Since sending out letters to over 900 local short-term rental (STR) owners, Ulster County has collected between $25,000 and $30,000 of the two percent bed tax owed by residents renting their homes on Airbnb, HomeAway, and other online platforms. Department of Finance Commissioner Burt Gulnick, Jr., said about half the recipients of the initial mailing have responded, and follow-up letters will go out soon.
The county had been negotiating with Airbnb, the largest of the STR websites, to receive the tax directly from the company, as some other municipalities do, but legislation to that effect never made it to a vote in the county legislature. Airbnb wanted to send the tax in a quarterly lump sum, not revealing the identities of homeowners, but, said Gulnick, “If we just got it from Airbnb, we wouldn’t know who’s paying them. This way we have the ability to audit and enforce.”
The existing law already has a provision for taxing STRs, without a need for legislative change. “We had folks who registered from beginning and have always been in compliance,” said Gulnick. “We understand there are those who didn’t know about the law, so we’re not penalizing them back to the start. We’re just trying to get the tax paid from the beginning of this year going forward. It’s just a matter of getting the information out.”
The county hired a firm to analyze the online platforms and compile a list of names and addresses of STR owners, so the Finance Department could send out letters informing them of the need to register with the county and pay the two percent tax quarterly, as hotels and other commercial lodgings do. In March, County Executive Mike Hein announced the creation of a comprehensive plan to enhance occupancy tax registration, education, and enforcement for STR owners. Designed to improve equity and compliance with local health and safety guidelines, as well as payment of the bed tax, the plan was presented in detail at this year’s annual meeting of the Ulster County Lodging Coalition on November 7. Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell answered questions regarding registration and efforts to assist municipalities in addressing some of the many challenges associated with the growing STR market.
Shandaken, Woodstock, and Rosendale are among the towns currently considering how to regulate STRs in response to complaints from neighbors about noise, trespassing, and guests leaving trash out for bears to strew. Addressing a recent meeting of Shandaken’s STR regulation task force, owners emphasized that irresponsible, sometimes absentee, proprietors are a tiny minority, while conscientious management of STRs brings economic benefits to towns that have few affordable lodging options for tourists.
As for the task of tracking down the county’s STR owners, Gulnick said, “The list keeps changing. Each month, new folks are added. We’ll keep doing a mailing every other month.”