Tax Roundup, 11/2/15: Iowa says airbnb rentals trigger hotel-motel tax. And: IRS backdoor regulation push suffers setback.

November 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

wdmlogoAt least West Des Moines homeowners won’t have to pay hotel-motel tax. One of my now-departed uncles was a track and field coach in Illinois. Every April he would get together with some of his fellow coaches and drive to Des Moines for the Drake Relays. They always rented the same house in the South of Grand neighborhood in Des Moines while they stayed here. They had a great time, and the homeowners got a little extra cash.

Short term home rentals are nothing new, in other words. The federal tax law has long accommodated them by excluding income from rentals up to two weeks a year from income tax. The practice has become more widespread now that airbnb and Vrbo.com make it easier to match up potential renters and guests.  It shouldn’t surprise us that the tax man has noticed.

An Iowa Department of Revenue policy letter made public last week says short-term home rentals are subject to Iowa’s 5% hotel-motel tax (all emphasis mine):

The Iowa Department of Revenue (“Department”) has received your question about home sharing.  You asked whether a homeowner who occasionally rents the home to others is subject to hotel and motel tax.

You provided the following facts:  A resident of Iowa City owns a home, which is the homeowner’s primary residence.  On the weekends of homecoming and graduation at the University of Iowa—four nights total each year—the homeowner stays with family members and rents the home to visitors.  You asked if the charges for renting the home are subject to hotel and motel tax.

Iowa imposes a hotel and motel tax “upon the sales price for the renting of any lodging” in Iowa.  Iowa Code § 423A.3.  A city or county may also impose a local hotel and motel tax “upon the sales price from the renting of lodging.”  Id. § 423A.4.  “Sales price” is “the consideration for renting of lodging.”  Id. § 423A.2(1)(f). 

“Lodging” means rooms, apartments, or sleeping quarters in a hotel, motel, inn, public lodging house, rooming house, or manufactured or mobile home which is tangible personal property, or in a tourist court, or in any place where sleeping accommodations are furnished to transient guests for rent, whether with or without meals. Lodging does not include rooms that are not used for sleeping accommodations.

Id. § 423A.2(1)(c).

The homeowner’s home is clearly a “place where sleeping accommodations are furnished to transient guests for rent.”  See id.  The statute does not place a minimum number of nights a place must be rented for it to qualify as “lodging.”  See id.  Accordingly, the rental of the homeowner’s home is subject to hotel and motel tax.  Iowa provides a limited number of exemptions from hotel and motel tax, none of which apply to the facts you provided.  See id. § 423A.5.  Therefore, the homeowner must collect and remit hotel and motel tax for renting the home. 

I suspect the next person to remit hotel-motel tax for a short-term home rental will also be the first. I also suspect that the existence of services like airbnb will make it easier for the state to collect hotel-motel taxes for short-term home rentals. Renters need to also tack on any local hotel taxes; your friendly county board and city council will surely want to share.

20151102-1Except in West Des Moines. I live in this Des Moines suburb, and the City Council has saved me the trouble of collecting hotel-motel tax by banning short-term rentals. The Des Moines Register explains:

In July, the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting the rental of single family homes, including condos, for 31 days or less. Owners can rent their properties only if they are “on-site and present at the time of and for the duration of the rental.” In other words, if someone attending the World Food Prize wants to rent a home in the suburb for a week, the owner must be there, too.

Was West Des Moines cowering in terror from rioting short-term visitors brazenly cutting across our lawns? No. From the Register piece:

Were the few short-term rentals available in West Des Moines creating problems? Were numerous residents lodging complaints with city officials? No. The ordinance was prompted by one complaint from one person.

One person, one moral panic. The resident said there ought to be a law, and in practically no time, the West Des Moines city council enacted one:

[The complaining resident] suggested the council consider adopting an ordinance to address the issue. Within about one month, it did exactly that. It didn’t survey residents. It didn’t contact the Ashworth homeowner. It didn’t do a comprehensive search of other properties that may be listed on several websites. It quickly passed an ordinance that applies to 60,000 residents because a man showed up at a meeting to complain about his neighbor. One man. One complaint.

It passed unanimously. The minutes of the meeting are here. West Des Moines city council elections are tomorrow, but the elections appear to be uncontested.

 

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Russ Fox, AICPA Has Standing Per DC Court of Appeals; IRS’s Annual Filing Season Program In Jeopardy:

The original lawsuit claims by the AICPA look very accurate to me. And there’s a new one: Unenrolled preparers who do not participate in the AFSP will be denied the ability to represent taxpayers’ whose returns they prepared in examinations (as of January 2016). This makes the program look a lot more mandatory than voluntary.

I always assumed the “voluntary” program was preparer regulation by the back door, and that it would be just as voluntary as the United Way contributions were back at my first CPA job.

Robert D. Flach notes Russ’s piece and comments: “The bottom line – the AICPA fears that any government, or other, credential or designation that identifies a person’s competence and currency in 1040 preparation will take business away from CPAs.”

Elaine Maag, The IRS Could Improve EITC Compliance by Regulating Tax Preparers. (TaxVox). Ms. Maag is a big believer in hope over experience.

 

Paul Neiffer, File & Suspend Will Be No More:

The budget bill that was finalized this week eliminates a strategy for social security recipients called “File and Suspend”.  Under this strategy, the high income earner could file for benefits, allow his lower earning spouse to get benefits before full retirement age and then “suspend” their benefits until age 70 to lock in the additional 8% increase per year in benefits. 

Paul links to additional articles on what this means for retirement planning.

 

Peter Reilly, Redstone Family Saga Writ Large In Favorable Tax Court Decision. “Being in the movie business and all you would think the Redstones would have been familiar with the remark attributed to Samuel Goldwyn – ‘A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.'”

 

William Perez discusses Employee Stock Purchase Plans.

Kay Bell, IRS uses cell phone surveillance only in criminal cases. And everybody trusts the IRS.

Jason Dinesen, Corporate Tax Status Determined By Federal Law, Not State Law

Robert Wood, How IKEA Billionaire Legally Avoided Taxes From 1973 Until 2015. In Sweden.

TaxGrrrl, No ‘Candy Tax’ At My House On Halloween. “The candy tax – which is a variation on what parents used to do back in the day and just didn’t call it a tax – is a parenting trend where you purport to teach your kids about responsibility by stealing some of their candy levying a “tax” on their trick or treat loot.”

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 905Day 906Day 907. Day 906 covers blogger reactions to the resolution to impeach Commissioner Koskinen. This from the Day 905 link describes the larger problem, of which the IRS scandal is only a part:

The federal bureaucracy has always been bad at policing employees, but President Obama bears direct responsibility for the problem getting immeasurably worse. Last year, 47 of the 73 federal inspectors general signed a letter decrying the Obama administration for stonewalling their investigations and in some cases actively intimidating investigators.

The policy has been to fight all transparency and oversight, whether there’s something to hide or not. If there is, the long struggle will make it easier to spin bad news as “old news” by the time the facts emerge. If there is nothing to hide, then it makes the investigators look bad for investigating.

 

Scott Drenkard, Which States Have the Worst Sales Tax Administration? (Tax Policy Blog). It looks like Louisiana, Arizona and Colorado are pretty bad.

 

Bottom story of the day. The New York Times Advances a Poor Argument For Tax Hikes (Alan Cole, Tax Policy Blog).

Career Corner. Survey: Performance Reviews Cause Millennials to Complain, Curse, Cry (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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