‘Bed tax’ revenue generated by Airbnb hosts in county adds up to more than $22 million since May 2017, chief deputy tax collector reports

Condominiums continue to make up largest number of county accommodations for visitors, Tourist Development Council learns

These are the monthly comparisons of Tourist Development Tax collections over the past three fiscal years. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue from Airbnb hosts has totaled more than $22 million since the online rental platform began remitting funds to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office in 2017, Sherri Smith, the chief deputy tax collector, has reported to the Sarasota County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

The first payments from Airbnb to the Tax Collector’s Office added up to $310,000, Smith noted during her Feb. 8 presentation. They covered the period just from May 2017 through the end of that fiscal year, which was Sept. 30, 2017.

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates had worked with the Office of the County Attorney to get an agreement signed with Airbnb for those collections from its hosts’ accommodations countywide. Then the County Commission approved the document.

In the first full fiscal year after the agreement went into effect — 2018 — Smith said the Airbnb total was $1.1 million. By the 2021 fiscal year, that had jumped to $3.9 million. In the 2023 fiscal year, she pointed out, the figure was $6,976,986.88.

In response to a question from TDC member Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development Co., Smith explained that the revenue from the online rental platforms is calculated separately from that for other accommodations within each of the county’s municipalities, Siesta Key and the entirety of the rest of the unincorporated areas of the county. Thus, she said, the totals attributed to the City of Sarasota and Siesta Key on the monthly chart that the Tax Collector’s Office releases are for every other type of accommodation except those hosted by property owners through the online rental platforms.

Since April 2019, Smith pointed out, the Tax Collector’s Office also has been receiving revenue generated by the hosts using HomeAway and TripAdvisor, as well as all of those companies’ subsidiaries. However, those agreements do not allow the Tax Collector’s Office to provide individual amounts for each specific platform, such as Vrbo.com, Smith noted.

Through Dec. 31, 2023, she added, the total amount of revenue those online platforms have turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office since April 2019 was more than $10.9 million.

As for the collections accorded to the individual municipalities and the unincorporated county: Smith noted that once again, as of Dec. 31, 2023, the City of Sarasota had beaten Siesta Key for the largest amount remitted to the Tax Collector’s Office for the 2023 fiscal year. The city accounted for 26.43% of the revenue, she said, while Siesta was a close second, with 25.39%.

Smith also pointed out that that, as of Dec. 31, 2023, the county had 7,694 Tourist Development Tax accounts, which was up 1.61%, compared to the number for the 2022 fiscal year.

Of those, she reported, condominiums made up the largest group — 71.3% (5,486). Houses were in second place, at 21.85% (1,681), while apartments were in third place, at 3.55% (273).

However, Smith noted, “For the seventh year in a row,” hotels and motels collected more Tourist Development Tax revenue than condos. The figure for hotels and motels in FY 2023 was $20,869,486, representing 41.74% of the total; for condos, the tally was $14,689,273, or 29.38%, as shown in a chart in the Tax Collector’s Office’s annual report for the 2023 fiscal year.

Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Smith also told the TDC that members of the Tax Collector’s Office staff work diligently to find accommodations whose hosts are not paying the bed tax. Thanks to their efforts, she said, as of Feb. 8, the collections for the 2023 fiscal year added up to $50,059,157.50, “as several delinquent accounts have fully been brought into compliance.”

That is a record amount, she emphasized. “We are ready to shout and do the happy dance.”

Smith offered plaudits for Angela Nicoloso, Kenni Gregg and Lisa Ferris, whom she named as the Tax Collector’s Office employees charged with handling collections and enforcement.

The FY 2023 total was up 24.11%, Smith added, compared to the amount for the 2022 fiscal year, which was more than $40 million.

The staff located 896 new accounts in the 2023 fiscal year, she said. Moreover, Smith continued, whenever the staff determines that a new account was operating in one or more previous fiscal years, then that account is “assessed back taxes, plus any penalties and interest due.”

The written report the Tax Collector’s Office released for the 2023 fiscal year points out that leads on new accounts “are generated through the collection of other taxes such as property tax and business tax.”

Further, the document explains that while internet sites “generate many leads, [it] can be very time consuming to identify the owner/location of the property. In working those referrals, findings have shown that the majority of the accounts identified were already paying the tax or did not owe the tax.”

The report does note, “If multiple new accounts are found from a particular area, concentrated enforcement efforts are conducted in that community.”
Among the websites staff searches, the report notes, are Evolve, FlipKey, OwnerDirect.UK, Tripping.com and Bookings.com.

Because those websites “often do not list owner information or address,” the report continued, the Tax Collector’s Office staff uses the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records and county Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping “to identify the property address based on advertised photos.”

Pursuing delinquent accounts

Turning again to the topic of delinquent accounts, Smith pointed out that the number of those “has remained consistently low over the past several years.”

The report also points out that referrals from the public are an “important resource” in locating hosts of accommodations who are not paying the bed tax. The report notes that those referrals “typically come from owners who are already paying the tax but suspect a neighbor is not doing so. Nine referrals were received in 2023. The Tax Tipline generated six online referrals,” while two came from the county’s Property Appraiser’s Office and one came from Sarasota County Code Enforcement staff.

Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Further, the report says, “In 2023, 390 referral letters were sent to owners across the county that potentially owed tourist tax. The primary concentration included several communities with a focus on condominiums. In these areas, properties were researched and cross-referenced with the tourist tax roll. Those without a current account were contacted by letter/email and followed up by phone, correspondence and/or visit. In cases where the unit was not rented, the owner was educated about the tax in the event of a possible future rental.”

Each month, Smith also explained to the Council members, the enforcement staff contacts every TDT account that has not filed funds with the Tax Collector’s Office. Most of the issues are resolved within 30 days, Smith added. The staff makes phone calls and sends emails at first, she noted. When those do not work, Smith continued, a letter is mailed to the holder of the account, threatening the erection of a sign in front of the property denoting that its payment is delinquent.

“In most cases,” she said, “this has proven to be very successful,” as the sign “is fluorescent pink and really not very attractive.” Most property owners would prefer not to have it on their sites, Smith added.

If that measure does not bring the accommodation into compliance, she pointed out, a warrant is filed as a last resort. “No warrants were even needed last year.”

Only three warrants remain outstanding from previous years, Smith told the Council members. Those companies no longer are in business and have no presence in the county, she added. Further, she said, the total owed the county is less than $4,000.