Judge bars short-term rental of Roaring Brook Twp. property

Feb. 18—A Lackawanna County judge granted Roaring Brook Twp.'s request to bar a Connecticut couple from offering short-term rental stays at their home in the Windsor Hill housing development.

Judge Julia Munley said Edward and Michelle Ruocco do not qualify for any exceptions to a 2018 zoning ordinance that bans short-term rentals in a residential district. She forbade them from renting out the 110 Canterbury Court home pending final resolution of the township's lawsuit that seeks to permanently halt the rentals.

The couple has rented out the home since 2017. The township filed suit in 2020, alleging they are violating the ordinance, which restricts the location of short-term rental units to areas zoned as commercial/recreational or rural.

The Ruoccos claim they began renting the property, which they bought for $554,000 in 2016, prior to the 2018 ordinance's passage, therefore they are "grandfathered" in as a prior nonconforming use.

The couple's Scranton attorney, Ryan Campbell, also argued the township should be barred from enforcing the ordinance against them because zoning officer Paul Kozik allegedly told Edward Ruocco in 2016 that short-term rentals were permitted, which induced the couple to buy the property. They rely on rental income to pay the mortgage and other expenses and would suffer severe financial harm if forced to stop.

In a recent ruling, Munley said the property is not "grandfathered" in because that applies only if it was legal under ordinances in place at the time. A 2015 ordinance limited the use of single-family homes in a residential district to five or fewer unrelated people.

"Defendants rented the property to at least 20 different groups in 2017 and offered the property as housing for up to 19 people," the judge said. "Such use by defendants at the time thus violated the 2015 ordinance."

Munley also rejected the couple's claim that Kozik misinformed them. While acknowledging that Kozik, who said he had trouble remembering the conversation, gave "somewhat inconsistent" testimony at a July hearing, he "did not admit to any misrepresentation," Munley said. She also noted the Ruoccos had no written document supporting their claim.

"After carefully weighing Mr. Ruocco and Mr. Kozik's testimony with the other evidence in this case, Mr. Ruocco testified less credibly than Mr. Kozik," Munley said.

Campbell recently filed an emergency petition asking Munley to stay imposition of her ruling pending resolution of an appeal the Ruoccos filed with the state Commonwealth Court. A hearing on that petition is scheduled for Feb. 27.

Jenna Kraycer Tuzze, the township's attorney, said she's confident Munley's ruling will be upheld. Attempts to reach Campbell for comment were unsuccessful.

Contact the writer:

tbesecker@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9137;

@tmbeseckerTT on Twitter.