The Transient Room Tax

Word on the street is that certain lodging providers are cutting the city out of its dues. Some of our glorious hotel cartel are allegedly getting a little upset at private renters, like those offering rooms through services such as Airbnb. The point of contention is the—dare I say reasonable—nine percent tax charged by the City on short-term rentals.

The Transient Room Tax (TRT) was passed in 2013 by the State and became reality in July of 2015. It requires state and local tax collection on short-term rentals, or stays lasting less than 30 consecutive days at a rate of greater than $2 a day.

Corvallis has a number of hotels to choose from, so I went down the list placing calls—I just wanted to know if they knew about the TRT and that some people weren’t paying. Funny story, hotel managers are tricky people to get on the phone. While most were just not available, the Hanson Country Inn made clear that brevity is the soul of wit… click… Hilton’s manager, “Chris,” returned my call, but made it awkward—basically he said no, it’s not OK…OK, OK….OK.

“There are many Airbnb type folks that have not registered and have not been paying, and we don’t know where they are operating,” said Corvallis Finance Director Nancy Brewer. “They are required to register, and should be doing that.”

People should be registering and paying this tax because, allegedly when they do, everyone wins. Well, that’s the idea; up to 30 percent of this revenue goes directly into bolstering Corvallis tourism while the rest flows into the General Fund. The philosophy is that reinvestment will strengthen hotels, Airbnbs, and the City at large while offsetting some of the impact out-of-towners have on our infrastructure and services.

“And so if they are not paying for part of that impact, via the Transient Room Tax, that means that everybody else is paying through their property tax,” explained Brewer, “or [they are] getting lower levels of service because service is being delivered to people that don’t live here, but are causing an impact.”

The reality is that we have no idea how many Airbnb and similar rentals there are, and Airbnb does not share that information with the City—we kind of have an honor system going on here. But what happens if someone is being dishonorable or if they just didn’t realize they were supposed to be collecting and paying tax?

If you just woke up and realized you have been doing this all wrong, don’t freak out. “We would not assess fines, all they would need to do is come in, register, and start collecting,” said Brewer. They will take care of you—the website is a little confusing when it says the City will fine you multiple times and charge you back tax.

“That is for somebody that is already registered and doesn’t make the payment; in particular, if they are withholding the tax,” said Brewer.

It may seem trivial, but consider that on Aug. 21 Corvallis will be front and center for an amazing solar eclipse the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1979, and shan’t be seen again until 2108… so like, never again for most of us. Corvallis is already booked up—like completely booked by tourists. Brewer even commented that most of the state has been booked by eclipse fanatics from around the country.

Corvallis has a certain magnetism and lots of interesting people come rolling through. It is only natural that the City would want to capitalize on this, especially during these lean times. It is also natural that those that are following the rules would be a little cranky at perceived freeloaders.

Keeping in mind that snitches get stitches, you can find a number on the City’s TRT webpage if you want to turn in your Airbnb neighbors.

Read more about the TRT here: www.corvallisoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=515.

By Anthony Vitale

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