Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Exactly how many sheds does a homeowner need? I ask because there’s a property I sometimes drive by that had at least five sheds on it, but in recent weeks, two more have been added. Now, I’m not saying the homeowner rents out these sheds as apartments, though it is mighty suspicious that several have air conditioning and doorbells and seem to be populated not only by cats and dogs but also human beings who come and go. Also, I saw a bed and a comfy oversize recliner in one of the new ones. Did I mention that while these sheds appear to have their own electrical meters, they don’t seem to have plumbing? For the sake of argument, let’s say these sheds — which are indeed in Buncombe County — are getting the Airbnb treatment. Is that legal?

My answer: A better question might be, “Why do you hate America?” If the free enterprise system has evolved to the point of sheds being gussied up as living quarters in the uber-expensive Asheville area, isn’t that a development we should all celebrate? In other news, I’ve installed 45 sheds on my little slice of suburbia, and I’m looking forward to the spring travel season.

Real answer: First, I’ll update this question with a follow-up comment from the reader, who noted that after I started inquiring with Buncombe County officials about this situation, two of the sheds have been removed.

As you can imagine, they do pose some problems as far as habitation goes. But overall, having a lot of sheds is not the problem. Trying to live in them, or offering them as living space to others, is.

“The general answer (from a zoning perspective) is there is no restriction as to the number of accessory structures that may be established on this particular parcel,” Buncombe County Planning & Development Director Nathan Pennington told me via email. “Remember that no two parcels are created equally and there may be other land use restrictions on other parcels like watersheds, overlays, etc., that may restrict the number of accessory structures.”

High-rise shed living, no doubt coming soon to South Slope.

“The key issue here — that your reader pointed out — is the habitation of accessory structures,” Pennington continued.

From the Permits & Inspections perspective, as these are building code matters, Pennington offered more details on what kind of building can be habitable.

“For a structure to be considered habitable, it would need to meet all of the requirements from the 2018 North Carolina Residential Code, as well as having an approved water source and an approved waste water system,” Pennington said.

In other words, plumbing, for starters.

“A storage building purchased from a local home improvement store, or those located along the side of the road, typically will not meet the requirements for a single-family dwelling.”

Question: Over the past few months I’ve noticed quite an increase in the number of darkly-tinted license plate covers in the Asheville area. When a car has these covers, the plate number cannot be read by traffic cameras or anyone who is not within a few feet of the vehicle. You used to see only one or two a year, and now I’m seeing them daily. I was shopping at Sam’s Club last week and there were over a dozen in its parking area alone. It was my understanding that these covers were illegal in North Carolina. Is this still true, and, if so, how often is it being enforced? Or is this just another issue that those wishing to break multiple laws are using the officer shortage to avoid?

My answer: I think we’ve all learned two things here today: It’s a great time in America to be an owner of multiple, decked-out sheds; and a lot of laws are kind of optional now.

Real answer: Yeah, these license plate covers are illegal, but don’t look for swarms of arrests for these violations.

“According to General Statute 20-63 the license plate has to be visible from a distance of 100 feet in normal lighting or daylight,” North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Rohn Silvers, a spokesperson for the department, told me via email. “So it cannot be obstructed or covered to the degree that it is not visible as defined in that statute.”

As far as motorists getting pulled over for this, it is a little unlikely.

“You can be stopped for any violation of general statute,” Silvers said. “However, more than likely as far as our department, it would probably be something we would address as a secondary matter. The thought is, it is a good contact point if you already have them stopped, but not as a primary unless you have suspicious behavior.”

In other words, they might pull you over for speeding or weaving in and out of traffic, and then also write you up for the obscured license plate. But it’s unlikely they’re going to pull you over first or primarily because of the obscured plate.

But the law is pretty clear that you cannot intentionally cover up plates or make them hard to read.

Some motorists try to evade toll booths and red-light traffic cameras by using reflective sprays or polarized license plate covers. Both methods are superior to having a friend ride in the trunk and reach out to cover the plate with a hand when needed, but both are also illegal in North Carolina. // Credit: WCNC

In a section titled, “Alteration, Disguise, or Concealment of Numbers,” the statute runs through a whole bunch of illegal things you cannot do to your license plate, ranging from “willfully” bending or twisting it to putting grease on the plate to attract dirt, or other shenanigans “designed or intended to prevent or interfere with the taking of a clear photograph of a registration plate by a traffic control or toll collection system…” 

Further, it states: “Any operator of a motor vehicle who covers any registration plate with any frame or transparent, clear, or color-tinted cover that makes a number or letter included in the vehicle’s registration, the state name on the plate, or a number or month on the registration renewal sticker on the plate illegible commits an infraction and shall be penalized…”

C’mon, if you can afford the Cadillac, you can afford to pay the toll.

Here’s another fun fact, from the state law: you have to keep your plate clean. And if you don’t and an officer dings you for it, you have to, “upon the request of any proper officer, immediately clean such registration plates so that the numbers thereon may be readily distinguished, and any person who shall neglect or refuse to so clean a registration plate, after having been requested to do so, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.”

It’s the law, folks! OK, it’s unlikely to happen, but it is the law.

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941.

3 replies on “Answer Man: People living in sheds? Is that legal? Obscured license plates?”

  1. The license plate is on vehicles for reason, first and most important it shows who the vehicle belongs to. By obscuring the License plate a person can hide their identity in the event of accident or traffic violation, that is probably their intent. Another form of obscuring the license plate is leaving the tailgate down on a pickup truck. Yesterday a pickup truck drove up my driveway and around my house, appeared to be casing the neighborhood. I say a pickup truck because the windows were tinted and the tailgate was down, I couldn’t identify the driver or license plate. If a security camera cannot read the license plate, then when a home is broken into all the police have to go on is a picture of a Vehicle. I don’t think they could catch a criminal with only a picture of a vehicle.
    In My opinion it’s a dereliction of duty for the police to say that they are not going to enforce a law that is so clear and the reason for breaking the law is clear.
    P/S Don’t post My name or address, don’t want anyone to know that I could not identify them.

  2. The deriding tone of the article about people possibly living in sheds seems a bit shallow. People indeed are living in sheds and cars and vans, under bridges, in walmart parking lots, etc. If people are living in sheds and minding their own business, leave them alone. These days some would consider it a great luxury to have a shed over their heads.

  3. Living in a storage shed or mini barn should be fine as long as they are vented properly. The typical shed isn’t vented properly for a habitble space when insulation is installed.

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