“An unfair playing field”: Gainesville seeks to regulate Airbnb

Alachua County and Gainesville are considering options to regulate short-term stays in homes or rooms listed online through Airbnb and similar accommodation services.

Alachua County Tourism Director Jessica Hurov said the county tax collector’s office estimates that 95 percent of those rental spaces do not pay the required 5 percent monthly resort tax.

“The estimate we received is that there is over $ 300,000 in unpaid tourist tax last year alone, and that continues to grow,” Hurov said at a policy committee meeting. General of the City of Gainesville Commission last month.

Mayor Lauren Poe said the tourist tax is also a matter of fairness.

“Hotel owners and guesthouses all pay for that,” said Poe. “It’s an unfair playing field. We absolutely have to settle this part.

Local guest house owners who attended the meeting agreed.

“We are inspected just like the restaurants, just like the hotels,” said Cindy Montalto, 64, co-owner of Magnolia Plantation Bed & Breakfast Inn and Cottages. Referring to the Airbnbs, Montalto said, “They just open their doors and throw mattresses on the floor and bam.”

Airbnb allows guests to market their accommodation or single room for short stays and set their own rates. Market research firm Euromonitor International predicts the company will become one of the world’s largest hotel providers by 2020, just behind Marriott-Starwood. In May, Airbnb released a report indicating that its Gainesville-based hosts earned a total of $ 108,000 during the debut weekend at the University of Florida.

Airbnb automatically collects sales tax from hosts statewide and remits tourism development taxes, known as bed taxes, in some counties, according to the company’s website.

The company spent nearly a year negotiating a similar program for Alachua County, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement after Airbnb asked the county to refrain from collecting taxes. previously unpaid stay, reported the Gainesville Sun.

Although state law prohibits local governments from prohibiting vacation rentals or regulating the length or frequency of a guest’s stay, some cities and counties in Florida have ordinances regarding short-term accommodations. In Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, owners of short-term accommodation must register their properties with the city and pay an annual fee.

In Gainesville, the commission’s rental housing committee will discuss the issue on January 2.

For its part, Airbnb is planning a cooperative approach upstream of the meeting.

“Gainesville has a solid, common sense owner’s license that we’ve leased over the years,” Tom Martinelli, the company’s Florida policy director, wrote in an email. “We look forward to working with Mayor Poe and the Commission to better understand their concerns and work towards developing clear rules for compliance.”

Cory Presnick and his wife rent out Gray House, their former home, through the business on Southeast Seventh Street, a historic B&B district of the city.

Presnick, 36, a commercial real estate developer who moved with his family to Chattanooga, Tennessee a year ago, said he decided to use Airbnb instead of selling his Gainesville home.

“This is a unique property and we really fell in love with it and could potentially be back in the area,” he said.

The house is occupied by short-term tenants about 60% of the year, Presnick said. Because the family rents the whole house, not just the bedrooms, guests in groups of no more than eight are allowed a more private experience, he said. The house is maintained by an offsite property manager.

“If we were to be regulated like a hotel to have six, seven, eight people, that doesn’t really make sense to me,” Presnick said.

Nonetheless, Presnick said he would be happy to comply with any new rule the city may impose.

“Allowing the market to dictate people’s behavior is what I believe in, but I certainly understand,” he said. “We have a lot of good neighbors and friends in the bed and breakfast district who we respect a lot. We are happy to be part of this community.

B&B owners have said Airbnb rental properties without an on-site owner or manager can cause headaches for neighbors. No one is there to quickly resolve a parking, noise or safety issue, said Joe Montalto, owner of Magnolia Plantation with his wife, Cindy Montalto.

“It’s almost like the owner leaves it up to the neighborhood to watch him, and sometimes we have to involve GPD,” said Montalto, 64. “We have to take care of it, not the owner. It is completely unfair to me.

Nan Charland sits on the porch of the Laurel Oak Inn, the bed-and-breakfast she co-owns with her husband Dave Charland. (Vincent McDonald / WUFT News)

Nan Charland, 46, who co-owns the Laurel Oak Inn with her husband Dave Charland next to the Montaltos, also wants Airbnb owners to follow the same guidelines as she should.

“Healthy competition is great, but when they don’t pay the same fees and licenses that we are required to… we lose all that money,” she said. “We are fighting for the same people.

Laurel Oak also lists its rooms on Airbnb.com, but at significantly higher rates than other local rentals on the site, Nan Charland said. Unlike other properties, however, guesthouses cannot accommodate requests from tenants to share a room among a group of people in order to reduce the rate, without breaking the fire code.

“The fire department would get upset; I mean, they would shut us down if they wanted to, ”she said. “Airbnb, they can have that access, and that’s where it’s wrong.”

Pat McCants sits on the porch of the Camellia Rose Inn, the bed and breakfast she co-owns with her husband Tom McCants. (Vincent McDonald / WUFT News)

Pat McCants, 61, cousin of Joe Montalto, and her husband Tom McCants, 64, run the Camellia Rose Inn next to the Charlands. The couple spent tens of thousands of dollars making sure their home complies with state and local laws: about $ 35,000 for a sprinkler system, $ 15,000 for a fire alarm system and $ 1,500 per year in licensing and inspection fees, Pat McCants said.

“Nothing says I can’t go out, withdraw my signature, surrender my licenses, close my website and start using Airbnb,” she said. “But the problem is, I’ve already invested. “

McCants doesn’t think Airbnbs are negatively affecting her business, but she does argue that their presence negatively impacts a neighborhood of single-family homes.

“All of a sudden a house becomes a place of passage, and you never know who your neighbor is,” she said.

Commissioner David Arreola, chairman of the rental housing committee, said the city’s governing body wanted to hear both views at the next meeting.

“If you’re an online short-term rental service provider, I think you need to tune in to those conversations,” Arreola said.

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