LOWVILLE — Renting a private cabin on Brantingham Lake or a house on Tug Hill may cost visitors a bit more money if Lewis County Legislators vote to move forward the process to extend the existing occupancy tax to more informal accommodations, like cottages, camps and cabins, in their October meeting on Tuesday.
Hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast establishments in Lewis County have been asking the county to level the business playing field by changing the laws set in 2004 to include homes and camps that are rented privately, especially with the advent of online booking services like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner, or VRBO, according to County Treasurer Patricia O’Brien.
Along with County Attorney Joan McNichol, Mrs. O’Brien has been working on a solution to the problem for the past few months, she said.
The two officials brought the matter to the county Finance and Rules Committee at their Sept. 17 meeting to get feedback and support to take a resolution to the entire Board of Legislators in their October meeting on Tuesday.
In addition to “leveling the playing field” by making the tax requirements the same for all types of short term rental properties, the move would net “missed” income for the county, Mrs. O’Brien said.
“The Chamber of Commerce said we are missing out on revenue with the law as it stands, and that matters because the amount that comes in from the bed tax goes toward tourism promotion,” Mrs. O’Brien said.
Many supportive statements came from the legislators on the committee including District 8 Legislator and Board Chairman Lawrence Dolhof and committee chairman, District 4 Legislator Bryan Moser, but not all.
District 1 Legislator John Lehman spoke out against the measure, saying that he believes people should be able to do what they want with their properties.
The new law adds “short term rentals” to the other three entities, described as “those units, residences and/or camps rented or leased to occupants for overnight lodging.”
Included in the types of properties considered short-term rentals are furnished apartments or “living units” like camps, cabins and campers or motor homes at a private campground or RV park, “whether or not meals are served or linens provided.”
“Permanent residents” under the proposed law are people who pay for overnight lodging in a hotel, motel, tourist home, inn, cottage, condominium, bed and breakfast or short-term rental for at least 30 days in a row. Permanent residents are exempt from paying the room tax.
It is not clear in the language of the revised law, however, if a person who is renting a furnished apartment, home or room for a longer term must pay the room tax for the first 30 days even if the lease agreement is for longer than the 30 days at the outset. Ms. McNichol could not be reached for clarification.
People who rent out their properties — homes, cottages, camps or other furnished accommodations — will be required, like hotels and motels, to register with the county treasurer’s office, keep records of their rentals and send in quarterly tax returns and payments to the treasurer.
Enforcement measures from requesting the county attorney to issue a legal notice to issuing “a warrant directed to the Sheriff commanding him or her to levy upon and sell the personal property of the operator” in the county to cover the taxes due are available to the treasurer according to the law.
Violating the law could potentially result in a misdemeanor charge and up to a $1,000 fine, a year in jail or both.
If legislators agree to pursue the extension of the bed tax law on Tuesday, a public hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Lewis County Courthouse, 7660 N. State St., before the November legislative board meeting.