How much does Airbnb owe the Keys?

It’s like Uber: Its popularity has exploded over the past decade and makes it easier for travelers to get to where they’re going, or in this case, to stay where they land.

It sounds pretty innocent. Find a room or a house on a vacation rental website like Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway, pay and stay. According to the Airbnb website, nearly 70,000 visitors to the Florida Keys made it last year, which generated $ 13.6 million in revenue for the hosts.

But just like with the Uber rideshare service and its 2016 battle to operate in Monroe County, vacation rental websites and their ever-growing presence in the Florida Keys are causing problems.

Perhaps most important is the loss of tax revenue. In County Monroe, vacation rentals pay a “tourist tax” – 12.5% ​​of the rental value. For example, renting a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $ 1,400 per week on a canal would generate $ 175 in taxes. In December 2017, the Monroe County tax collector collected almost $ 3.5 million in city tax. Of this amount, $ 1,036,000 was generated by vacation rentals, not hotel rooms. The county sends 7.5% to the state and 5% remains local. The local money goes to the Tourism Development Council fund, which promotes the Keys as a destination and funds tourism-related brick-and-mortar projects.

The problem is, Airbnb doesn’t pay Monroe County’s 5% tax on the properties it manages for owners. As of 2015, however, Airbnb collects 7.5% state tax on behalf of hosts and remits the amount to the state Department of Revenue.

Airbnb has offered Monroe County a compliance deal in the past, according to Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger, but will not disclose other relevant data – how many rentals, for how many – that would help county officials calculate the exact amount owed.

“We were never comfortable signing one. It was pretty much like “Trust us”. We will pay whatever we owe you, ”he said. But Airbnb would not release customer data for the tax collector to do an audit. “To date, they have not agreed to any of the audit terms that the collector would find acceptable for entering into a compliance agreement.”

County tax collector Denise Henriquez said Airbnb “wants to give us a lot of money and say ‘There you go.’ I wouldn’t be able to do an audit, I don’t know who to audit and they won’t provide any of this information.

Airbnb public affairs representative Benjamin Breit said the company has made deals with 39 counties in Florida to collect local tourist tax from landlords renting out their homes. But not County Monroe.

“And it’s not just Florida where we’re making these deals. We are closing 400 jurisdictions, large, small and everywhere in between. We have never agreed to hand over this very personal data, ”he said. “Talk to tax collectors in one of the 39 counties where we pay tourist taxes. They will tell you that it is easy and they are all very happy.

Rules and ordinances on length of stay vary in municipalities in the Keys, but a landlord must have the county permit in addition to, for example, the Marathon or Islamorada permit. Licenses help local authorities keep track of taxes owed.

“We were never comfortable signing one. It was pretty much like “Trust us”. We will pay whatever we owe you. ‘ – Monroe County District Attorney Bob Shillinger

“Someone who says, ‘I’m just going to rent my house and I can make some money’, goes to one of these sites and says’ Hey, I have a house to rent or a cruise ship. “They don’t make it clear that they have to have a temporary rental license in the city for this to be legal,” said Jim Scholl, City Manager of Key West.

Without taxation agreements in place with rental websites, the county and municipalities must seek out illegal rentals themselves and impose fines and fees for tourist taxes owed. The County of Monroe and the County of Monroe Tax Collector both have separate software systems and staff dedicated to finding illegal rentals and assessing fines to landlords.

“I created my own system and my staff go to these sites every day looking for illegal rentals. We find them every day, ”said Henriquez.

Once found, a notice is sent to the owner. If there is no answer, a lien can be placed on the house and the bank accounts can be foreclosed.

“If we identify an illegally rented property and they have reviews of their home on one of these websites, we can go back 36 months,” she said. “We just found someone renting and we have reviews going back to 2012. We can only go back 36 months, so we send them an assessment for taxes plus penalties, an invoice over $ 10,000. “

In 2017, there were 1,245 cases of illegal rentals across the county.

The Airbnb problem is not just a problem in Monroe County and not just a problem of missing tax money or illegal rentals. It is also a question of quality of life and affordable housing. According to, a 2015 to study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy group for working families, found that Airbnb was exacerbating the lack of affordable rental housing in Los Angeles. The group also conducted a 2014 study that found rents were rising faster in Los Angeles neighborhoods with the highest Airbnb ad density. In New Orleans, full-time residents of the Marigny neighborhood have posted signs on their windows that read: “No Airbnb; Save our neighborhood. As in Los Angeles, full-time residents of some New Orleans neighborhoods say working-class families are displaced by visitors as rents rise.

The town of Marathon also has staff looking for illegal vacation rentals on a daily basis.

“We prefer vacation rentals. They are good for our economy. But we have to balance the rights of the owner to have a vacation rental with the rights of those who live around the vacation rental, ”City Manager Chuck Lindsey said.

In 2018, the state legislature narrowly rejected laws HB 773 and SB 1400, which would have prohibited municipalities from regulating vacation rentals “on the sole basis of classification, use or occupancy. “.

“I was among the decisive voices to bring down the bill, so I voted no,” said State Representative Holly Raschein. “There wasn’t enough comfort language if you will, and there was certainly no waiver for the Keys.”

Many in the Keys are opposed to the idea of ​​the state establishing a vacation rental law. To this end, the County of Monroe, the Village of Islamorada and the Town of Marathon have co-authored an amendment to the bills, or an “exclusion”. It would exempt areas of critical state concern, which include the Keys. (There are four Areas of Critical Concern in Florida, but only Monroe County has a substantial population.)

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