Airbnb is booming in Florida. Officials say it’s time for Manatee to get its cut

The only person standing in the way of bed tax fees from local Airbnb rentals going to county government is the Manatee County tax collector — but not for long.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac brought the subject up at Tuesday’s commission meeting after recent headlines boasted of the financial boon of a contractual agreement that automatically handles the bed tax fee for Airbnb, an online hospitality company that allows homeowners to turn their houses into bed and breakfast locations.

In 2018, Brevard County hosts reeled in $12.8 million in come and provided $784,000 in taxes. Manatee County was next on the list with hosts receiving $12.4 million in total income, which suggests around $750,000 that may not have been reported to the tax collector due to the lack of an agreement.

Other local counties are being boosted by the short-term rental service, as well. Both Sarasota and Pinellas counties earned more than $1 million in taxes from Airbnb rentals in 2018, according to a company spokesman Ben Breit. The company currently has tax agreements in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties. Rental taxes from Airbnb provided $27 million statewide.

By law, a portion of rental transactions must be collected as bed taxes in Manatee County. Without a formal agreement in place, rental hosts are required to report those taxes by themselves, which doesn’t always happen. Benac said it’s time to change that.

“It seems to me that we’re missing out by not working with them, rather than working against them,” she said.

The issue of collecting taxes from the service, which has been steadily rising in popularity, also came before the Board of County Commissioners last May when they discussed the issue with Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr. Instead of working with the company, Burton opted to sue Airbnb for not properly collecting bed taxes.

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In the lawsuit, filed April 27, 2018, Burton alleged that Airbnb had “failed to register with (the tax collector) or Manatee County as a dealer of transient accommodations, and have failed to collect and/or remit (bed taxes) due to Manatee County.” Since then, there has been little progress in court, according to County Attorney Mitchell Palmer.

With legal action pending against Airbnb, Breit declined comment.

But if Burton won’t deal with Airbnb, Manatee County can find someone who will, Palmer said. A county ordinance dictates that Burton is responsible for collecting the bed tax, but commissioners may amend that ordinance and make that the duty of the Florida Department of Revenue.

“You can remove the tax collector from the picture and the state Department of Revenue already is in an agreement with Airbnb,” Palmer advised. “As of last May, they were already working with 24 Florida counties.”

Such action would nullify the purpose of Burton’s lawsuit, Palmer said. Before they move any further, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh suggested they hold a workshop and discuss the topic again with Burton before sidestepping his legal action.