A New Tax on the Sharing Economy

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A New Tax on the Sharing Economy

Travelers could soon pay more to rent someone's apartment through Airbnb.


Kathleen O’Malley first used Airbnb in the summer of 2013, when she traveled through Washington State and British Columbia with her fiancé. After that, “we were hooked,” says O’Malley of Portland, Ore. The couple used Airbnb to book a cottage in Sonoma for their honeymoon in September.

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Airbnb connects budget-minded travelers with homeowners who have a room, apartment or house to rent. Soon, guests could pay more to sleep on someone’s fold-out couch. In July, Airbnb began collecting 11.5% in city and county lodging taxes for bookings in Portland. Airbnb plans to expand the program to San Francisco, which charges a 14% hotel tax. From there, “we’ll take the lessons we’ve learned and move forward,” says Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas.

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The move is an attempt to forestall regulation that threatens to slow the company’s growth. Other enterprises in the “sharing economy” are similarly pursuing agreements with state and local governments amid concerns about unfair advantages over more-traditional businesses. For instance, Colorado recently enacted legislation that authorizes ride-sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber, to operate in the state, provided drivers undergo background checks and obtain insurance.

O’Malley, founder of FrugalPortland.com, says occupancy taxes won’t deter her from using Airbnb. It’s still cheaper than a hotel, she says.