Amnesty offered to unlicensed room renters

Anyone renting rooms to tourists through home sharing sites like Airbnb has been offered an “amnesty” until the end of the year, before government begins cracking down on unlicensed properties.

The Hotel Licensing Board is offering a three-month grace period for property owners to get their paperwork in order or get out of the business.

After that, anyone subletting rooms, apartments or houses to visitors without a Tourism Accommodations License faces fines of $100 per day, per guest.

“Properties that fail to become licensed after the amnesty period is closed will be subject to the full fine as well as possible legal action.

“Independent tourism accommodations providers are encouraged to take advantage of the amnesty offer to safeguard against these consequences,” the board said in a statement.

Anyone who rents property of any kind, even a room in their own home, to tourists, must be licensed by the board, a process that involves inspections from the fire department, Department of Environmental Health and hotel inspectors and requires payment of room taxes to government.

Several residents using sites like Airbnb and to advertise rooms for rent have already taken their listings down after being warned they were breaking the law.

“The Hotel Licensing Board hopes that independent tourism accommodations operators will use the amnesty to educate themselves on Tourism Law and the licensing process,” the statement said.

Peter Huntingford, spokesman for Airbnb, told the Compass last month that the site brings in additional tourists and could help boost the Cayman Islands economy. He suggested it was unrealistic to expect people hosting visitors in their homes to meet the same criteria as hotels and offered to work with tourism officials in Cayman to find a solution.

The Hotel Licensing Board indicated, in its statement, that the current licensing regime would remain in place and said anyone who registers during the amnesty will be exempted from enforcement action.

“The Hotel Licensing Board is mandated to ensure that every overnight visitor to the Cayman Islands is given an experience reflective of the quality of the Cayman Islands’ tourism product. A Tourism Accommodations License demonstrates that a property has undergone the appropriate quality assurance procedures and is operating lawfully,” it added.

While some users of Airbnb, which has grown in popularity in Cayman over the past 12 months, have said the requirements are too much for private individuals simply making extra cash form their spare rooms, others welcome the enforcement.

Jim Keim, who has multiple rental properties in Cayman, including units at Ocean Pointe Villas and Villas Pappagallo in West Bay, said uniform regulations were needed.

“While Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and others offer new ways to rent property, it is a serious problem when local businesses are burdened with taxes and rules not being enforced on foreign competitors. Besides loss of taxes, Airbnb rental issues have included illegal subletting, violation of condominium codes, dumping of expenses, insurance violations, and squatter problems,” he said.

Mr. Keim, who is the Cayman-based director of Nasdaq-listed O2Micro International and has served on the executive committee of three large strata corporations, acknowledged home sharing sites could increase tourism. But he said they lacked transparency and allowed some renters to escape paying taxes.

“We also need to be sensitive to the fact that allowing U.S. companies unrestricted access to our market can result in lost local employment while enhancing U.S. jobs and tax coffers at our expense. In fact, the U.S. heavily taxes tourism business including taxation of Airbnb company profits, taxation of Airbnb employee incomes, property taxes, and rental income taxes,” he added.

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  1. Again this bbc is a direct asault on the middleclass selfserving the govt worling vöö n behalf of yhe elite nn loodsucking wealthy never satisfied. but reaks with greed.this is not even a tip of the iceberg compsred to the globsl plot yhese same elites have blueprinted gor the working class.this elite species feel entitled to life while sucking the very life out of the socially and economically challenged.ask govt who will benefit from these fines imposed on he little mat n.

  2. Smart move by the government to offer this amnesty.

    Many people, both local and foreign, own and rent short-term units in condos or houses that are subject to the tourism laws and taxes.

    Why should they be put at an unfair disadvantage by those who circumvent the laws?

    For all it’s "sharing economy" talk Airbnb is nothing more than an advertising service for rental property.

    However I do think the inspectors should use a common sense approach when inspecting rental of a single bedroom in a house.

    Meanwhile I read yesterday an article about how houses in some US cities are set up as party houses for stag parties and advertised on Airbnb as such.
    They are rented for short periods to accommodate up to 12 people who are drunk all day, play loud music and destroy the neighbors peace and quiet.

    So let’s be careful what we wish for.

  3. It works in Cuba; and as many Caymanians and foreign persons travel to Cuba weekly or monthly, they who cannot afford to rent Five star Hotels, they rent rooms in peoples homes. Nice rooms, air-conditioned for over night, week end or weekly tourist.
    The next morning the Inspector is there and the Landlord of this short term rental keeps a Government receipt book which is inspected by the government inspector, besides that the inspector will check your room and speak with you sometimes, just to make sure everything is comfortable. Government taxes are collected when you leave. Same day or next they are there.
    Don’t know how the government will work it out here but everybody pays this tax when they go to Cuba.

  4. Twyla: Absolutely correct. No problem with people making a little extra money renting a room in their home. But just like in Cuba it should be monitored.

    But Airbnb is not just for people renting a room in their home. It is mostly people renting an entire house or condo. Entirely free of government inspections and tourism tax. Tourism tax that helps pay for our schools and police force.

    If you think Airbnb is OK then let’s abolish tourism tax and inspections for ALL tourist properties and raise the taxes elsewhere.

    Curtis: Sorry but that won’t work. The tourist department is smart enough to log onto Airbnb and search for rentals in the Cayman Islands. Then contact the advertisers.

    By the way. Who else read about the Airbnb host in Italy who drugged two young women guests then raped them?

  5. Mr. Linton with all due respect, your argument against AirBnB is very flawed.

    "If you think Airbnb is OK then let’s abolish tourism tax and inspections for ALL tourist properties and raise the taxes elsewhere."

    Why would you have to do this? What unfair competition do hotels have with Airbnb? All that’s going to happen is people who are forced to use a hotel and can’t afford it, simply won’t come. This is human nature. So where is our lost tax? We legislated ourselves out of it. The government should be liaising with AirBnB right now to set up an appropriate structure within our legal framework to bring more tourists in.

    "By the way. Who else read about the Airbnb host in Italy who drugged two young women guests then raped them?"

    And, so what? Did you hear about the woman in West Bay who was sexually assaulted? So I suppose you would agree we should remove all residents of West Bay since it’s so dangerous? Or perhaps let’s remove West Bay altogether. Bad things happen all the time Mr. Linton, for any reason anywhere.

  6. @Norman Lipton
    Why won’t you focus on the positive side of AirBnb and life in general? If I need to hear about world’s problems I will turn CNN or FOX on. Wasn’t just a woman violently assaulted in a country called the Cayman Islands?

    A quote from the Compass’ article ( 29 September, 2015): “But the rules currently being applied to home sharing in the Cayman Islands are complex and confusing. They were designed for a different industry in a different era and don’t fit this new activity.”

    Complex and confusing rules could be legally challenged.

  7. Sorry to be causing so many negative comments.

    I repeat, I have no problem with Airbnb or any other accommodation agency.

    Just that:

    Persons renting their ENTIRE homes or condos should be subject to the same rules as those people who do so either through an on island rental agency or through their condo management. Both of which have to go by LOCAL laws.

    Persons renting ONE ROOM in their house or condo should be subject to a lesser burden of rules. Just like Twyla has said happens in Cuba. Perhaps an annual fee of $250 is a bit high. But yes the properties should be inspected and yes the same tourism tax should be paid.

    Here’s a couple of interesting articles about the effect of Airbnb in New York and Paris: