ITHACA, NY – On Tuesday, the Tompkins County Legislature revised a law to ensure that anyone who wants to rent out lodging to guests knows they are responsible for collecting an occupancy tax on behalf of the county.

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It’s practically an Ithaca tradition – come graduation time, hundreds of residents rent out spare rooms to guests attending commencement at Cornell or Ithaca College.

Technically, renting a room to someone – even for just one day a year – and not collecting an occupancy tax could result in a misdemeanor charge, according to the county’s Hotel Room Occupancy Tax Law.

That’s been the rule since the law was put on the books in 1989. With Tuesday’s change, the Legislature sought to clarify some confusing language that might lead one to believe they’re exempt from collecting the tax.

The original wording referenced a building “regularly used and kept open” for lodging of guests being subject to the tax law. This led to some confusion about whether or not people hosting only occasionally for services like Airbnb needed to collect and pay the tax.

This change may prove more important than it might seem as Ithaca has a substantially higher number of registered Airbnb spaces than any nearby big city, despite its smaller size. Ithaca boasts over 300 Airbnb sites, compared to 227 in Syracuse and just 47 in Binghamton.

The revised law also changed the word “building” to “facility” to further clarify that the occupancy tax applied to “glamping,” that is “glamorous camping,” establishments like Ithaca’s Firelight Camps.

To collect the tax, one must first register as a lodging property with the county.

Occupancy tax revenues are used for tourism development initiatives in Tompkins County.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.