May 16, 2012 Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

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Short-term rentals are effectively shut down in more than a dozen counties and municipalities around North Carolina through local bans in response to the threat posed by the new coronavirus.

The orders aim at slowing the spread of COVID-19 through communities. The current statewide stay-at-home order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper late last month does not address short-term rentals like hotels, campgrounds or the variety of online rentals.

So far, the Asheville Police Department has received 145 complaints of violations of Buncombe County’s short-term rental ban described in the county’s stay safe-stay home order.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

Asheville police even issued a warrant Tuesday for the arrest of one host who police say has repeatedly violated the short-term rental ban. Shawn Thomas Johnson, 34, “is a host and leasing the unit out to nonessential travelers,” said Christina Hallingse, spokeswoman for the Asheville Police Department.

Hallingse said officers first seek to educate property hosts about the order’s requirements and ask the visitors to leave. She later reported that Johnson had turned himself in.

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners also banned short-term rentals last month.

Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer said he’s heard of only a few complaints of those violating the ordinance, “and they were resolved without issue. … We have had good results of the community voluntarily complying with the (county’s) executive order to this point.”

Many of these local orders allow unit rental if the person renting the property is an employee serving a critical function, such as a medical or emergency services worker. Local orders also often allow homeless shelters and the use of lodging as an “emergency facility” to assist with the COVID-19 response.

On North Carolina’s southeastern coast, the town of Carolina Beach has also banned short-term rentals. There, stays of fewer than 90 days are prohibited.

Since the order went into effect there March 27, Town Manager Bruce Oakley said he’s heard of about 20 complaints.

“We are notifying the property owners of the order with a letter and telling them they are subject to a Class 2 misdemeanor if they continue to violate the order,” Oakley said.

“We are double-checking those properties, and if they refuse to comply, they could be cited.”

Some other counties and municipalities with a temporary ban on short-term rentals include Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Watauga counties and the town of Emerald Isle. Both Dare and Graham counties have closed their borders entirely to nonresidents and do not allow short-term rentals.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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