Saturday, November 27 2021

ASHEVILLE – A famous entrepreneur has had his real estate license revoked after keeping “at least” tens of thousands of dollars owed to Airbnb owners whose properties he managed, state regulators have said.

Shawn Johnson is known like a diligent handyman whose praises have been sung on social networks. As a real estate broker, he ran a business based on managing short-term local vacation rentals through Airbnb.

But in February, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission permanently revoked his broker’s license after Johnson admitted multiple violations, including running an unlicensed real estate company; put money from Airbnb owners in their own bank accounts instead of in trust accounts; and break a city ban on most short-term vacation rentals. Johnson made these and other confessions in a February 13 consent order negotiated with commission counsel, in which he also said he neither admitted nor denied the forgery of bank loan documents like the claims the commission.

The licensing action was regulatory and outside of any criminal or civil proceedings, although Johnson is also involved in legal action relating to ownership of Airbnb properties.

What is behind license revocation?

A license is required to sell or buy real estate for others or to manage property – although Johnson’s was limited due to a previous federal conviction. Revocations are rare, occurring about a dozen times a year, but Johnson’s case stood out because of its “scope and breadth,” said Rob Patchett, an attorney for the commission.

Because Johnson accepted the revocation, the commission did not explore exactly how much he had wrongly kept, Patchett said.

In interviews Wednesday and Thursday with the Citizen Times, Johnson gave mixed messages about the dismissal. He said he didn’t need to maintain trust accounts for Airbnb income because he was a partner of the owners, an arrangement that doesn’t trigger the same demands as a broker-client relationship.

This explanation flies in the face of the consent order in which he admitted to violating state regulations by not keeping trust accounts and falsely keeping other people’s money.

“I do not disagree with anything I signed in this document,” he told the Citizen Times when asked about the apparent contradiction. “But I said I didn’t feel like fighting him.”

The dismissal did not hurt his business, Johnson said.

Sara Davis, who said Johnson owed her “thousands” in unpaid Airbnb rental fees, said he had a business model that “wastes people money and allows him to take control property of others “. She says she thinks she was scammed.

The commission alleged Johnson attempted to fraudulently take ownership of Davis, where she lives outside of Asheville in the Emma area. But Johnson did not admit this in the consent order. He sues Davis, claiming he owns the property that Buncombe County records show he owns. Davis filed counterclaims.

Johnson has said he does not owe money because he is not acting as a property manager but rather as a partner, which is disputed by those with whom he deals. “I fucked up not having a written agreement,” Johnson said, although with Davis he said he had a written agreement.

Social networks and real estate

Before becoming a broker, Johnson worked as a handyman. He was known for his positive attitude and strong opinions broadcast in places like the West Asheville Exchange Facebook page, or “WAX”.

He applied for a broker’s license in 2014, but was refused due to a federal infringement conviction in 2010. Johnson requested a special hearing, and in 2015 the commission granted him a license but barred him from manage someone else’s property for seven years, except under the supervision of a broker-in-charge.

It was on WAX that Davis said she had heard of Johnson, “so I contacted him and told him I was interested in buying a house.”

In April 2016, Johnson was chosen as one of the guest speakers at a local economy forum, hosted by Western Carolina University and the Citizen Times. That same year, the commission received a complaint about him, triggering a multi-year investigation, Patchett said.

In January, the commission sent her a notice stating that it was planning to hold an evidence hearing on multiple allegations. The trial-like process can result in dismissal, one of the board’s most serious disciplinary measures.

The commission oversees nearly 107,000 brokers. From 2016 to 2018, it revoked 10 to 14 licenses per year. None involved the Asheville brokers.

Patchett said that in most cases the commission attempts to negotiate a consent order, as it did with Johnson. Among his confessions were specific violations of the law, including “pursuing a course for making false statements or making false promises through agents, advertising or otherwise.”

How much is involved?

Johnson raised $ 428,788 for nine or more Airbnbs he managed from December 2016 to November 2018, according to the commission’s allegations. Regarding the amount wrongly held by Johnson, Patchett said it was “at least” in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“We think it was a significant amount of money. I can’t put a dollar amount in it for several reasons,” the attorney said.

One of the reasons is that Johnson did not have written agreements with the landowners, as required by state rules. It also did not keep records, another state requirement.

And Airbnb’s system doesn’t make it easy to discern payment histories, Patchett said


► Handyman Shawn Johnson finds glory and hope on WAX’s Facebook page

► The ban on vacation rentals in downtown Asheville passed quickly

Like Davis, Carl Woerman did Airbnb business with Johnson and said he had a similar experience.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s buy a house with your money,’” Woerman said.

Johnson would then suggest renting the property through Airbnb, Woerman said. “Then you say, ‘Hey, where’s the money? “”

Woermann brought a civil action against Johnson for the rental proceeds and Johnson filed counterclaims claiming he did not owe money because they were partners. The case has not gone to trial, but Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope in a September 29, 2017 preliminary injunction order said Woermann was likely to prevail, he said. therefore ordered Johnson to stay away from the property and pull over for the time being. claiming he was the owner.

In a separate civil case, Woerman won a $ 50,000 judgment in October against Johnson and builder Whit Rylee for failing to pay money owed under another trade deal.

Rylee, who has been recognized for his local historic preservation work, declined to comment. County records show he owns 72 Tremont St., one of the properties the commission claimed Johnson managed in violation of state and city rules.

Shawn Johnson pressure cleans a home in West Asheville on Friday morning.  Johnson has become almost an urban legend among the 15,000 members of the West Asheville Exchange Facebook group.  Unlucky, Johnson has found a supportive community and comes up with a handyman job as Shawn of All Trades.

The city has attempted to take action against short-term vacation rentals that Johnson admitted to violating the city’s ban at 72 Tremont, 16 Upstream Way and 64 Pine Cone Drive. But when city staff attempted to issue tickets or collect fines for the three as well as two other unauthorized Airbnbs they say Johnson is involved with, they hit roadblocks. said Shannon Tuch, senior planner and zoning administrator.

“It is not clear what Mr Johnson is responsible for and what (…) the owners are responsible for,” Tuch said. “We will have to sit down with them to further examine their respective cases. “

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