Escambia, Santa Rosa differ on Airbnb collections
Pensacola News Journal | Melissa Nelson Gabriel
July 27, 2016

Local tax collectors are struggling to keep pace with the growing popularity of Airbnb rentals in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The Santa Rosa County Commission on Thursday will consider a proposal from the San Francisco-based company to allow Airbnb to collect county bed taxes directly from customers who book area vacation rentals listed on Airbnb.

Santa Rosa County Administrator Tony Gomillion said the proposal will save the county time and money because county employees will no longer have to monitor area Airbnb listings to make sure owners are collecting taxes.

“It is a plan that is being embraced by a number of counties around the state,” he said.

Area homeowners offer up rooms to rent on Airbnb

According to company’s website, Airbnb has similar agreements allowing it to collect local tourist development taxes in Brevard, Bradford, Citrus, Columbia, Desoto, Dixie, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Glades, Hamilton, Hendry, Hernando, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lee, Levy, Madison, Okeechobee, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, Sumter, Taylor, Wakulla and Washington counties in Florida.

But Escambia County leaders have so far rejected proposals by the company to collect local taxes.

Betsy Wooten, an accountant for the Escambia County Clerk of Court’s office, said the online rental company would submit area bed taxes in bulk and would not allow the county to analyze data about specific rentals.

“We declined to sign because we report the taxes to the public by individual ZIP codes. Under the Airbnb proposal, we would not know where the money comes from. There would be a lump sum that would come from Airbnb,” she said.

And the agreement includes privacy provisions that would prohibit the county from contacting people who list their properties on Airbnb about tax collection, she said.

Escambia County monitors 42 rental sites to make sure local taxes are collected, she said.

Until Airbnb can provide the county with more detailed information about individual tax collections, it makes more sense for the county to collect the taxes on its own, Wooten said.

“We feel that the time we are spending collecting the taxes is made up for by the dollars we collect,” she said.

Escambia County collected more than $750,000 in June in non-hotel, bed taxes, she said.

State and local tourism leaders have said the popularity of Airbnb is continuing to grow as more and more younger tourists prefer the more personal experience of renting a room in an individual’s home instead of staying in a hotel.

According to Florida data released by the company this month, 290 Pensacola-area property owners have listings on Airbnb and more than 12,000 visitors to the Pensacola area stayed in Airbnb properties in 2015 — a 249 percent increase from the number of guests to the area who stayed in Airbnb properties in 2014. The company said the Pensacola-area property owners who listed their properties on Airbnb averaged $7,780 in earnings in 2015.

In a news release accompanying the data, Michael O’ Neal, Airbnb’s regional head of public policy, said the company was committed to working with local governments to ensure taxes are collected.

“We have a productive relationship with the state and several counties and are having conversations with officials in many other counties to streamline the tax collection process and ensure our hosts can continue contributing to their local community,” he said.

Statewide, 16,100 property owners had listings on Airbnb in 2015 and 754,000 visitors stayed in Airbnb properties in 2015 — a 149 percent increase in the number of Florida visitors who used Airbnb in 2014, the company said.

2015 Airbnb listings in Florida

Number of property owners with Airbnb listings in each area, and the number of visitors who stayed in Airbnb properties in each area.

Fort Myers/Naples: 890 property owners; 23,600 visitors

Gainesville: 190 property owners; 5,600 visitors

Jacksonville: 520 property owners; 27,000 visitors

Miami/Ft. Lauderdale: 7,910 property owners; 408,800 visitors

Orlando/Daytona: 2,550 property owners; 154,900 visitors

Panama City: 320 property owners; 16,800 visitors

Pensacola area: 290 property owners; 12,000 visitors

Tallahassee: 170 property owners; 4,100 visitors

Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota: 2,300 property owners; 82,400 visitors

West Palm Beach: 1,010 property owners; 20,400 visitors