Note from code enforcement officer - neighbor(s) complained

I’m in Levittown, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. I got a note from the code enforcement officer today…it was taped to my door when I got home from work…uh oh…that was not pleasant…I called her back and told me there was 2 recent neighbor complaints. She asked me if I have an advertisement for my room…she would not tell me if these guests did something to agitate the neighbors or if someone simply found my AirBnB ad and complained.

I’ve been doing this for a year and a half and never an issue (until now). If it is because the neighbor noticed different cars going in and out and complained…why would they wait a year and half to do it?

The officer told me I am operating a business in a residential neighborhood and I need to apply for a variance or stop the room rental. I explained that there is no separate living facility for the guests…they share the same parts of the house as I do and we “live as a family”. but the officer saying because I am generating income from it, and I have an advertisement (my AirBnB listing) that is still operating a business. I am in an R2 zone, in a neighborhood in a small town, in a single-family detached house. This is absurd. I never interact with my neighbors and my guests also don’t talk to them,my guests keep to themselves … I am going to speak with an attorney before I apply for that variance.

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I also have a single house and i have a license to do short term rentals. Ask if you need a
license, then they will be off you back. In my city its only 86$. I am sure my neighbor who gave me troubles from day 1 also complained, but since is i have license there is nothing he can do.

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Did your license involve getting opinions from the neighbors and go to a hearing in front of the zoning board, like a variance? My code enforcement officer only mentioned a variance, which is $500. I thought a variance only applied if making structural changes to the property to accommodate the guests…she never mentioned a license…but I will ask about that too.

I got license from the very beginning before i started renting, because i knew my neighbor will start troubles. We dont talk with him, as he is one of those “bad neighbors”.
Wow, 500$! I never heard of anything like that. I think you should talk to someone who knows law.

I do not interact with my neighbors and they know nothing about me, so I did not expect issues, and i don’t know how they would suspect different cars coming in and out, unless they are very observant. and unless these guests did something to agitate them, i didn’t find it any of their business., but then the code enforcement officer did not give actual details on the nature of the complaint.

Yes I am speaking with an attorney before I apply for anything. Yes a variance is high…and the officer not mentioning anything about a permit/license, and only taking about the variance, raises a red flag…

it does not appear the variance is the same as a license…the variance notifies nearby neighbors about my “business” and I go before a hearing in front of the zoning board.

Wow. Sorry to hear of this. Your bad, bad neighbors, complaining. How dare they… I remember when you had those long term cooking guests. :frowning:

Code enforcement is probably complaint driven so they had to come out. Did they cite you? They asked if you advertised?

This doesn’t sound like it can be solved with a license, like a tax license. I have that and all it does is allow you to collect tax.

Can you find out exactly what the code is in your area? And find out what you are “in violation of” ?

How do they know these guests just are not your own family members visiting?

I’d be so disturbed by what the neighbors did by turning you in.

I did not receive an actual citation. They said either come and apply for a variance or remove my listing. Yes, they asked if I had an advertisement, I hated to have to tell but I had to be honest, if someone found my ad and reported it (such as getting suspicious about the different cars coming in and out) or my recent guests did something to provoke the complaint…but the officer did not give me (or just refused to) details.

They would not give me exact details of the nature of the complaint, nor would they tell me who did it.

They said I was “operating a business in a residential zone” and would need to apply for a variance. I am not making any structural changes to the house which is why I wouldn’t think I need a variance. That’s why I need to speak with an attorney.

I do not see what business it was of this neighbor(s) unless the guest did something to provoke it, but I do not think that is the case.

I also find it odd why this is just happening now, after I’ve been doing this since January 2015 and the same neighbors were here then, probably noticing different cars coming in and out.

Zoning is zoning and if those are the laws of your community you have no wiggle room on this except to say you just want to do what you want to, unencumbered by local laws. Which isn’t much of an argument.


If that were the case the officer would not have given me the option to apply for the variance and would have immediately told me to shut down, which did not happen. I also have the right to fight this, and it is my property, I am the sole owner of this house, it’s not an HOA. But I will do what I have to do to keep my airbnb active even if it means getting the variance.

I also should have the right to know who complained and why, and unless this guest caused a disturbance it was none of my neighbors business. They know nothing about me or what I do with my property or who stays with me.

