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Airbnb disputes recent study’s findings

LAKE PLACID — Airbnb representatives say a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute, which recommends local governments tax and regulate Airbnbs the same as other lodging, failed to capture the dedication the home-sharing company has to working with local governments on issues such as tax collection, affordable housing and rental regulations.

The report, written by EPI Director of Research Josh Bivens made claims such as that the economic costs of Airbnb likely outweigh the benefits, rising housing prices are in part due to the presence of Airbnbs, and that Airbnbs offer less-reliable tax payments to cities than traditional hotels and motels.

Some Lake Placid residents and officials have also shared similar concerns as both the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and North Elba Town Council look to regulate short-term rentals beyond the currently imposed occupancy tax. The two boards could potentially pass laws that would enact a permit system, minimum night stays, safety provisions for short-term rentals and other rules.

Airbnb’s response to the EPI report says Bivens “relies on hotel industry-funded studies and misrepresents how Airbnb works with local governments around the world to regulate home sharing and collect and remit transient lodging taxes.” The EPI report cited 28 references in its bibliography, including at least one obviously tied to hotels — a 2017 study from CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research.

The EPI describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.” It’s primarily funded by foundation grants and labor unions.

How many

According to Airbnb data, in Essex County, there are now approximately 540 hosts, typically earning about $8,200 annually in supplemental income.

Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism President and CEO Jim McKenna said his group is also trying to identify how many Airbnb units are in Essex County. It’s an ongoing process, he said Thursday, but in July 2018, ROOST identified about 747 units. McKenna said active Airbnb units fluctuate between seasons, so it’s hard to pinpoint a definite number.

At a recent Lake Placid-North Elba public hearing in January, some people brought up the idea that many of the Airbnbs and other short-term rentals in the community are not owned by people who live in the property full-time but rather by conglomerates that own multiple houses.

According to Airbnb data, 90 percent of hosts across New York state have just one unit listing.

Taxes

Bivens suggests the shift from traditional hotels to Airbnb lodging leads to less-reliable tax payments to cities. Airbnb doesn’t agree, referencing a report from Smith Travel Research that says the U.S. hotel industry saw occupancy increase 0.5 percent from 2017 to 2018. Increased occupancy would ultimately increase the amount of taxes collected.

Currently, in Lake Placid, Airbnb owners pay school, town, village and county property taxes and a county occupancy tax, but not sales taxes to the county and state.

Airbnb Northeast Press Secretary Liz DeBold Fusco said hosts pay local occupancy taxes in 28 of New York’s 62 counties. Essex County got Airbnb to collect occupancy tax in 2016, when the county board passed a law requiring it.

Fusco added that Airbnb supports legislation that would require its hosts to charge sales taxes, too, much like a traditional hotel.

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