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A Lookout Mountain, Ga., man is suing the city for trying to block his Airbnb revenue.

Samuel Silvey, of Fairy Dell Trail, filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia against the city government on Feb. 1, arguing that elected officials can't try to stop him from renting his house for fewer than 30 days at a time. Silvey's lawyers argue that the city cannot take action against him because Lookout Mountain codes do not explicitly ban short-term vacation rentals through programs such as Airbnb and VRBO.

Attorney William Dubose told the Times Free Press that the city's ordinance was "unconditionally vague" when it came to short-term vacation rentals. Silvey bought his house for $103,000 in May 2012, according to the Walker County property appraiser's website. He began to rent it out in 2014.

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In 2016, according to the lawsuit, a city representative sent him a letter, informing him that the city government believed he was not allowed to rent the house. Last year, the council amended an ordinance, allowing single-family dwellings to rent out part of their property, so long as the homeowner is still there. For example, they could rent out a room on Airbnb while they were still living there.

The ordinance change did not include situations such as Silvey's, in which the homeowner is not there while renting it to somebody for a weekend. Dubose said that will cost him more than $75,000. In December, Mayor David Bennett mailed Silvey a letter, telling him he is continuing to violate the city codes.

Dubose said the letter amounts to a threat of arrest. He also represents Christine May, a New Jersey woman who bought some lakefront property in Morgan County, Ga., in 2008. She planned to use the land for short-term vacation rentals. Though not explicitly allowed, the county ordinances also did not explicitly prohibit short-term vacation rentals until 2010, when the commissioners passed a new regulation.

In August 2011, the county gave May a criminal citation. She filed a lawsuit against the city in 2012, arguing her property should have been "grandfathered" in before county commissioners passed their regulation. A trial court agreed, but the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. She tried to bring a similar case in federal court, records show, but both the district court and U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against her.

In 2016, a local judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail for disobeying the county ordinance.

Bennett declined to discuss the details of the lawsuit Tuesday.

"The City considers the suit to be without merit," Bennett said in a statement. "We have explained to Mr. Silvey, his former attorney and his new attorney that vacation rentals are not and never have been permitted uses in the City's single-family residential zone."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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