Furthermore my guests and I “live as a family” which is what my property is zoned for. It is not an “illegal boarding house” with multiple families, my guests share the same areas of the house as I do. Simply having an AirBnB ad and guests paying me should not be enough to be classified as a “business”.

What does this mean? That commercial activities are prohibited?
What you are doing is such a grey area. If they are going to go after you then they should also go after everyone who is doing an Air, which is just about everyone.

Will getting the variance mean you will have to get your neighbors to sign off on it?

Sorry, this is a lot of trouble for you… Keep us posted.

Have you tried your town? Or county? I had to be licensed by the county ($100) and applied to my town, but because I only have the two rooms my town said I don’t need a license.

Start calling/researching and find out for yourself what the laws are where you live.

What a crappy surprise for you. Please let us know what happens!

I found this,

My guess is, even if your neighbors did not have altercations with any of your guests or even if they did not have a noise complaint, they noticed the cars coming and going, the luggage, ABB guests are very obvious actually. Rather difficult to try to pull off the whole "they may be family’ type of reasoning, at least for me, as many of my ABB guests are of clearly different nationalities. Luckily, my neighbors are cool with it, until I imagine one day something happens that may disturb them.
And all a neighbor would have to do is search ABB for your town or city, and if you have any outside photos of your home or a clear profile photo, they have proof you are running an ABB.
In the US, this is a very gray area., using ABB as a platform to run a short term rental.
Perhaps what spurred on your neighbors is that it’s been in the news that NY or at least very clearly NYC has banned online advertising of short term rentals (the bill that passed is not very clear if it applies to the whole state or just NYC).
There is a town near me that is a very popular tourist destination, and they completely banned Airbnb’s in the town area about 3 years ago, as many properties in the very quiet and well established residential areas were being bought up by investors and used as Airbnb’s with no on-site host, creating quite a few disturbances (harassment of young women, noise, parties) in neighborhoods that once were very safe.
If I were you, I would be prepared for this to possibly lead to being a bigger issue than just you and your Airbnb.

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The code officer did mention something about generating income. May be license still would help, i dont know.
I wonder if there issome law there that forbids short term rents.

what does it mean “live as a family”?


I can understand that noise and parties can be an issue for neighbors, but also i think neighbors get jealous that someone is making income. i know my “bad neighbor” told good neighbors that we are rich and this is a family neighborhood and so on. I live 1 mile away, and my guests are warned several times before they move in about parties. I dont accept anyone under 30 because of this reason.

It means that my guests live in the house the same way I do. We share the same kitchen, living areas, etc and there is no “apartment” within my house. My guests share the house with me as if they were family, so this is a “family-style home” as to what my property is zoned for.

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O i see. I wonder what about when i rent the whole house because thats the case with my bad neighbor.I instruct all my guests not to give him any information at all, because he comes up and talk to them. I know he calls on me to city about various things. But so far i had no problems with code officer but i know she knows what i do there.

I also have rules in my listing about noise, parties, etc to avoid disturbing neighbors. I’ve been doing AirBnB since January 2015 and never a complaint, and those same neighbors were here then…that is the reason why I think a guest may have done something to spark the complaint, otherwise why would the neighbor(s) wait a year and a half to complain? I never have interaction with my neighbors so they don’t know anything about me or what I do with my property, and I never told any of them about Airbnb.

My guests are also of different nationalities, and different ethnic groups, but since the beginning I had foreigners here with never a complaint from neighbors. Yes I am sure the neighbors suspected something with the different cars, different ethnic groups, etc, and figured I was operating something, but as I said this has been going on for a year and a half without a complaint. Unless my theory is correct and a guest did something to spark the complaint, it is nobody’s business but mine. My property is not an HOA and I am the sole homeowner.

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Nothing was mentioned about short-term rentals in general (otherwise I would have been told to immediately shut down, which the code officer did NOT tell me to do. )

According to an article (which is posted in this thread) and I saw it in a recent email from AirBnB, which I actually forgot about until the link to the article was posted, AirBnB is collecting an occupancy tax starting July 1, on behalf of hosts, and the governor of PA and AirBnB came to an agreement on it, which sounds like the governor wants to make AirBnB legal in the whole state, not just in Philadelphia. Perhaps it just didn’t make it to my local government yet.