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Airbnb to fix error in payments for Seaside virus relief

Money was going to go to guests

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SEASIDE — When the City Council voted in April to return first quarter lodging taxes to hotels and vacation rentals to help during the coronavirus pandemic , the city notified Airbnb and other brokers to refund property owners.

But Airbnb said they were going to give the tax money back to guests instead.

Seaside housing

Seaside provided lodging tax relief in response to the coronavirus.

The tax break was part of an economic relief package meant to help businesses and residents, not visitors.

Josh Money and Andrew Hura, who own vacation rentals in Seaside, began asking questions when they did not see a refund from Airbnb after a couple of weeks.

In a message to Money in late April, Airbnb said the city requested that the tax money be refunded to guests and that is what the company was planning to do.

Jon Rahl, the assistant city manager, said the city encouraged Airbnb and other brokers to return the tax money to property owners.

“Ultimately, the city does not facilitate the contract between (an owner) and a third-party intermediary like Airbnb — that’s between them,” he said.

Rahl also said the city receives the tax money in one lump sum from Airbnb and has no way of knowing how much came from each host.

The Oregonian reported Thursday that following inquires from a reporter, Airbnb changed course.

“Airbnb is grateful to city leaders for their efforts to provide economic relief to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including our host community, and we are working diligently to ensure hosts receive the appropriate tax refunds as outlined in the city’s tourism relief program,” the company said in a statement.

Rahl said the company called the city on Wednesday and scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue. He said that although the city encouraged Airbnb to return the money to property owners, there was not a clear directive.

“Could we have built a process to try and figure out, OK, what are all the homes that are on Airbnb, where should all this money return be returned to? Yeah, I guess we could of built that,” he said. “But our rule on this was we’re going to return the money to where it came from.”

Money and Hura said that before The Oregonian asked questions, Seaside and Airbnb were unwilling to fix the error.

“The most frustrating thing at this point has been the lack of being able to get a clear response from either Airbnb or the city,” Money said. “I mean, the Airbnb’s customer service system is frankly a joke. It’s not in any way, shape or form intended on helping our customers or their hosts. And the city, frankly, isn’t a heck of a lot better.

“You can’t get anybody on the phone that has any decision rights that can actually get anything done,” Money said of Airbnb.

“And then you got the city that just won’t respond and doesn’t feel any sense of accountability when frankly, this whole thing just became a problem because of their actions, however unintentionally it was.”

Hura said the longer it took to resolve the problem, it became less about the money and more about holding the city accountable.

“The reason why I’m involved is because of the lack of integrity and the lack of responsibility on our City Council,” he said.

“These are the people that are supposed to protect us. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to know that the people that are supposed to protect you don’t even care. They turn their back on you. The only time they’ll communicate to us is if we maybe don’t pay our taxes on time — they’ll be right there — they want their money.

“But if we need any kind of help or assistance from them, they won’t even reply. And it’s just embarrassing. It is shameful.”

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.

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