Airbnb is going all-in on the war against cities

“Read my lips, we want to pay taxes,” said Chris Lehane to the US Conference of Mayors in 2016 on behalf of Airbnb. The home-sharing service has since shouted the declaration from everywhere it can — press releases, emails and billboards, begging mayors to let the company collect millions in unpaid hotel taxes on behalf of cities.

Airbnb’s headquarters, located at 888 Brannan St in San Francisco. 📸:  Wikimedia

Airbnb’s headquarters, located at 888 Brannan St in San Francisco. 📸: Wikimedia

But in Palm Beach County, Florida when a municipal bylaw was passed requiring the company to collect and pay the 6 percent occupancy tax for visits organized by it, the company sued. The bylaw requires Airbnb “hosts” who list their property to register with the county, pay an annual fee and submit a monthly payment for the tax due, a document from the Constitutional Tax Collector’s Office reveals. Those who don’t pay their cut can be fined up to $500 a day, per unit.

There are similar issues happening in various cities throughout the US — though the company boasts that collects taxes on behalf of more than 275 jurisdictions (which include select counties throughout the US and 11 full countries), it has still fought against collecting them in Nashville, New Orleans and more, WIRED reports.

Airbnb’s main argument here is that it acts as a “platform” to connect hosts and visitors and isn’t in the business of hospitality, a fight that sounds similar to the one Uber is still battling, though in 2018 it won a ruling that its drivers are freelancers. Should the low-cost house and room rental service take the issue to a higher court, it could lead to a widespread ruling in favour of the company. Hotel chains are already required to collect taxes on each room they rent, but Airbnb doesn’t believe that is its responsibility.