Schenectady County

Schenectady County seeks to tax home-sharing rentals

Airbnb, a home-sharing service, has tax agreements with 21 counties
The Schenectady County Office Building on Veeder Avenue is pictured. The county wants to expand the bed tax.
The Schenectady County Office Building on Veeder Avenue is pictured. The county wants to expand the bed tax.

SCHENECTADY COUNTY — Schenectady County legislators want to collect a room-occupancy tax on home-sharing rentals, like those facilitated by Airbnb.

Such services have been operating without paying local room taxes on their rentals, but that is changing.

Airbnb, one of the largest home-sharing services, has struck tax-collection deals with a number of other counties and has approached Schenectady County about an agreement, county officials said. The county’s tax proposal would apply to all home-sharing rentals, not just the ones handled by Airbnb.

The county Legislature briefly discussed the proposal at a meeting on Monday and is expected to schedule a public hearing in July about amending the county’s hotel/motel room occupancy tax law. The proposed change would allow the tax to be applied to all home-sharing rentals — including those handled by Airbnb.

“There’s a bunch of counties around the state that have modified their laws and then entered voluntary collection agreements with Airbnb, and we would be looking to do that,” said Ryan Gregoire, county administrative assistant.

Without an agreement, Airbnb officials said the hosts who rent rooms through their service would be responsible for making the room tax payments to the county themselves. But in some counties, Airbnb agrees to pay the taxes on users’ behalf, rather than force the hosts to deal with the accounting.

“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 Schenectady County,” said Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of Northeast policy, in a prepared statement. “As is the case in 21 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 Schenectady County can benefit from additional tax revenue.”

The potential revenue the county might collect hasn’t been estimated, county officials said. Airbnb officials have told the county that, between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, there were 950 Airbnb guests in the county who stayed an average of 3.7 nights, for a total of more than 3,500 nights, but the company did not say what those customers paid, on average.

Airbnb said it has paid more than $1.7 million in taxes to various New York counties since reaching its first tax agreement with Tompkins County in July 2016.

Company spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said Airbnb would like to see the tax issue addressed statewide, but so far, legislation that would allow that hasn’t passed in Albany.

Schenectady County is already seeing its room tax revenue grow, from about $700,000 in 2017 to an estimated $900,000 this year. It has also seen its number of hotel rooms multiply in recent years, with two new hotels opening at Mohawk Harbor near the Rivers Casino & Resort and another nearby in Glenville. County officials estimate the county now has about 274 hotel rooms.

The county room tax is 4 percent, though county officials still hope to win approval from the state Legislature to raise it to 5 percent.

Revenue from the room occupancy tax goes to support Discover Schenectady, the county’s tourism and convention bureau, and other marketing efforts, including a variety of special events that could bring visitors to the county.

County Manager Kathleen Rooney said the county doesn’t otherwise regulate room rentals, and entering a tax collection agreement won’t change that.

The 21 New York counties with which Airbnb has agreements are: Fulton, Schoharie, Cayuga, Cattaraugus, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Otsego, Rensselaer, Schuyler, Seneca, St. Lawrence, Sullivan, Tompkins and Wyoming. The most recent agreement, approved last week, is with Orleans County.

A tax collection agreement has also been discussed in Saratoga Springs, with its strong summer hotel and rental market, though that city has yet to take any action.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is a graduate of Niskayuna High School.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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