Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency procedures have been put in place by the Town of Pawleys Island government and the Georgetown County Council that have put all short-term rentals on hold until April 30.
This means widespread changes across South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. Government officials in both municipalities took the unprecedented steps on the morning of Friday, March 27.
In addition to the short-term rental ban, South Carolina’s state parks also announced on March 27 that all parks would close beginning Saturday, March 28.
The Georgetown County government oversees all unincorporated areas of the county, which includes the beaches throughout the Hammock Coast — Debordieu, Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach, Murrells Inlet and the Georgetown County area of Garden City Beach.
In its emergency meeting, county officials said the ordinance was needed due to the “recognition that COVID-19 poses a significant public health threat for infectious disease spread to county citizens.
“It is hereby determined that a public emergency affecting life, health, and safety continues to exist, and therefore, it is appropriate and necessary to enact this emergency ordinance,” the ordinance reads.
In addition to local municipalities passing sweeping ordinances in regard to short-term rentals, the day also came with a new executive order from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
In his late-afternoon press conference, the governor issued mandatory quarantine orders for people coming to South Carolina from three states and the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.
“I’ve just issued another executive order,” McMaster said. “There is a mandatory quarantine. We know that there are hot spots around the country. … (The executive order) requires those people coming into our state … from one of those hot spots, they must self-quarantine for 14 days, for two weeks. There is a criminal penalty attached for failure to comply with that executive order. And that executive order mentions specifically the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and also the city of New Orleans, all of which have been identified as hot spots.”
The penalty for not complying, the governor said, could mean a $1,000 fine or a 30-day jail term.
BREAKING DOWN THE NEW ORDINANCES
So what do the new ordinances say about short-term rentals?
All accommodations businesses in the unincorporated area of Georgetown County, including hotels, motels, condo hotels, rental properties, inclusive of private management companies and HOAs, Airbnb, VRBO-style lodging, public and private campgrounds and other overnight accommodations for 29 days or less, shall not accept new reservations for any period of time from Saturday March 28, 2020, through April 30, 2020, (such time limit is subject to further modification).
Existing reservations made for a period beginning Saturday, March 28, 2020, through April 30, 2020, will be rescheduled or canceled. Visitors currently checked in prior to March 28 may remain until the end of their existing reservations, but such reservations shall not be extended.
The ordinance does have some exemptions, which include units consistently occupied by the same occupant since March 1, 2020. However, it is noted, that rental occupancy in the same unit may not be increased by others, including friends or family members.
Also exempted are short-term rentals extended to government, hospital, health agency, law enforcement, military and other critical personnel actively responding to the COVID-19 emergency.
Any violation of the emergency ordinance could be punishable with a fine of $200 or 30 days imprisonment and such penalty shall be cumulative for each day of violation.
The Town of Pawleys Island’s emergency ordinance is similar to that of the county’s.
In its ordinance, the town noted that, because the island is “a tourist destination, short-term rentals inflate the population of the Town of Pawleys Island placing an additional strain on town resources.”
“For example,” the ordinance said, “the number of citizens in the town is approximately 200 and during a typical tourism week, the population is 5,000. … The population change increases the risk of virus transmission and … certain additional measures need to be taken to continue to protect our citizens and guests from this pandemic.”
To that end, the town has declared that there will be no new short-term rentals and other overnight accommodations permitted beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 28, 2020, through April 30, 2020. Visitors currently checked in may remain until the end of their existing reservations. Long-term rentals of 30 days or more are still permitted by showing a valid lease agreement.
CHANGES AT HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK
Huntington Beach State Park, located in the Murrells Inlet area of the Hammock Coast, had been closed March 25 and 26 for cleaning, just like every other state park in South Carolina.
The parks reopened Friday, March 27, but early in the morning, it was decided to close them from March 28 until April 30 “to support the state’s response to COVID-19,” a press release said.
“The closure is designed to keep visitors and employees as safe as possible by mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus,” the release said.
Visitors who are currently occupying campsites and cabins can remain through the duration of their rental reservation as long as they continue to practice the state’s recommendations for social distancing. All new reservation arrivals, however, from Saturday, March 28, to Thursday, April 30, will be canceled and refunds issued.
This is the third limited-access directive the park service has made this month in response to public health advisories. Earlier, state parks canceled all large-group gathering reservations and suspended all interpretive programming and special events for March. Those suspensions remain in place through April. For two days this week, parks closed day-use areas like picnic grounds, lakefronts and trails. Those areas will remain closed through April 30 as well.
The park service continues to be engaged with fans and followers, however, by hosting Facebook Live events regularly.
NO CHANGES IN CITY OF GEORGETOWN AT THIS TIME
The City of Georgetown has not issued any changes in short-term rental policies for hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, or other short-term rental properties located within the city limits, but some local businesses may have changed their hours or made a decision to close. It is recommended that those who would like to make a reservation at any property within the city of Georgetown call first.
RESPONSE FROM COUNTY TOURISM OFFICIALS
Beth Stedman, the CEO and president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the tourism marketing for the county, the city of Georgetown and the town of Pawleys Island, said she understands that the changes have come with a heavy heart from government officials, who know full well the importance of tourism for the Hammock Coast.
“The Georgetown County and Pawleys Island governments have closely followed what Gov. Henry McMaster has urged in the way of social distancing,” Stedman said. “It is clear that our officials knew it was time to take the next step by prohibiting new rentals here for the next month.”
While hurricanes have often disrupted travel to and from Georgetown County over many years, a change due to health concerns has never been seen before here. As the nation and the world continue to grapple with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the safety or tourists and residents had to come first, said Mark A. Stevens, the Chamber’s director of tourism development.
“We know this will be a hard time for many of our residents and our businesses,” Stevens said. “We have already been seeing the effects as favorite restaurants shuttered or went from sit-down dining to carryout or delivery. We’ve seen many visitors already have to change plans for spring trips to the Hammock Coast.
“But we are also confident that our region will make it through this, and we will emerge, once again, as a place for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Our pristine beaches will once again welcome visitors from around the world. Our accommodation partners, our restaurants, our hospitality areas will all in the not-so-distant future return with a renewed vigor. The Hammock Coast will remain the shining light of Southern hospitality it has been for generations.”
For more information about changes and news developments, go to the Chamber’s various websites, which include: www.HammockCoastSC.com, www.OnlyPawleys.com, www.DiscoverGeorgetownSC.com or www.VisitGeorge.com.