Last week’s Review headline, “HMB goes after Airbnb operators who dodge tax” should have read that Half Moon Bay was finally going to stop coming after us operators and have Airbnb collect the tax as they should have in the first place.
The misleading article made it appear as if the city lost money because of us tax-avoiding Airbnb operators, but nothing is further from the truth. The money lost to the city was the money that HdL Companies skimmed off the top of their collections. If it is 35 percent as in Mountain View, HdL pocketed over $70,000 from the town’s citizens, based on the $133,000 Airbnb operators contributed to the city. The city could have 100 percent of the taxes if they had asked Airbnb in the first place.
I am speaking as a Coastside resident since the fifth grade, a teacher who has lived in the same house most of my life and who began occasionally Airbnb-ing my home a few years ago when I found myself unemployed.
Let me explain about transient occupancy or hotel tax, and who pays it. People who rent out their homes do not pay this tax. Hotels do not pay this tax. Airbnb does not pay this tax. The visitors owe and pay the tax. The big question is, who collects it?
The Half Moon Bay ordinance makes it legally impossible for Airbnb hosts to collect the TOT. It reads, “each operator shall collect the tax … at the same time as the rent is collected from every transient. The amount of tax shall be separately stated from the amount of the rent charged, and each transient shall receive a receipt for payment from the operator.” We don’t collect any money from the renters, Airbnb does. We can’t inflate our rates to absorb the TOT tax either because the ordinance says, “No operator of a hotel shall advertise or state in any manner, whether directly or indirectly, that the tax or any part thereof will be assumed or absorbed by the operator, or that it will not be added to the rent.” So, basically, HdL was extorting money out of us for a tax we didn’t owe and which was impossible to collect from those who did owe it.
“Read my lips. We want to pay taxes,” Airbnb’s head of public policy told the nation’s mayors in 2016, but Half Moon Bay took a different route. It quietly decided to outsource tax collection to HdL Companies to collect from individuals.
When I first got the weird “Notice of Non-Compliance” letter with a city logo and a return address of “TOT Processing Center” in Fresno, I thought for sure it was some kind of scam, but each subsequent letter got more threatening. Each said that it had “recently come to the attention of the city that you may be leasing or advertising a short-term rental.” Then I got emails and calls on my cell. I demanded to know how they got my information since none is listed on the Airbnb website, and they refused to tell me.
The fourth written Notice of Non-Compliance said I owed $12,658 based on “average filing from all existing short-term rentals, the square footage of my property, and the value of my home,” and the first correspondence I got from anybody in Half Moon Bay was a lien notice filed with San Mateo County, signed by City Manager Bob Nesbit.
I met with Nesbit to try and resolve the matter and talked to him and Matthew Chidester. I showed them my Airbnb records, but have not heard back from them to resolve the lien that I fear is ruining my credit.
Some of you against Airbnb may think we deserve to be spied on by HdL, but they also look for people working out of their home, or selling on eBay without a business license. Our cannabis initiatves were HdL’s brainchild. Jan Johnston-Tyler, of Mountain View, said, “This is overreach and it must be stopped. HdL’s primary objective is to make money out of fear. How my city, in which I have lived for over 30 years, continues to work with them is unthinkable.” I hear ya, Jan. Big Brother, I mean HdL, may be watching you too.
Chris Voisard is a Half Moon Bay resident.