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Short-term rental owner in Hudson facing legal battle with city, county

The business owner's attorney says it all comes down to how the city and county define the pools at the properties.

A short-term rental owner in Hudson, Wisconsin, is facing a legal battle after the city and county filed an injunction against her in court, saying she's ignored repeated requests to get the proper licensing to operate legally.   

Brooke Fleetwood owns two properties in Hudson — the Pink Castle at 904 Vine St. and the Goth House at 1031 2nd St. — and has been operating them as short-term rentals. 

But the City of Hudson and St. Croix County – in a 113-page injunction filed in court on Aug. 9 – claim she doesn't have the proper licensing for them. They say they've contacted her multiple times to get things squared away, including sending a cease-and-desist order for her two properties on May 27, 2021.

"I don’t have any comment other than the filings clearly show the city and county have tried everything we can to bring these properties into compliance," Judson City Administrator Arron Reeves told Bring Me The News on Monday. 

St. Croix County has an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals, also called "tourist rooming houses," and so does the City of Hudson, which it passed on June 1, 2020. 

Fleetwood has "ignored" mandates from the City of Hudson and St. Croix County regarding licensing, use, advertising of the pool and hot tub to guests, and thereby "intentionally defying the applicable state, county and local laws," the city and county claim.

Mike Padden, Fleetwood's attorney, told Bring Me The News on Thursday that what this battle "ultimately comes down to" is the way the city and county are labeling the pools at Fleetwood's short-term rentals, adding "We don't agree with that attempted designation."

Court documents say the pool and hot tub at the Pink Castle and the pool at the Goth House are not properly licensed, as required, because they do not meet commercial construction standards. Pools at short-term rentals are required to meet the code or they can't be used by those renting the property, court documents state. 

"It's her [Fleetwood's] position that their [the city and county] attempt to designate these pools as commercial is not reasonable. This is not a municipal pool that has hundreds of people swimming in it," Padden said, noting at most there would be about 15 people using the pool.

He doesn't believe the city and county are alleging there is anything unhealthy about the pools, just that "'We've decided they're commercial and you have to comply and if you don't, we're going to put you out of business' — that's basically what they're saying."

Fleetwood told the city and county "a long time ago" that she doesn't agree with the designation for the pools at her properties, Padden said. If the city and county find she needs to rebuild the pools, "That's just not going to be feasible," he added.

"She wants to comply; she wants these people to stop bothering her," Padden said. "It's not a situation where they've contacted her and she says 'Hey, buzz off.'"

The City of Hudson says Fleetwood filed "incomplete" applications to be licensed as a short-term rental in Hudson for the Pink Castle on Oct. 26, 2020, and the Goth House on April 29, 2021. But has not since submitted proper applications and documentation to operate the short-term rental. 

However, Padden says Fleetwood has filed licensing applications and paid the fees, but the city and county won't give her a license. 

"The attempt to pursue injunctive relief and shut her down right away is completely unreasonable," Padden said, noting usually two sides would work together outside of court to come to a resolution.

The city and county are seeking injunctive relief from Fleetwood. According to the court filing: 

"After due notice of her obligation to obtain the requisite licenses prior to operation, Fleetwood has failed to obtain operating licenses for the Pink Castle and the Goth House. Fleetwood continues to advertise and allow guests to use pools and/or hot tubs at the Pink Castle and the Goth House, in violation of state, county, and local law. Due to Fleetwood’s failure to obtain operating licenses as required by the ordinances, St. Croix County and the City are entitled to temporary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining Fleetwood from operating the Pink Castle and the Goth House in violation of the St. Croix County and City ordinances."

There is a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 24, and Padden says they're going to oppose the city and county's request for injunctive relief. 

Padden says it's hard not to wonder whether "people have an ax to grind," citing a 2017 incident in which the city told Fleetwood the color of her pink house on Third Street in downtown Hudson violates zoning code

Fleetwood ended up prevailing in that battle, with Padden saying you just "kind of wonder if this involves them trying to get their piece of flesh."

"I don't know yet," Padden said, noting he hasn't conducted any dispositions.

Bring Me The News also reached out to Fleetwood, who said she wished she could comment but couldn't, and then provided the contact information to her attorney.

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