Airbnb business rises as Columbia County continues occupancy tax discussion

Richard Moody Columbia-Greene MediaDecember 17, 2018 10:08 pm

Short-term rentals advertised through the online company Airbnb have increased this year in the Twin Counties as Columbia County studies enactment of a tax on such rentals in the future.

The number of people who stayed in Columbia County on short-term rentals through Airbnb rose to 32,200 people in 2018 from 26,800 people in 2017, according to recent data from Airbnb.

The number of people who stayed in Greene County through short-term rentals increased from 30,500 in 2017 to 45,300 in 2018.

Of those guests, most of them stayed in Hudson, Germantown, Copake Lake, Chatham, Ghent, Hunter, Windham, Catskill, Tannersville and Athens. Most traveled from places such as New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Jersey City.

The data come as Columbia County looks at opportunities to gain some tax revenue from the short-term rental industry.

Columbia County officials formed an Occupancy Tax Subcommittee in September to explore the possibility of taxing short-term rentals such as those advertised on Airbnb. The subcommittee met Dec. 11 when town supervisors on the subcommittee listened to representatives from the company Host Compliance, a company that advises local governments on how to enforce laws and taxes on short-term rentals.

At the meeting Host Compliance representatives told supervisors they identified 921 listings in Columbia County as of October, with a median rate of $199 per night.

Host Compliance is looking for the county’s business and offers multiple services including identifying the addresses of short-term rentals for $22.50 a year, monitoring such short-term rentals’ compliance with local laws for $11.25 a year, and monitoring rental activities for $15 a year.

“I think this is worth exploring,” Hudson 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides said. “There are many short-term rentals in the county. That could mean potentially more revenue for the county. And the tax is something small that I do not think will affect people coming to the county.”

Columbia County Treasurer P.J. Keeler presented preliminary estimates of the kind of revenue the county could see, excluding Hudson, which enacted its own occupancy tax for hotels and short-term rentals in March 2017.

Keeler estimated the county, without Hudson, could generate $927,392 in tax revenue from short-term rentals with the number of rentals available at 40 percent capacity.

“Hudson is on pace to generate $240,000 in revenue from its tax,” Chameides said. “I would love to see the tax revenue go to something like affordable housing but we have to see. But it would be additional revenue the county could spend or use to reduce property taxes.”

No decisions have been made on moving forward with a tax or the inclusion of Hudson.

Greene County considered an occupancy tax in 2017 and was talking to Airbnb about possible avenues for such a tax, but the plan was dropped.

“We do not have a general hotel occupancy tax and we need that before we can tax short-term rentals on Airbnb,” Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said. “Much of our economy is based on the tourism industry. Many of the resorts here price based on lodging as well as food and recreation costs, so a tax would skew their pricing. Also, pricing here can be better than places that have such a tax, without the tax.”