January 15, 2017
Airbnb, the new behemoth of short-term online rentals, claims it is committed to transparency with governments across the globe and to paying its fair share of taxes.
I heard this argument in person from Chris Lehane, the company’s head of global policy, at its annual host conference back in November in Los Angeles. What Lehane says, and what Airbnb actually does, however, are often in contradiction, and the company’s tax negotiations in Florida are a good illustration of that discrepancy.
At the Airbnb Open L.A. conference, Lehane conducted a Q&A with former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who now leads Airbnb’s Mayoral Advisory Board. The two were specifically asked about the regulatory environment with regard to “professionally managed Airbnbs,” a euphemism for illegal hotels. Lehane responded that the company tailors its policies to the specific circumstances of each city, juxtaposing the housing crisis of San Francisco with Florida’s “affirmatively seeking to have more of that commercial element.”
After the Q&A, I asked Nutter to speak specifically to Airbnb’s internal controls for identifying illegal hotels and to caps on the number of days a listing should be able to be rented – two of the most contentious issues between Airbnb and municipalities in their negotiations. Despite being the lead mayoral policy adviser, Nutter claimed not to have a technical knowledge of those policies and told me to ask “the policy folks.”
At American Family Voices, we believe in strengthening working- and middle-class communities and we believe in market fairness. Airbnb shouldn’t be able to allow commercial operators to skirt zoning laws and industry regulations at the expense of these communities.
Accordingly, we are demanding the public release of Airbnb tax agreements and negotiation documents from municipalities across the country, in order to hold the company accountable to the public interest. With the state’s strong tradition of “government in the sunshine,” Floridians should demand no less than full disclosure of these covert negotiations.
More than 30 counties still remain in Florida that do not have a voluntary collection agreement set up with Airbnb, which means more than 30 counties still have the potential to be shortchanged. We think it is high time that municipalities and tax collectors hold Airbnb to the same standards as every other hospitality business in Florida.
Florida taxpayers do not get to pick and choose which laws to follow or what taxes to pay, how much to pay, and when to pay. Airbnb should live up to its stated commitment to transparency and payment of taxes, and provide the proper data to tax authorities and the public. [SEE FULL ARTICLE in the Tallahassee Democrat]