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Airbnb big business in Lee County

Vacation rental companies major staple on Fort Myers Beach

March 4, 2020
By CHUCK BALLARO and NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

As the state legislature considers taking up a law which could take away home rule rights from municipalities regarding the regulation of vacation rentals, Airbnb, the vacation rental platform, has released its annual Florida tax report. The report revealed it collected and remitted more than $136.7 million in revenues to the state and local governments in 2019, representing a substantial increase from 2018.

Airbnb delivered $97.1 million in sales tax revenue to the state Department of Revenue, as Airbnb vacation rental hosts throughout the state earned a combined $1.2 billion in supplemental income through the platform. The $97.1 million in sales tax revenue delivered to the state is up from $62.5 million in 2018.

In Lee County, Airbnb collected $2.3 million, one of the largest collections in the 44 counties where Airbnb has bed tax agreements in place and more than double from the $1.1 million in 2018. The increase is believed to be due in part to the reduction in red tide and blue-green algae levels that discouraged travel in 2018.

On Fort Myers Beach, many residences have vacation rental signs posted outside.

Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak said there are a few dozen vacation rental companies on Fort Myers Beach, and more than a dozen of them are members of the chamber. They range from small efficiency units to multi-million dollar homes.

"I have members on both sides of the issue," Liszak said. "Legislation is definitely needed," she said. "Everybody wants the same set of rules."

What that legislation should look like is another issue.

"We have a lot of members right now who are struggling," Liszak said.

Liszak said there is some concern by members over whether the town will lose its home rule rights on overseeing such properties, to the state.

Some of those who rent out their properties through Airbnb or other ways, may live in the home part of the year and rent it out for the remainder of the year to cover expenses. Others may live in part of the home and rent out the rest. For some, "they wouldn't be able to live here" if they didn't rent out the space, Liszak said. "It's helped people hang on to their house."

Liszak said she gets both sides. "Some residents in the area here feel like it's damaging to the community and their right to peace and quiet," Liszak said.

"They feel it's a big business."

Liszak said that while property values have been increasing in the town, a side effect of the popular vacation rentals is that service staff at local businesses are finding it more difficult to find rental units in their price range.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach updated its ordinance on short-term rentals a few months ago. Mayor Anita Cereceda said the changes were not major in order to protect the ordinance it has on the books, which currently requires those who do vacation rentals to register with the town.

"There is a very real concern that the rental properties are essentially businesses," she said.

"Vacation rentals have been an important part of the accommodations mix in Lee County for many decades. The creation of shared economy platforms like Airbnb and VRBO has given consumers even more ways to easily book a vacation to our community," said Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Sam Randall, spokesperson for Airbnb, said they collect the taxes upfront from their local hosts.

"We collect the taxes with every booking and send them locally to the county. When people came and visit on an Airbnb listing, what they pay is collected by us and given to the county directly," Randall said. About eight percent of bookings in Southwest Florida were through Airbnb last year.



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