County plans to pursue Airbnb users for taxes

Manatee County seal

BRADENTON – Manatee County commissioners have unanimously voted to find another way to collect tourist taxes from vacation rental owners using Airbnb to rent their properties, rather than wait for a lawsuit to conclude.

A county ordinance requires the Manatee County Tax Collector to collect the 5 percent tourist tax from owners of accommodations rented for six months or less who charge the tax to their renters, in most cases, tourists.

Tourist tax scenarios

If you rent out any accommodations for six months or less, the total rental amount is subject to the tourist tax.

If you rent out an accommodation for longer than six months and can provide evidence of a written, long-term lease, you may be exempt from collecting and remitting tourist tax.

If you rent out an accommodation for longer than six months and do not have a written, long-term lease, the total rental amount is subject to tourist tax for the first six months of continuous occupancy.

– Manatee County Tax Collector

With no practical way to identify rental owners using Airbnb to offer lodging on websites and mobile apps, Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr. sued Airbnb in April 2017 to enforce collections.

“Our lawsuit is moving at a snail’s pace,” Manatee County Attorney Mitchell Palmer told commissioners on Jan. 29. Airbnb successfully moved the case from circuit court to federal court, but a federal judge sent it back to circuit court, he said, adding that very little has happened in the case since then.

Commissioners voted to have the county attorney’s office investigate options to make sure the county gets its tourist tax proceeds from the anonymous Airbnb users, who are on the honor system to report and pay their tourist taxes.

“Other communities have successfully entered into agreements with Airbnb to collect taxes, so why can’t we?” Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac asked. “It seems to me we’re missing out by not working with them.”

At least 20 other Florida counties have made agreements with Airbnb to collect tourist taxes through the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR), Palmer said, noting that Manatee and Collier counties chose lawsuits instead.

The county attorney’s office prepared an ordinance last year that would have taken the collections responsibility away from the Manatee County Tax Collector and transferred it to the Florida Department of Revenue, but commissioners did not act on it, he said, telling commissioners his office will investigate and report on the commission’s options.

“If the board transferred the responsibility to DOR, that would probably moot the tax collector’s lawsuit,” Palmer said.