SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY, NJ – It’s not exactly an expression heard in the winter months at the Jersey shore. However, the locals would like the bennies to return home. In the wake of the spread of the coronavirus, many are worried that short-term rentals have escalated the problem.

Just a few weeks ago, Governor Phil Murphy announced the terms of Executive Order No. 107.  The underlying intention of the “Stay at Home Order” is to promote social distancing to prevent spread of the disease that now has New Jersey in second place as far as confirmed cases. Notably, Murphy also made a strong case that people should stay put in their primary residences.

In fact, Executive Order No. 108, specifically addresses the problem of an "influx of new visitors, which may cause public health concerns" with the imposition of social distancing and unnecessary increases in density of individuals.

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On the one hand, grocery stores and pharmacies aren’t yet ready for the onslaught of summer traffic. However, more importantly, local hospitals are already inundated with year-round residents worried they’ve contracted COVID-19.

However, it’s not just homeowners heading south on the Garden State Parkway. License plates for New York and Connecticut suggest there’s a bit of an exodus. Some are either hitting up real estate agencies or websites in search of short-term rentals. For example, a few clicks, and it’s easy to find availability if you look for a place to stay in a community as small as Ocean Township.

Notably, some Ocean County towns have already acted proactively in terms of keeping tourists out. It’s not just the closing of boardwalks, either. On its community website, Mayor Paul M. Kanitra of Point Pleasant Beach delivered news of the borough’s intentions regarding short-term rentals.

“A resolution is being drafted to place an immediate moratorium on the renting of all vacation homes and properties,” said Kanitra. “This will include all online, private, and realtor driven transactions.”

In Southern Ocean County, Long Beach Island remains a key attraction for visitors seeking sun and surf.  However, those content with bayfront views often turn to Waretown for a less expensive rental.

As it now stands, Ocean Township has no laws on the books as far as properties advertised on such online sites as Airbnb, HomeAway, and Vrbo. While landlords are required to register with the municipality, it’s unclear how many do when it comes to short-term rentals or any type of residential property lease.

Last September, the issue of requiring certificates of occupancy for rental properties came up at an Ocean Township Committee meeting. The discussion died after many landlords objected to CO rental mandates every time a local tenant moved in.

Vacation rentals during a worldwide pandemic seem out of line for at least one Waretown resident who spoke on assurances of anonymity. A registered nurse, she’s noticed two cars with out of state plates parked in front of a house regularly advertised for short-term occupancy.

“There’s no way of knowing what’s going on in there, “said the nurse. “We all look out for our neighbors down here and haven’t seen anyone moving around in that house. We have no way of knowing if someone is sick inside.”

Additionally, there’s also the issue of sanitizing the premises as short-term rentals change hands. The threat of further spreading the virus represents a potential issue that could be otherwise avoided.

A call to Mayor Ken Baulderstone confirmed there are no existing ordinances concerning short-term rentals within the municipality. And, while he couldn’t speak in his official capacity or on behalf of the township committee, Baulderstone shared his personal opinion.

“I think anyone who comes here from other places like New York should voluntarily agree to self-quarantine for fourteen days,” said Baulderstone. “We need to do all we can to keep everyone healthy and get everyone back to their regular lives.”