Tax collector targets mobile home park for "bed" taxes

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SARASOTA - The county's tax collector has come calling some unit owners of a Sarasota mobile home park.  It's not property tax owners in Tri-Par Estates may have neglected to pay; it's tax on the rent they collect.

The 5% tourist development tax, often called a bed tax, most commonly applies to hotels. But any housing unit rented for less than six months is subject to it, in addition to the 7% state sales tax.

Recently, the Sarasota County Tax Collector requested rental records from Tri-Par, an over-55 community which requires residents to fill out applications to prove their age. Anyone who doesn't own a unit fills out a rental form. "We do not ask the amount of rent they pay, or if they pay rent," says Galen Swope, a Tri-Par Estates trustee. So friends and relatives of unit owners who don't pay rent, "we consider a renter," says Swope.

The tax collector sent unit owners who had a "renter" listed for their property a letter asking them to prove that they did not owe the bed tax. "The letter's well deserved and it's about time people owned up to paying their taxes," says Tri-Par Estates Trustee J.J. Sosnowski. Property tax forms, he points out, include a notice that homeowners who rent their properties may owe additional taxes. "This should be common knowledge," he says.

But with bed taxes associated so closely with hotels, some homeowners at Tri-Par, and similar communities, might not realize that the tax applies to them. "I would suspect that a large number of people are not even aware that they owe these taxes," says Swope.