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Schenectady County motel tax expanded to room-share rentals

Schenectady County motel tax expanded to room-share rentals

County and Airbnb still must negotiate collection agreement
Schenectady County motel tax expanded to room-share rentals
The Schenectady County Office Building
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Schenectady County legislators have approved a law allowing the county to collect a 4 percent room-occupancy tax on home-sharing rentals, like those facilitated by Airbnb.

Airbnb, one of the largest home-sharing services, has struck tax-collection deals with a number of other counties and approached Schenectady County about an agreement this spring. The Legislature approved the necessary amendment to its hotel occupancy tax law at a meeting Tuesday night.

The county law will apply to all home-sharing rentals, not just those handled by Airbnb -- but only Airbnb, so far, has offered to enter a voluntary collection agreement. County officials said it is difficult to estimate how much new revenue will be collected.

The law will go into effect within days, immediately after its official filing with the state Secretary of State.

An Airbnb spokesperson said the change in the county's hotel/motel room law will allow the county and the company to negotiate a voluntary collection agreement, though when collections will start will depend on negotiations.

"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," the company said 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."

Without an agreement, Airbnb officials said the hosts who rent rooms through their service are responsible for making the room tax payments to the county themselves. For the most part, that simply hasn't happened. Under its agreements with counties, Airbnb agrees to pay the taxes on users' behalf, rather than forcing hosts to deal with the accounting.

In the Capital Region, Fulton, Schoharie and Rensselaer counties already have agreements with Airbnb. Across the state, Schenectady County is the 22nd county to enter such an agreement. 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 action.

Airbnb officials have told Schenectady County that, between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, there were about 3,500 Airbnb guests in the county, staying with 80 hosts.

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.

Schenectady County is already seeing its room tax revenue grow, from about $700,000 in 2017 to an estimated $900,000 this year. The county has added a number of hotel rooms in recent years, including two new hotels 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. County officials have asked the state Legislature to increase that tax to 5 percent, but neither the Assembly or Senate voted on the measure this year.

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.

The New York counties with which Airbnb has agreements include Fulton, Schoharie, Cayuga, Cattaraugus, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Orleans, Otsego, Rensselaer, Schuyler, Seneca, St. Lawrence, Sullivan, Tompkins and Wyoming.

Airbnb officials said in June that they support state legislation to set a uniform statewide policy on tax collections, though the Legislature hasn't acted.

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.

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