Local hospitality contest Airbnb practices

On this rainy day, The Kate Shephard House owner Wendy James welcomed us with open arms — something she’s been in the business of doing for some time.

James and her partner purchased the midtown house in 2002 with the intent of transforming it into the bed-and-breakfast it is today. Running a business comes with its share of issues, and James has encountered many in her 13 years of running the B&B.

“Bad economies, oil spills, hurricanes,” she listed.

But one issue far surpasses the rest.

“This Airbnb tsunami, as I am calling it, has been really interesting over the last several months,” James said.

Airbnb.com is an online website and app that allows people to list, find and rent vacation homes. If you type in “Mobile,” nearly 140 listings are available. It sounds like a simple trade-off, but James said Airbnb renters often skirt the laws she is subjected to as a business owner.

“[As a lodging owner you must have and abide by] business licenses, zoning codes and business codes,” James said. “Airbnb leaves it up to the [individuals] who are listing on Airbnb to get their business licenses, to pay their lodging taxes, to make sure that they’re zoned properly.”

James believes many of the Airbnb businesses dodge these requirements. She recently reached out to City Revenue Manager Kenneth Mosley as well as Levon Manzie, but believe they’ve turned a blind eye to the issue.

“Our officials are looking the other way and allowing this to continue,” James said.

Both Mosley and Manzie say the city has been collecting taxes from the online service. Mosley said the taxes are going to the county, city and state. Manzie was unavailable for comment. While users do pay a tax when renting on the online service, officials have yet to provide an invoice as evidence that the taxes are being poured into the appropriate channels.

James said it’s only fair Airbnb renters in Mobile go through the legal requirements and processes that she must as an official business owner. Otherwise, they’re receiving an unfair advantage.


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