Many disaster-related resort stays ought to have been tax exempt

Joe Adgie / The Newnan Times-Herald

Cowetans whose homes were destroyed or are unlivable because of the tornado (or any other reason such as a fire) are exempt from paying the 8 percent hotel-motel tax – but many paying for stays were not aware of it until recently.

Local groups paying for the lodging of tornado victims allege some hotel and motel operators have not been following state and local guidelines regarding tax exemptions in the wake of a disaster.

In Coweta County and the city of Newnan, there is an 8 percent hotel-motel tax charged on hotel stays – but local ordinances and state law provide exemptions for hotel stays related to property that was destroyed in a disaster.

Local hotel operators were reminded of the exemption by county and city officials several weeks ago, and some have been cooperative in not charging the taxes or in granting refunds for taxes already charged.

Others have been less easy to deal with, according to local nonprofit organizations that are paying for a large number of hotel rooms for those impacted by the March 26 tornado.

In addition to the disaster exemption, local hotel-motel taxes, as well as the $5 per night state charge, can’t be charged on “extended stays” of over 30 nights.

The tax is charged on the first 30 nights, but isn’t allowed to be charged on nights 31 and above. The 30-night provision remains even if someone moves to a different room in the same hotel.

According to the Georgia Department of Revenue’s regulations, the consecutive stays in different rooms add up to the 30-day extended stay “regardless of whether the right to occupy the room is granted under separate, successive contracts,” as long as the customer’s days of consecutive occupancy are not interrupted.

Local nonprofits have received reports of hotels making clients check out and then check back in to avoid it becoming an extended stay.

For the disaster exemption, the local ordinance language reads: “the tax imposed by this article shall not apply to: charges made for any rooms, lodgings or accommodations provided to any persons who certify that they are staying in such room, lodging or accommodate as a result of the destruction of their home or residence by fire or other casualty.”

To receive the exemption, the person occupying the hotel room must certify that their home was destroyed, said Newnan City Manager Cleatus Phillips.

“I think most people were unaware and did not submit the certification,” he said. Though the ordinance states “destroyed,” Phillips said he thinks any home that received a “red card” listing the property as unsafe would qualify.

However, if people who should have been exempt did pay the tax, it is the responsibility of the hotel to refund them, Phillips said.

“The individuals should make the request to the hotels and that request should include the certification,” he said. The hotel can then issue the tax refund, and adjust their tax remittance for the following month to show credit for the refund.

“Our hotels were notified of this refund process several weeks ago,” Phillips said. “If anyone has an issue with this process, they should notify us immediately.”

The city manager’s office can be contacted at 770-254-2358 or [email protected] .

Coweta County sent out a letter to the 10 hotels in the unincorporated county on June 1, according to County Administrator Michael Fouts.

The letter states “it has been brought to our attention that some of the hotels in Coweta County are continuing to charge the hotel-motel excise tax for these individuals who were affected by this declared disaster,” and lists the county ordinance language for the exemption.

“Coweta County hereby requests that all hotels comply with this regulation regarding exemption of the hotel-motel excise tax for these affected individuals in accordance with the code of ordinances,” Fouts writes.

Hotel operators should contact Fouts at [email protected] or 770-254-2601 with questions.