Broward County Now Chasing HomeAway, VRBO Users for Unpaid Taxes

Each time someone books a $200 hotel room in Broward, the county collects 12 bucks in the form of a tourism tax. But for years, if you rented a house or apartment through online services such as Airbnb, you could pretty much skip out on paying.

That changed last year when Broward wised up and went all Rihanna on vacation rental sites, insisting the companies better have its money. Airbnb began collecting the tax last May, and HomeAway agreed to do so in December.

But because nearly five years went by before those agreements were reached, Broward says it has potentially lost millions of dollars in revenue. Last week, a judge granted permission for the county to ask HomeAway for a list of anyone who rented out a Broward home or booked a local rental from January 1, 2013, to November 30, 2017. The subpoena extends to Broward users of VRBO and VacationRentals.com, both of which are owned by HomeAway's parent company, Expedia.

In the future, Broward might file a similar request for information on Airbnb users in Broward, Assistant County Attorney René Harrod says.

"We're trying to treat all the different platforms equally and make sure all the appropriate taxes get paid," Harrod says.

Although Airbnb has begun collecting taxes in almost every state, surprisingly few local governments have asked HomeAway to collect taxes on their behalf. According to a company FAQ, only customers in Puerto Rico, Idaho, and Washington, D.C., are subject to local lodging taxes.

As of now, Broward still doesn't know the total amount of unpaid taxes owed by local property owners who listed vacation rentals on HomeAway and its affiliates, according to Harrod.

"That's one of the reasons we're doing the subpoena," she says.

But the number is almost certainly seven figures. After Airbnb began collecting taxes last year, it paid the county $191,000 for a single month of rentals in May 2017. Commissioner Chip LaMarca told the Sun Sentinel last year that the county could add an estimated $4 million in annual revenues by enforcing the tax collection.

Whether or not HomeAway turns over the names, phone numbers, and emails of its users remains to be seen. The company has not filed a response to the Broward court case and did not respond to a request from New Times this week seeking comment.

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