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Miami-Dade and Broward approve deals to collect millions in taxes from Airbnb

On Tuesday, April 4, 20017 Commissioner Joe Martinez of Miami-Dade County voted against a tax deal with home-sharing platform Airbnb.
On Tuesday, April 4, 20017 Commissioner Joe Martinez of Miami-Dade County voted against a tax deal with home-sharing platform Airbnb. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade and Broward counties passed tax deals with Airbnb Tuesday, signaling a major win for the home-sharing platform that has been aggressively lobbying for deals in its top two Florida counties.

The tax deals, which will bring at least $6 million and $1 million annually in tourist taxes to Miami-Dade and Broward, respectively, bring Airbnb’s count of county deals in Florida to 38. The platform is seeking to strike a deal with all 63 eligible counties in the state by the end of the year.

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 the debates in Miami-Dade and Broward could not be more different. In Broward, commissioners quickly passed the agreement unanimously. But in Miami-Dade, commissioners debated for about an hour and a half on issues surrounding regulation of the platform before ultimately voting in favor of the deal. Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto voted against the measure (Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz was absent).

The Airbnb tax deals would bring at least $6 million to Miami-Dade and $1 million to Broward annually in tourist taxes.

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.

Host names and addresses will be protected under the tax deal, but Airbnb will be required to update its website to include information on zoning, building housing standards, business license and taxes in Miami-Dade and its municipalities.

The terms are almost identical in Broward, where Airbnb will collect that county’s 5 percent resort tax. Both counties plan to seek similar deals with other home-sharing platforms, such as HomeAway and VRBO, that operate locally.

Miami-Dade and Broward are projected to begin collecting taxes from Airbnb on May 1.

I’m happy to support taxing a business that is diverting our current taxes away from our county.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman

In the past month, the battle with Airbnb has reached a boiling point in Miami Beach and Miami, where Mayors Philip Levine and Tomás Regalado strongly oppose the growth of the platform.

In a joint press conference, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine discuss steps their respective cities are taking to fight against vacation rental company Airbnb on March 20, 2017.

But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who negotiated with the deal with Airbnb, asserted that collecting taxes from the platform was not legitimizing Airbnb in areas of the county where short-term rentals are illegal, but rather leveling the playing field between the hotel industry and the growing home-sharing industry.

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, and William D. Talbert, III, president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, both spoke in support of the tax deal after remaining largely silent during the ongoing local Airbnb discussions over the past several months.

“We don’t oppose Airbnb, we oppose illegal short term rentals,” Talbert told commissioners.

But commissioners quickly seized on the perception that approving a deal with Airbnb could have locally.

“If the government gets involved and starts taxing them, then we are indirectly condoning what they are doing,” Martinez said. “I don’t think we’d allow motels in residential areas and that’s what this is.”

Souto called the deal a “monkey in silk clothing” and said the county was “playing with fire” by agreeing to a deal with Airbnb.

If the government gets involved and starts taxing them, then we are indirectly condoning what they are doing. I don’t think we’d allow motels in residential areas and that’s what this is.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez

“This thing of doing it for the money, it’s about money, money, money, money,” Souto said. “By the same measure, let’s sell drugs, let’s sell drugs out on South Beach.”

But the majority of the commission, although with mixed feelings on the implications of the deal, agreed that collecting the taxes was a first step toward creating more regulations that more closely resemble rules hotels have to abide by, such as fire codes and ADA compliance.

“I’m happy to support taxing a business that is diverting our current taxes away from our county,” said Commissioner Sally Heyman, who called for a public meeting with commissioners Monday to discuss regulation, enforcement and zoning issues surrounding Airbnb.

Following the vote, Gimenez said his office will seek to establish regulations against Airbnb.

“We will sit down with Airbnb and say, you need to be a good corporate citizen,” Gimenez said.

Tom Martinelli, head of public policy in Florida for Airbnb, said the platform is open to discussing further rules.

“We just want to be able to have a seat at the table for best practices that have worked,” Martinelli said.

The scene Tuesday was more subdued than the one at Miami City Hall two weeks ago, when about 70 hosts spoke up during a 10-hour discussion that culminated with the city voting to largely ban short-term rentals and then threatening to persecute hosts who had outed themselves to code compliance by speaking publicly. Outside during that meeting, Levine paid for a banner plane criticizing Airbnb for trying to preempt local laws at the state level.

But Tuesday’s county meeting didn’t go off without some Levine hijinks and drama.

Barreiro summoned Martinelli to the lectern to grill him about an email Martinelli accidentally sent to a Barreiro staffer that knocked the commissioner for criticizing the company in meetings with constituents.

In a copy of the email provided by Barreiro, it read: “For what it’s worth, this guy has been talking the house of shit about us at HOA meetings.”

Martinelli later called it “email banter.”

And, ahead of the commission meeting, Levine released a poll he commissioned from SEA Polling & Strategic Design which found that 60 percent of the 300 Miami Beach residents polled oppose daily short term rentals. About 30 percent supported Airbnb.

Miami Herald staff writer Doug Hanks contributed to this report.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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