Transient Occupancy Tax violators start to get a clue
With the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) Enforcement Program in place for five months now, it was time to check in and evaluate the process. Town of Mammoth Lakes’ staff led Mammoth’s Town Council through a workshop at its regular meeting on Wednesday night to reinforce the importance of the program, report progress, and review the process.
In five months, the Town has dealt with 85 cases where parties are suspected of renting their property but not paying TOT, according to Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw. The cases came from tips at the Town’s anonymous hotline, as well as from online research.
“Our targets are those that are renting on a more than casual basis,” Wardlaw explained. “Advertisements [online] make it easy for the Town to say ‘I see you.’”
Of those 85 cases, 26 have been closed due to current business certificates or the offending parties no longer renting on a transient basis. The remaining 59 are at various stages of the process.
Once the Community Development Department has identified violators, the case is turned over to the Town’s Finance Department. According to Finance Manager Cyndi Myrold, the process is currently set up to work in the following manner: first, a letter is sent to the offending party to let them know that they have been identified as being in violation.
“The violator then has 10 days to request a hearing and present their case,” she continued.
The Town then takes the information presented to it at the hearing and reviews it.
“A decision is not made at the hearing,” Myrold explained. “We take out time making an determination and then we send a notice of determination to the party.”
If the party is unhappy with the determination, they can come before Council, which would make the final decision. If it is determined by Council that they must pay the tax and they still do not, the Town is exploring being able to then put a lien on the property.
“We are still working through the last piece of putting the lien on the property, but we wanted to see if Council agreed with the process so far,” Myrold said.
1849 Condo Manager Cheryl Witherill spoke to the progress the program is making.
“The efforts are paying off,” Witherill said. “People are becoming more aware.” Witherill claimed she had several guests renting her four-bedroom units this year rather than illegally renting homes.
Councilmember Rick Wood agreed. “I know people who own units at the Westin who simply didn’t know that they had to pay TOT. Now that they’ve figured it out they are paying, and once they start having to pay, they want others [in the same boat] to pay.”
“Shutting down single family home rentals isn’t going to make people go somewhere else as many fear,” added Snowcreek’s Director of Operations John Morris.
Councilmember Skip Harvey was pleased with the process and pointed out that by continuing to push people to rent legal units the town will see higher occupancy rates, which would attract more business to Mammoth.
Council came to consensus to have staff continue the process.
The Town received a counter back from Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition last month. A closed session meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10 for Council to discuss its counter back to MLLA. This will be the Town’s second counter so far.
Myrold pointed out that business tax renewals were sent out late. “Even though it says due by Jan. 1, 2012, there is fine print at the bottom that says your renewal is not delinquent as long as it is postmarked by Jan. 31, 2012,” she said.”
Recreation Manager Stuart Brown announced that Mammoth High School’s soccer team will play in town this Friday, Jan. 6 at Gault Field.