York County gets small revenue boost thanks to new Airbnb tax regulations
York County will receive a small boost in tax revenue thanks to a recent state law regulating online booking websites for overnight accommodations, most notably Airbnb.
Airbnb, a digital home-sharing platform that allows everyday people to advertise and rent their homes for short-term accommodations, cut a check for $2,893 to York County to cover the county's 5% hotel room tax for the month of April.
"The law requires that the booking agent pay us," said Barbara Bair, York County treasurer. "How they work that out with their clients is pretty much their business."
The state General Assembly in October adopted Act 109, which updated tourism and hotel occupancy tax regulations to address online booking agents that collect payments from customers on behalf of independent room rental operators.
The law took effect in January, and the York County commissioners amended the local hotel tax ordinance in May to reflect the change.
Before that, Airbnb wasn't collecting and paying the tax, officials said.
Bair said individual operators who rent their homes on Airbnb won't be required to collect and pay the 5% tax themselves because Airbnb will be the conduit.
Although the updated law will yield new tax revenue, the treasurer's office still has no way to verify and record the number of properties within the county that are advertised on the site.
An informal search on the Airbnb website for rental properties in York, Pennsylvania, yields about 200 results.
Even if an employee were able to sit down and troll the Airbnb website looking for every York County property, there would be no way to verify the exact location or the identities of the operators, Bair said.
"The simple reason for that is, when you go onto a site like this, it doesn’t even tell you the exact location," she said. "It doesn’t tell you the owner’s name."
Those details are only available to Airbnb users after they've paid for a reservation.
But there is legislation pending in the state House that would require all Airbnb operators to register with the state and share rental information with the treasury departments in their respective counties.
House Bill 787, sponsored by Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, will not likely come up for vote until after June, said Mike Straub, spokesman for Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, the Republican leader in the House.
An earlier form of the legislation, HB 1810, passed the House in a 177-14 vote in the 2018-19 session, and Straub said the new measure would likely have similar support.
Airbnb is not in favor of the proposed law.
"This bill is, we think, creating a solution in search of a problem," said Liz DeBold Fusco, Airbnb's northeastern region spokeswoman.
The company's position is that it already collects occupancy taxes across Pennsylvania, sometimes via a voluntary collection agreement, or VCA, and other times — such as in York County — without a signed agreement.
Collection in York County began after Act 109 went into effect, Fusco said.
She also said it's not necessary for the county to have additional identifying information about its hosts because Airbnb is already collecting and paying the taxes.
"To take this additional step and require us to turn over personal, private information, undermine our hosts’ privacy and interfere with these successful agreements we’ve already reached, we think is unnecessary," Fusco said.
When the state House was considering HB 1810, the company submitted testimony maintaining that the law would "undermine Airbnb’s effective, efficient collection of state and local taxes" by revealing personally identifiable information of its hosts without due process.
Airbnb has reportedly been clashing with the traditional hotel industry and local governments for years, with the hotel lobby claiming the home-sharing startup gets a free pass on collecting occupancy taxes and complying with zoning and safety regulations.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from an Airbnb representative.