Airbnb Faces Its Toughest Review Yet

City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado at a 2015 WWII veterans tribute. (Unmodified photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark Barney used under a Creative Commons license. http://bit.ly/RaejCi)

The Sunshine State is known for attracting a wide array of tourists whose interests span from enjoying the award-winning beaches of Clearwater to dancing in the vibrant clubs of South Beach to visiting the family-friendly locales of Orlando. But whatever the draw every visitor needs one thing in common: a bed.

The spawn of tourists has led the state and local municipalities to erect “bed taxes” to maximize the profit brought in by visitors. According to Visit Florida, in 2015 the state imposed taxes generated $23.5 billion dollars in total taxable sales from the hotel and lodging sector.

Historically, visitors would book a hotel to accompany their stay, however, as the economy evolves, new disrupters are altering the traditional economic landscape.

Much like Uber and Lyft’s shake up of the taxi industry, companies such as Airbnb and Expedia’s Home Away are taking on the hotel industry, the historical cash cow for bed taxes.

Last year, Airbnb began collecting Florida’s Transient Rental Tax, which hotels had already been paying to the state. Under the agreement signed by Airbnb and the State Department of Revenue, the 6 percent rental tax will be applied to all reservations in the state.

In addition to the state tax, Airbnb has worked with local counties and municipalities to collect County Tourist Development Taxes. These taxes are sent back to the locality of the specific Airbnb location.

Currently, Airbnb has signed deals with 36 out of the 67 counties in Florida to collect and remit bed taxes which range from 2 to 5 percent of the listing price, according to Airbnb and the South Florida Business Journal.

One of the most recent counties to have entered into an agreement with the San Francisco-based company also contains two of the most vocal critics of the short-term rental concept.

Although Miami-Dade County commissioners approved the measure 9-3, the city of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine have called out the proposal in their fight against Airbnb.

Regalado’s opposition comes as his city has already put up a fierce fight against the home sharing giant by using the Miami City Commission to declare Airbnb an “illegal nuisance.”

In 2016, Miami Beach leveled $4 million worth of fines between March and Late October on short-term rentals, the same category of rentals utilized by Airbnb, according to the Miami Herald.

The two mayors have used the veil of protecting home values and assuaging the fears of neighbors as tools in their opposition to short term rentals. Airbnb has charged the Regalado with accepting $75,000 worth of campaign contributions from the hotel lobby.

According to PoltiFact Florida, the assertion made by Levine that that Airbnb decreases home values is “Mostly False” but that further data needs to be studied to ascertain a definitive answer.

The Miami Herald reviewed Airbnb’s claim that Regalado received $75,000 in campaign contribution from the hotel lobby and that could be the reason behind the anti-Airbnb rhetoric. The Herald found that the $75,000 figure spanned the course of a four-year period and three separate elections, two of which were run on behalf of Regalado’s daughter Raquel, beginning in 2013.

Soon the fate of Airbnb and other home-sharing sites will get a vote in the Florida Legislature.

HB 425, which was approved by the Careers and Competition Subcommittee on April 28, prevents cities and counties from creating new restrictions on vacation rentals based solely on classification, use or occupancy.

If approved this bill would curb any future attempt at halting the expansion of short-term rentals by local politicians, such as Regalado and Levine.

This is all comes at a time when Floridians are beginning to voice their opinions on the issue. According to polls conducted on behalf of Airbnb and Home Away, 80 percent of Floridians are in support of having the ability to rent out their homes on Airbnb. While 93 percent of respondents to Home Away’s poll said travelers should be permitted to rent vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts rather than just hotels.

As the sharing economy continues to grow and politicians continue to choose sides, it will not be long until an election is decided by a candidate’s decision to support economic change or continue to rally behind a single historical entity.

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