By Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Airbnb has reached new deals with dozens of jurisdictions in the United States and France to collect and pay taxes, doubling down on its effort to improve its image with local policymakers even as it face regulatory challenges around the world.
Airbnb, the short-term rental service that offers a website where homeowners can rent out a room or their entire property, has collected $240 million in hotel and occupancy taxes since it was founded in 2008, remitting them to the jurisdictions where the company has agreements, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas told Reuters.
The most recent tax agreements, formally announced by the company Tuesday, came in eight U.S. cities and counties, the state of Texas and 31 cities in France, making for a total of 275 agreements, Papas said. The taxes, which Airbnb says are at the same rate paid by hotels, will be collected beginning May 1 for the newest agreements. More than half of Airbnb's U.S. listings are in communities where we the company collects and remits taxes, Papas said.
Chris Bryan, a spokesman for the Texas comptroller, said Airbnb approached Texas with the offer to pay taxes.
"The state saw this as the most efficient way of bringing these people into tax compliance rather than going after thousands and thousands of homeowners," he said.
Texas is the 20th U.S. state with which Airbnb has a deal. Seeking agreements with more states allows the company to avoid the thorny local politics in cities where it faces opposition.
It is still unclear how successful Airbnb will be in collecting and remitting all the taxes it had pledged because many of these agreements are less than a year old. Critics of the deals have questioned how local officials could have enough data on Airbnb hosts to verify how much tax the company ought to pay.
Airbnb's push to address taxes has helped to weaken one of the arguments made by the hotel industry against the company's growing presence in major cities.
But the tax agreements have not quieted critics' concerns that Airbnb, valued at $31 billion, has exacerbated housing shortages and brought unwanted traffic into neighborhoods.
In April, Airbnb reached an agreement with Miami-Dade County in Florida to collect taxes but the mayor of the city of Miami Beach, part of Miami-Dade County, remains a vocal opponent to Airbnb. The city allows Airbnb in areas that are zoned for short-term rentals but not in residential neighborhoods, said Mayor Philip Levine.
"When you bought a house you didn't bargain on having a nightclub next to you," he said. "You relied on having the zoning of the city protect you."
Airbnb said last year it collected $19 million in taxes in San Francisco, $7 million in San Diego and $3 million in Chicago.
Several cities declined to confirm how much tax Airbnb had paid, citing taxpayer confidentiality rules.
(Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Trott)
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