South Carolina bills would impose taxes on Airbnb rentals

Airbnb is considered a disruptive force within the hotel industry.

Both Statehouse chambers are proposing legislation that would require South Carolinians who lease rooms in their homes to overnight guests through websites like Airbnb to pay taxes, just like other lodg- ings.

The House and Senate bills, which were proposed last month and could be taken up in January, don’t name Airbnb specifically, but both are geared at taxing short-term rentals. They also make the “third party,” such as Airbnb or a similar booking service, “liable” for the payments.

The bulk of the sponsors are from Horry County, home to hotel-industry heavyweight Myrtle Beach.

Charleston already has assessed locals fines to residents who have violated its short-term rental regulations. Officials and residents in Mount Pleasant also have been dealing with local zoning regulations pertaining to the length of time overnight guests can pay to rent a room in someone’s home.

The hotel industry is helping push the issue in the Statehouse. The South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association “worked with lawmakers” on the legislation, the Columbia-based trade group said in an email.

The percentage-based payments would equal the amount that local taxing authorities charge hotels.

Susan Cohen of Mount Pleasant-based management company Charlestowne Hotels said the Palmetto State legislation is patterned after North Carolina’s, where Airbnb began collecting and remitting taxes in June.

Cohen said anyone who thinks Airbnb won’t affect conventional lodgings is “being a little bit naive.”

She also noted that hospitality taxes in South Carolina are reinvested in the visitor industry.

“They go specifically to help promote tourism ... and to sometimes fund infrastructure or added police ... it actually helps everybody,” she said.

Right now, the fact that Airbnb listings in South Carolina don’t have to undergo inspections from state health regulators or pay taxes “allows them to charge lower rates,” which can force hotels with higher overhead costs to cut their prices, she said.

Hollywood residents Billie Smith and husband Leslie use Airbnb to rent part of their main residence. She said she wasn’t opposed to a tax.

For now, Airbnb isn’t taking a strong public position.

“We look forward to working with leaders in South Carolina on common sense rules that enable people to share their homes,” the San Francisco-based company said in a statement.

Reach Allison Prang at 937-5705 or on Twitter @AllisonPrang.