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Saratoga Springs residents supportive of tax on short-term rentals

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Saratoga Springs residents are sharing their perspectives on short-term rentals, as online platforms like Airbnb grow in popularity — making waves in the tourist community.

Saratoga Springs’ county supervisors held a public listening session Thursday night on the impact of short-term rentals in a city long driven by its summer tourism economy.

Darryl Leggieri is president of Discover Saratoga.

“Short-term rentals are having a negative impact on the city’s lodging facilities like hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts,” said Leggieri.

According to one estimate Thursday night, there are around 900 short-term rentals operating in the City of Saratoga Springs alone.

The hospitality industry argues companies like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway place traditional lodgers at a disadvantage. In Saratoga County, only lodgings with at least four units are subject to a 1 percent occupancy tax. The city has its own 5 percent occupancy tax.

In order to change the four-unit minimum, legislation would need to be passed at the state level. The input gathered Thursday is to be shared with state lawmakers, according to Republican County Supervisor Matthew Veitch.

“Say we get rid of the four-unit minimum. What would happen is that people who operate Airbnb’s, they would then be subject to the requirement of registration with the county treasurer, that they have an Airbnb and so on, and would be subject to the tax. Again, usually it’s an online platform and those online platforms are who actually collect the tax from the person who is renting the room, it wouldn’t necessarily be the person who is renting the room personally to collect that tax,” said Veitch.

According to Veitch, Airbnb approached county leaders about a payment-in-lieu of taxes agreement several years ago, but the four-unit minimum law prevented the county from agreeing to the deal.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal would require sales tax to be collected from short-term rentals, similar to traditional lodging. Companies like Airbnb have been supportive of the proposal in the past.

Dan Fortier, manager of the Embassy Suites, shared a story of how his hotel lost lodgers during the weekend of the Saratoga Dance Flurry in February 2020.

“The Embassy was full on the Wednesday going into Dance Flurry. The weekend looked fantastic. Life was good. We knew the City Center was going to be full. And by Thursday we had 30 rooms open on both Friday and Saturday night, with direct conversation from our guests saying, ‘Oh my God, there’s a buzz going on around Dance Flurry, and we found out all the beautiful Airbnb’s in Saratoga.’”

While hotel operators see a tax on short-term rentals as a way to level the playing field, renters who appeared at Thursday’s forum also voiced their support.

One rental host objected to claims that short-term rentals are contributing to a lack of affordable housing, but was supportive of changing the tax laws.

“I think I’m in favor of it, I support all the hotels. And yes, I’ve been feeding off you guys – that’s not right. But there’s no mechanism…I guess I could write a check or something, but nobody’s gonna do that! But, no, my point is that I’m a hundred percent in favor this. They spend a lot of money on fire and safety…”

Host Lezlie Dana suggested revenues collected from short-term rentals could be used to address the larger issue of a lack of affordable and workforce housing in Saratoga Springs.

“I would like to consider some of that tax being used in a slightly different way, to perhaps support how do we house the homeless and people in transition. I think it’s a powerful way to utilize this short-term rental over the platform monies, and I actually have written Airbnb about that,” said Dana.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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