Although each rental was arranged by a single booking guest, ten of the plaintiff's thirteen rentals had a group of six or more guests (including the booking guest).

In May 2016, a shooting incident during a weekend rental left

487 Mass. 591

an individual dead at the plaintiff's property.7 Shortly thereafter, the building inspector of Lynnfield (building inspector) notified the plaintiff that use of his home for short-term rentals violated the town's zoning bylaw. More specifically, according to the building inspector, the plaintiff's short-term rentals of his property constituted either use as a hotel (an impermissible "additional" use in a single-residence district), or use as a

169 N.E.3d 165

lodging or rooming8 house without the necessary prior authorization, pursuant to section 4.1.1(3) of the bylaw. The building inspector therefore ordered the plaintiff to cease and desist offering the premises for rent.

The plaintiff appealed from the building inspector's order to the board. See G. L. c. 40A, § 8. He requested that the board make specific factual findings that the short-term rentals did not constitute use of the premises either as a hotel or as a lodging or rooming house. While the plaintiff's appeal was pending, the town amended its bylaw expressly to prohibit short-term rentals in single-resident zoning districts, without prior authorization. See note 5, supra. After a public hearing, the board voted to "uphold the decision of the [b]uilding [i]nspector to prohibit rentals of [thirty] days or less in any Single Residence District."9 The board did not, however, address the building inspector's characterization of the plaintiff's use of the property as a "hotel" or "lodging or rooming house."

The plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint in the Land Court, seeking review of the board's ruling. See G. L. c. 40A, § 17. After a jury-waived trial on stipulated facts and certain additional evidence, the Land Court judge concluded that the plaintiff's short-term rental use of the property constituted an additional use because it was functionally equivalent to use as a "tourist home" or "lodging house" under section 4.1.1(3) of the bylaw. Because

487 Mass. 592

the plaintiff did not have the board's authorization for that use, however, the judge concluded that the plaintiff's short-term rental use of the premises violated the bylaw as it existed when the plaintiff began such rentals. He thus affirmed the board's decision.10

The plaintiff appealed, and we transferred the appeal to this court on our own motion. We now affirm the Land Court's decision, albeit on different grounds.

3. Discussion. a. Justiciability. As stated supra, the plaintiff sold the property after the trial in the Land Court, but before judgment entered. We therefore begin with the question whether the sale of the property affects the justiciability of the action where neither intervention, joinder, nor substitution of the transferee as a party was sought. See Mass. R. Civ. P. 24, 365 Mass. 769 (1974); Mass. R. Civ. P. 25 (c), 365 Mass. 771 (1974).

i. Standing. Standing to challenge a decision of the board, pursuant to G. L. c. 40A, § 17, is a prerequisite to the Land Court's exercise of jurisdiction. See, e.g., Marotta v. Board of Appeals of Revere, 336 Mass. 199, 202-203, 143 N.E.2d 270 (1957) (trial court "had no jurisdiction to consider the case unless an appeal ... was taken by an aggrieved person");

169 N.E.3d 166

Southwick v. Planning Bd. of Plymouth, 72 Mass. App. Ct. 266, 268, 891 N.E.2d 239 (2008) ("standing is an issue of subject matter jurisdiction only in the sense that it is a criterion that must be met in order for the court to exercise jurisdiction, when the court otherwise is competent to decide the case"). The town now posits, however, that the plaintiff lacks standing to maintain the appeal because, having sold the property, he no longer has an interest within the area of concern protected under the zoning laws, G. L. c. 40A, §§ 1 - 17.

The argument is misplaced. Standing, for jurisdictional purposes, is tested at the time an action commences. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 570 n.5, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (plurality opinion) ("standing is to be determined as of the commencement of suit"). There is no dispute that, at the time the litigation commenced

487 Mass. 593

in the Land Court, the plaintiff was the owner of the property and that he was "a person aggrieved" by the board's decision. See Marashlian v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Newburyport, 421 Mass. 719, 721, 660 N.E.2d 369 (1996) ("Only a ‘person aggrieved’ may challenge a decision of a zoning board of appeals"). Once jurisdiction attached, the Land Court retained jurisdiction over the matter despite the sale of the property. See O'Dea v. J.A.L., Inc., 30 Mass. App. Ct. 449, 453, 569 N.E.2d 841 (1991) ("court is not ousted of jurisdiction by subsequent events -- jurisdiction once attached is not impaired by what happens later"). See also Saint Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 293, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938) (same); Mollan v. Torrance, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 537, 539, 6 L.Ed. 154 (1824) (same).

Where, as here, an interest has transferred during the pendency of an action, the rules of civil procedure provide:

"In case of any transfer of interest, the action may be continued by or against the original party, unless the court upon motion directs the person to whom the interest is transferred to be substituted in the action or joined

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