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Auburn Council member sues City and 13 employees over short-term rental restrictions

Ward 5 Council member Steven Dixon was elected to the City Council in 2018.
Ward 5 Council member Steven Dixon was elected to the City Council in 2018.

UPDATE: June 30, 5:09 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from City Attorney Rick Davidson about Dixon's lawsuit against the City of Auburn.

The City of Auburn is facing a lawsuit from one of its elected officials over short-term rentals.

On Friday, June 25, 2021, Ward 5 City Council member Steven Dixon filed a lawsuit against the City of Auburn and more than a dozen City employees including seven Council members, the mayor and the city manager over zoning ordinances concerning short-term rentals, according to a press release sent from Dixon Wednesday morning. 

“I feel that I’ve lost my rights,” Dixon told The Plainsman. “I’ve lost my rights to use my home as I see fit.”

The City Council voted to enact an ordinance that prohibits the use of short-term non-primary rentals and homestays in several zoning districts on March 16, 2021. Dixon has rented out his property on a short-term basis since 2018, and he has received and continues to receive “substantial income” from this use, according to the press release.

Dixon said he feels he has been wronged by the City’s ordinance restricting short-term rentals and that this is his only option to challenge the rule.

“This is the only avenue I have to challenge this ordinance, so this is the only way and I believe it’s the correct way, and I believe that we will win our case,” Dixon said.

Dixon also applied for a business license from the City for his rental operation and was subsequently denied by the City, citing the ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals in several districts including Dixon’s. Dixon said he then received a letter from the City attorney’s office explaining why his application was denied, which he said expressed that “further attempts by Dixon to obtain a license or resolve this matter would be futile.”

Dixon recused himself from votes concerning short-term rentals at the guidance of the Alabama Ethics Commission, he said. The Ethics Commission did not offer guidance on his lawsuit. 

Dixon is hoping to “get rights back to the citizens of Auburn and Alabama” through the lawsuit, he said. Although Dixon is the only plaintiff on this case, there are also other “individuals that have been impacted by the ordinance” represented by "our attorneys," he said. 

As litigation continues, Dixon said he will continue to serve on the City Council.

Defendants include the City of Auburn, seven City Council members, Mayor Ron Anders, City Manager Megan Crouch, the City’s Principal Planner Logan Kipp, Acting Planning Director Katie Robison, revenue office employee Cheryl R. Van Tuyl and Finance Director Allison Edge, according to the press release.

City of Auburn officials and staff declined to comment on the lawsuit, per its policy for current litigation. City Attorney Rick Davidson said the City will continue to defend the ordinance and against all allegations brought forth in the lawsuit. Here's what Davidson had to say:

"By filing a lawsuit individually, and on behalf of 'a group' who seek to overturn the very laws of the city he swore to uphold, Mr. Dixon has demonstrated a complete lack of understanding and appreciation of his role as member of the city council and his oath of office.  One would question why the same conflict of interest that led to his decision to recuse himself from voting on the challenged legislation would not also lead Mr. Dixon to revisit his desire to remain as a member of the city council.  Beyond those comments, I am not at liberty to discuss the substance of the lawsuit, other than to say that the City will vigorously defend all the allegations including the validity of the Ordinance in question."

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Evan Mealins | Editor-in-chief

Evan Mealins, senior in philosophy and economics, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.


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