George Latimer wants a law to tax Airbnb, hotel-booking sites

Westchester County Executive George Latimer talks about property taxes with Editorial Board at in White Plains July 31, 2018.


Travel-booking sites such as Expedia have argued that they don’t have to pay local hotel taxes.

Westchester County wants to end the confusion by updating its laws to put it in simple terms: they do.

The county’s hotel tax, or room occupancy tax, charges 3 percent on hotel bookings. County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat, wants to amend the current law to say the tax applies so-called remarketers such as Expedia.

Airbnb, which connects room bookers with individuals, would also be on the hook. Latimer is also asking the county Board of Legislators to remove an existing provision says hotels don’t have to pay the tax if they have fewer than four rentable rooms.

Whether travel-booking sites should pay hotel taxes has been the subject of litigation in several municipalities. Lawmakers say the companies purchase blocks of rooms from hotels at a discounted rate, then sell them to consumers at a marked-up price but then pay based on the lower rates.

The companies have said that there is a surcharge included in the sale price and charging a tax on the difference would constitute a new tax. Latimer told The Journal News/lohud that the county has not been able to quantify how many short-term rental units exist through Airbnb in Westchester.

By amending the law, Airbnb and hotel remarketers would need to keep records of all transactions for three years. Companies subjected to the tax are required to provide the county with information about the types of rooms and number of rooms, upon request.

Westchester lawmakers will refer the bill to legislative committees for discussion on Monday.

The county is projecting $6.8 million in hotel tax revenue for 2018, which is less than 1 percent of its total general fund income. The county is running an operating budget of $1.8 billion.

By changing the law, the county could increase revenues by more than $211,000 annually, according to a fiscal impact statement from the county budget director to lawmakers.

Several communities within Westchester, including White Plains and Yonkers, charge an additional hotel tax on top of the county charge.