It has been nearly a year since Warren County supervisors enacted a law that directs those who put homes up for short-term rental to collect the county’s 4% occupancy tax.
County leaders are aware of at least 1,800 homes for rent in the county through a variety of websites, such as Airbnb, Expedia or VRBO. But so far not a penny of occupancy tax has been collected for them, as the county has not been able to work out contracts with the websites that list short-term rental homes, defined as rentals of 30 days or less at a time.
That delay has frustrated some officials, including the county treasurer, while others question whether the county should just start enforcing the law even without formal agreements with online platforms that collect money for homeowners. When the law was passed, county supervisors expected collections to begin by Jan. 1 of this year and to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for tourism promotion.
“It’s been dragging a long time,” said Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer.
So what’s behind the delay?
Property rental companies like Airbnb won’t collect the money on short-term rentals without a contract with the municipality where the home is located.
The county treasurer’s office believes it doesn’t have the manpower to deal with collections on its own, as it has its hands full with the 250 or so hotels, motels and lodges that collect the bed tax already.
“The best way for us to proceed is to have them (the companies) collect it, and we will collect it from them,” county Treasurer Michael Swan said.
Swan said he has been “frustrated” by the situation, and his office has gotten calls from homeowners who wonder if they should be collecting the tax on their rentals. Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty said he also got an inquiry from a real estate agency that has rental properties in the Lake George area and was wondering the same thing.
So far, they have been directed not to collect the tax, despite the law that says they are required to.
County Administrator Ryan Moore said Airbnb and the county Attorney’s Office have not been able to come to a contract agreement.
He has been working with the county Attorney’s Office, which is concerned about some of the contract language.
County Attorney Mary Kissane said Airbnb’s standard contract dictates some terms of the distribution of bed tax receipts, which the county has had concerns about.
Kissane said her office believes the county could start collecting the money from homeowners, although she understands the amount of work would be prohibitive for the treasurer’s office.
Essex and Rensselaer counties are the only local counties that have an agreement with Airbnb to collect bed taxes so far.
“Airbnb has been working with county officials on an agreement that would permit us to collect and remit taxes on behalf of the everyday New Yorkers who share their home in Warren County,” Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said in an email. “As is the case in 28 New York counties where we have already reached similar agreements, we hope to make the tax remittance process seamless for these hosts, while ensuring that Warren County can benefit from additional tax revenue.”
According to Airbnb, 32,200 guests came to Warren County last year through the home-share website. They paid $4.5 million for rentals, from a total of 430 Airbnb hosts. Those rentals alone would have brought in $180,000 in bed tax money.
It remains unclear how property owners who don’t rent their homes through third-party websites such as Airbnb will submit their payments, and what policing of them will take place.