Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County property owners are taking advantage of new ways to market vacation rentals, increasing both personal income and options for the half million travelers who visit each year. However, not all owners of these at-home businesses, including those run through Airbnb, are aware that they are subject to taxation just like conventional inns.

Hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns and RV parks all charge state, county and city transient taxes, as applicable. The Wallowa County treasurer’s office recently contacted about 20 vacation rentals owners who had not paid the county’s transient tax. Of the owners contacted, Treasurer Chonelle Dutcher said three have not responded and one, Lynne Price of rural Enterprise, appealed to the Wallowa County Commissioners over penalties and fees incurred for lack of tax payment.

Price told the commissioners at their Oct. 23 meeting that she started her vacation rental in 2014 through Airbnb, an online vacation rental company. She said she knew she was paying state transient room taxes through Airbnb but was
unaware she was responsible for paying a transient tax to the county.

Price said she has paid the transient room back taxes, amounting to $250, but was appealing the accrued interest on the taxes, which she said totaled around $800. She said when she researched opening a vacation rental she spoke with someone at the county, but she didn’t remember who it was, and she was never told about the county tax.

“Why wasn’t I given a warning or letter?” Price asked. “Never did a transient lodging tax get shared with me when I started my Airbnb in 2014.”

Board of Commissioners Chairman Susan Roberts said the county’s transient room tax has been in effect since 1994 and that most people who open a business in rural Wallowa County apply for conditional use permits through the planning department.

“You have to be cognizant of the responsibilities of owning a piece of property,” Roberts said. “Most people who start a business check to see if there is a business tax in the community. It’s not the county’s responsibility to notify you, especially if we have no idea you are running a business.”

Heather Tyreman, who owns the Bronze Antler Bed and Breakfast in Joseph with her husband, Bill Finley, said the City of Joseph went through a similar situation a couple years ago bringing vacation rentals in-line with the city’s and county’s transient room taxes.

“The city developed a good model for managing Airbnb situations,” Tyreman said.

The commissioners voted to deny Price’s appeal and collect the compounded interest accrued on the unpaid taxes.