Florida Keys short-term rentals under scrutiny

Monroe County Tourist Development Council's report singles out Airbnb

May.May 01, 2015 11:15 AM

The vacation rental website Airbnb has drawn the wrath of the official tourism agency of the Florida Keys.

A 22-page Monroe County Tourist Development Council report about unlicensed vacation rentals singles out Airbnb for its practice of not collecting sales tax and the county’s 4 percent bed tax on behalf of property owners. The TDC uses the majority of bed tax funds to promote the Keys.

The agency recommends that local governments join forces to require Airbnb to collect taxes for all transactions in Monroe County. “If Airbnb should refuse to do, file a joint lawsuit as other destinations have done,” the report says.

Prominently, Palm Beach County sued Airbnb over bed tax collections in 2014. The Palm Beach suit also named the websites HomeAway, Trip Advisor and Couchsurfing.

Vacation rentals, which are generally defined as rentals of less than 28 days, are tightly regulated throughout the Keys. In addition to state licensing requirements, the cities of Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, as well as Monroe County, require property owners to acquire a vacation rental license or permit.

Nevertheless, illegal rentals proliferate. In a 2013 interview with the Key West Citizen, Monroe County officials estimated that in unincorporated portions of the Keys alone there were 1,500 vacation rentals, of which only 50 had licenses.

Along with depriving the county of taxes, illegal rentals are a problem because they undercut licensed rental homes and lodges, and because their renters are more vulnerable to scams than those who rent regulated homes, the TDC says.

In addition to suggesting that Keys cities take a tough stance against Airbnb, the tourism agency laid out several steps it will take to curb illegal vacation rentals. Among them will be sending an email outlining local requirements to the owner of each Keys vacation rental listed on popular sites such as Airbnb, Craigslist and HomeAway.

Airbnb did not respond to a request for comment.

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