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Court rules against borough in property dispute

The Court of Common Pleas in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, has ruled that a local zoning board is wrong for telling a man he cannot maintain his upgraded garage on his property in Indian Lake.

The man owns a home in the borough and converted his 1,085-square-foot garage for alternate use. He remodeled the second floor of the garage, adding plumbing, a shower and rooms that could house guests.

The zoning board in Indian Lake Borough cited the man, contending he violated a local rule that allows each lot to have only one residence. The board said that by adding a place to sleep, he added another residence to his property. The borough's one-residence policy is designed to keep the sewer system from being stressed.

However the judge ruled that the man had not added a second residential unit because it did not have a kitchen, which he wrote is necessary for a residence. While the judge said the quarters were suitable for a short stay, the garage apartment cannot be considered a home.

The disappointed mayor said he disagrees with the ruling and now worries that other area residents will try to change their garages into guest homes. The local council president said the ruling was unfair to other citizens who follow the law.

The borough is giving up for now, however. The council voted not to appeal the ruling. The homeowner said he offered to settle out of court but the two parties could not agree.

This is a win for people who support property owners' right to live how they want. The man's case shows it is possible to fight city hall if the law is followed. In this case, the judge said the man had lived by the law.

Source: Daily American, "Court overrules Indian Lake Borough in zoning dispute," Philip Petrunak, July 11, 2012

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