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Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez: County’s tax deal ‘not condoning’ Airbnb

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez answers questions at the Miami Herald Editorial Board in regards to Airbnb taxes for Miami-Dade County on Monday, April 3, 2017.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez answers questions at the Miami Herald Editorial Board in regards to Airbnb taxes for Miami-Dade County on Monday, April 3, 2017. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Ahead of a vote over collecting local taxes from home-sharing platform Airbnb, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is setting the record straight: The tax deal doesn’t mean the county is condoning the platform.

The announcement last month that the county had reached a deal with Airbnb to collect and remit local tourist taxes was at odds with two aggressive local campaigns to stamp out illegal use of the platform in Miami and Miami Beach. Just a day after Gimenez agreed to a deal with Airbnb, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — whose city is handing out $20,000 fines on a near-weekly basis — presented a united front against the platform at Miami City Hall. Three days later, about 70 speakers weighed in on Miami’s proposed near-ban of the platform, leading to an Airbnb filibuster that went on for 10 hours before commissioners ultimately approved the measure.

The sharing economy is here to stay. I don’t think you can regulate your way out of it, but we need to strike a balance.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez

At a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board Monday, Gimenez said his tax deal is separate from the turmoil at the city level and doesn’t exempt the county from enacting regulations in the future.

“We are not giving up any of our rights under this agreement. We still have the right to issue zoning regulations. We certainly do not usurp the right of any city to regulate or re-zone, or zone Airbnb out,” Gimenez said. “The folks who do not like Airbnb should actually be in favor of this because this actually makes Airbnb less attractive because it’s actually going to be more expensive — they are going to have to pay the taxes like a hotel does.”

Under the agreement, Airbnb will collect the 6 percent Miami-Dade resort tax from its hosts and remit that money to the county every month.

Under the agreement, Airbnb will collect the 6 percent Miami-Dade resort tax from its hosts and remit that money to the county every month. The agreement largely excludes Miami Beach and Bal Harbour because each city has its own resort tax set at 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. However, Airbnb will begin collecting the 3 percent convention tax from hosts in Miami Beach as part of the county tax deal. The deal will go before county commissioners Tuesday and must be approved by a majority before the county can start collecting taxes.

Miami-Dade County is one of the top five Airbnb destinations in the country, with 6,800 hosts renting their homes. But for the past year, Miami Beach has been fining locals who rent on platforms like Airbnb $20,000 for each violation.

But Gimenez said some people have tried to “muddy the waters” as to the reality of the agreement, which he said is just a way to put Airbnb on more equal footing with the hotel industry.

“They are here and if we did not pass this, they are still going to be here and they are not going to collect taxes,” Gimenez said.

The folks who do not like Airbnb should actually be in favor of this because this actually makes Airbnb less attractive because it’s actually going to be more expensive — they are going to have to pay the taxes like a hotel does.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Among those raising his voice in opposition is Regalado, who sent a letter to Gimenez Monday morning asking the county to allow the city to opt out of its deal. Regalado said the county would be over-stepping its authority were it to begin taxing short-term rentals in neighborhoods where the business is deemed illegal. (Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez said Monday the county can tax illegal rentals, much like it taxes homes that are expanded through illegal additions.)

While there’s not talk right now about suing the county were such a tax levied, Regalado said Gimenez and Airbnb would at the very least put property owners in a bad spot.

“If we are not able to opt out, the problem will be for the county because they’ll be collecting an illegal tax,” he said. “The city will be enforcing. And these poor people paying the tax will be cited and fined by the city. So it’s a contradiction of sorts.”

If we are not able to opt out, the problem will be for the county because they’ll be collecting an illegal tax. The city will be enforcing. And these poor people paying the tax will be cited and fined by the city. So it’s a contradiction of sorts.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

In his letter, Regalado mentioned that city commissioners last month passed a resolution reaffirming a zoning opinion that found short-term rentals are illegal in residential neighborhoods. The mayor said the city plans to send cease-and-desist letters (but not fines) to property owners who admitted during the meeting that they’re renting their homes on Airbnb in violation of city laws.

Under the county deal, hosts would remain anonymous so their information can’t be used to persecute violators in areas not zoned for short-term rentals, which Gimenez said was one of the concessions that brought Airbnb to the table.

Still, he and other county commissioners are looking at new ways to better regulate use of the platform. And, if the tax agreement passes Tuesday, the county will be seeking similar agreements to other home-sharing platforms that operate locally, like HomeAway.

“The sharing economy is here to stay. I don’t think you can regulate your way out of it, but we need to strike a balance,” Gimenez said. “Some county commissioners will be looking to regulations and my message to them is: Go right ahead.”

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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