Sun | Aug 25, 2019

Serika Sterling | Taxing Airbnb hosts

Published:Sunday | July 14, 2019 | 12:24 AM
Serika Sterling
In this April 10, 2018, file photo, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (right) converses with Carlos Munoz, Airbnb’s head of public policy for Central America and the Caribbean.
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There have been some ­recent discussions in the media regarding the taxation or non-taxation of Airbnb operators.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett was recently quoted by Loop as “reiterating that there are no ­discussions being held about taxing local Airbnb providers” within the government chambers.

This in itself has created some confusion as a number of persons have been asking whether Airbnb operators would effectively not pay any tax, including income tax.

At this point, there is not much to go on except what is already in law, therefore, the purpose of this article is to highlight some of the provisions in the local tax law that impacts the Airbnb subsector.

Our local legislation does not have a specific definition for Airbnb. Based on its very nature, however, it would be considered ‘tourist accommodation’. This is defined under the Tourist Board Act as “a hotel, resort cottage, or any other premises or any vehicles, boats, ships, or places where accommodation is offered to tourists for reward”.

Consequently, the provision of such accommodation would constitute operating a business. There are various taxes that could apply to an Airbnb operator (business operator) under the local tax legislation. Three of the main taxes are:

INCOME TAX

Under the local tax legislation, an individual or entity resident in Jamaica is subject to tax on income earned in Jamaica. Currently, there are no provisions in the Income Tax Act that exempt residential rental, which is the main type of Airbnb, from income tax. Therefore, Airbnb operators are expected to file and pay income tax annually on income earned from their operations. For more details see ‘Heed the Returns’ – http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20190213/serika-sterling-hee... – ­published in February.

Of course, if the Airbnb is operated by an individual, the income tax threshold will apply. It is important to note, however, that the income tax threshold is applied to aggregate income of the individual.

As such, an Airbnb operator who is employed and already earning above the income tax threshold would see all the income from the Airbnb subject to tax after accounting for deductible expenses in relation to its operations. See ‘Defeating the Income Tax Maze’ – http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20190220/serika-sterling-def... – for more.

GUEST ACCOMMODATION ROOM TAX

Operators of guest accommodation, whether or not licensed under the Tourist Board Act, are required to charge a tax called the Guest Accommodation Room Tax, GART, once the room is intended for sleeping purposes and is occupied.

This is a per-night charge and is based on the number of rooms at the facility or Airbnb property.

Guest accommodation is a facility providing sleeping accommodation by itself or together with facilities for meals and other amenities for the accommodation of transient guests, including tourists.

A tourist is a person, not being the holder of a Jamaican passport, who is in Jamaica on a visit or in transit from a place outside of Jamaica to some other place outside of Jamaica.

An Airbnb facility would be considered guest accommodation, and as such, the operator would be required to charge GART.

GENERAL CONSUMPTION TAX

Under our local GCT Act, residential rental is exempt from GCT. However, if a property owner is considered to be providing tourist accommodation, then the GCT Act provides for a special rate of GCT to be charged on the provision of this service. Airbnbs fall within this definition under the Tourist Board Act.

This means that once the Airbnb operator satisfies the requirement of a registered taxpayer, he or she will be required to register for GCT purposes and thereafter charge GCT on invoices, among other obligations.

It is clear how these media reports could cause confusion or mislead Airbnb operators.

If it is the intention of the Government for this subsector to have general exemption from all taxes then the laws as they are would need to be amended.

Given this, the relevant authorities may want to provide some clarity on the matter of taxation of and its clear intention for the Airbnbs.

Serika Sterling is a certified public accountant and owner/manager at Senior Accounting Services.ststerling@sasjm.com