Action News Jax Investigates: Uncovering an emerging tourism industry that is skirting the law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Search for a room or vacation home on Airbnb in Jacksonville, and several rentals come up. Airbnb collects the rent, a cleaning fee and state sales tax for the owner, but it doesn't collect a bed tax and in Jacksonville that's 6 percent.

"There could be a potential fair amount of money here that's left on the table that's Jacksonville not collecting,” said Duval County Tax Collector Michael Corrigan.

Action News Jax learned Corrigan is going after local homeowners who rent out rooms and don't pay the bed tax.

Action News Jax learned Airbnb is now under increasing pressure. It sent out a 20-page contract to cities like Jacksonville offering to collect the tax for its owners.

Corrigan said the city's attorneys are reviewing it now, but at first glance it leaves out something important.

“When I reviewed it, it showed that it will only collect taxes in the future. It's not going in arrears and collect those taxes,” Corrigan said.

In St. Augustine, there are 28 licensed bed and breakfasts. Some of the owners said that they are in favor of a bed tax they already pay to be mandatory for homeowners who rent out part of their house.

Innkeeper Joe Finnegan has owned the St. Francis B&B for 30 years. He said both commercial lodging businesses and private owners need to operate on a level playing field.

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"Of course, I don't really think that's fair,” Finnegan said.

Finnegan said he collects thousands every year in bed tax money for St. Johns County. But his greater concern about those renting from private owners is safety.

In St. Johns County, $9.2 million in bed tax money was raised last year, which is a new record.

St Johns County Tax Collector Dennis Hollingsworth said there's still more to collect from private owners.

In addition to the bed tax, Hollingsworth said private owners advertising on Airbnb and other rental sites like VRBO and HomeAway may be required to get an occupational license and pay a personal tangible property tax.

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland said if people are renting their homes or a portion of it they may be exempt from a homestead exemption and would have to pay additional property taxes.

St Johns County and Jacksonville officials are aiming to agree on a contract with Airbnb in the next few months.