To the Editor:
I read with interest the excellent article by Marissa Lorenz on vacation or short term rentals. At one time, we had short term rentals in Grand County. I knew of no owner who was collecting sales or lodging taxes. Only the onsite rental company did that.
The reality is that there is often no ownership data attached to Airbnb or VRBO rental websites. We use both for a vacation rental we have on the island of Kauai. Unlike Grand County, the ability to remain anonymous on the rental listing is not allowed in Hawaii. We are required to prominently display our General Excise Tax (GET) license number and our Temporary Accommodations (TA) license number. If you don’t do this, you will get an ultimatum letter from the state, which is the tax collection authority. Absent compliance, VRBO or Airbnb will be directed by the state to have the website removed until tax compliance is achieved.
When you look at most VRBO and Airbnb listings, you will notice one thing: Rarely is the name of the owner listed, so unless the state or county enforces a requirement to include the appropriate Short Term Rental License number, enforcement is difficult and you have no idea who the homeowner is. One other thing you may notice is that rarely does the listing include the unit number (this is done for security purposes – crooks can read condo calendars and break in when they know they are empty). So while it may say the condo is in the Meadow Ridge complex, absent a unit number, it could be any one of 400-plus condos on the hill above Safeway. How do you begin to enforce your regulation and ensure state and local taxes are both collected and remitted when you have no idea who the owner of a website is?
I would expect the Grand County short term rental registration process will be the beginning of building a database in Grand County that includes both VRBO and Airbnb listing numbers AND any private website address URLs.
Since these regulations can be revised, I would encourage the county commissioners to revise their regulations ASAP and follow Hawaii’s example and require that all listings on websites include the county registration number to verify that the owner or manager of that property is in compliance with both annual registration and tax collection responsibilities.
And I would love to see more discussion on the rental of rooms in your own home. This is a really hot issue in Hawaii and one that Airbnb is taking an interest in as they see this as a major wide open market advertising bonus to them. Given the high cost of living in Hawaii, many homeowners rent rooms for additional income and this, in turn, gives residents a lower cost option for getting some housing in a very expensive local market. But it has some communities like Princeville, Hawaii, up in arms as their HOA regulations ban this kind of rental.
– John Erwin