New plan to collect bed taxes in Pinellas

Pinellas county tax collectors hope to catch -- and tax -- hundreds of tax dodgers by partnering with the website Airbnb.

"I think the biggest issue that we're dealing with now with is not being able to know who is renting either a bedroom or their home on a short term rental," Tax Collector Diane Nelson told FOX 13. 

Erin Sullivan, her chief tax auditor, said the shadow economy industry is growing. 

"We have seen an influx since Airbnb has become very, very popular," Sullivan said. "You can rent out a room; you don't have to rent your whole house." 

Nelson is promoting legislation that would require ‘homeowner landlords’ to obtain state sales tax ID numbers, then collect and remit sales and bed taxes.

Sullivan is working with Airbnb, which could collect and remit taxes for its property owning clients. 

"This way it takes the burden off the homeowners to have to file the paperwork," Sullivan explained. "They're on their website anyway, because that's how they're advertising their rental." 

Renters also pay the landlords through the website, so Airbnb could collect the taxes at the same time.

The sales and bed tax collections are just one new challenge of the peer-to-peer vacation rentals. 

Madeira Beach recently contracted a sheriff’s deputy to find rentals that do not comply with its zoning ordinances. Several were found in just six weeks.

"We've probably discovered 35 to 40 of them already," city manager Shane Crawford told FOX 13. "Madeira Beach is only two and a half miles long and we've only got a population of 4,200 people -- but I'd be willing to bet there's hundreds of them out there." 

Crawford doubted any of them collect taxes, and confirmed another tax issue. 

"We've found some that they're claiming their homestead exemption, but they're renting their home out 12 months a year," Crawford added. 

The homestead exemption lowers a property's taxable value, and limits annual increases in property taxes. 

"For homestead purposes it's not OK to rent out your whole dwelling unit," Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov confirmed. "Not if you do it more than 30 days a year.”
Nelson and Dubov both lauded Madeira Beach for sharing its finding, and promise more cooperation going forward. 

"In this county, as long as I've been here, the property appraiser and the tax collector have been very congenial colleagues," Dubov said. 

Tax auditor Sullivan agreed. "We're all actively pursuing these people." 

None of the public officials criticize the "share economy" industry's existence, but all agree the participants should follow existing laws and ordinances. 

"It's a fairness issue" Nelson concluded.