SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Lackawanna County took action Wednesday to crack down on a relatively new company involved in the housing market.
Airbnb is a website where people can list or rent rooms or houses and it has been growing in popularity.
Before a commercial in this past year’s Super Bowl, county leaders say they had never even heard of the company.
They checked it out and realized they were missing out on collecting the county’s hotel tax and have been working for months to change that.
The Lackawanna County Visitor’s Bureau is a one-stop shop for information about attractions and events.
The money to keep the office running comes from a seven-percent tax is paid by people who stay in local hotels.
“It goes towards promoting and advertising the area to try and get more visitors into Lackawanna County and enjoying all the different activities,” Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Susan Estler said.
That is why county leaders have been concerned about a new internet-based company Airbnb which allows people to rent or list houses or rooms locally.
Auditors found the website was not collecting the county’s hotel tax and set out to fix that.
“It is all about fairness and I think now the county is better off,” Lackawanna County controller Gary DiBileo said.
On Wednesday, commissioners formally approved a contract with Airbnb which requires them to collect tax money on each room or house rented out.
There are at least 80 sites currently listed in Lackawanna County alone.
“The rates range from $26 a night to up to $1,000 a night in Lackawanna County,” Chief Internal Auditor Reggie Mariani said.
County workers say it wasn’t easy to get to this point. They say they even had to threaten to subpoena company records.
Over the summer, Pennsylvania negotiated with Airbnb to collect its commonwealth taxes and also covered Philadelphia and Pittsburgh but Lackawanna County believes it’s the only other county that has proactively tried to get its money.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear from many, many more counties and that’ll be good for them so we’re happy to help everybody involved,” DiBileo said.
The agreement approved on Wednesday does not allow the county to collect any back hotel-taxes. It only applies to rooms and houses that are rented out from today forward.