The story of the mega seizure of almost 800 million euros against Airbnb it caused, as expected, a sensation. But she also caused some confusion. Let’s try to clarify some aspects.
Airbnb – like, after all, other portals on which houses for short-term rentals are advertised and “marketed” – has never applied a law which since 2017 has obligated all platforms of that type, as well as real estate agents, to act as withholding agents for each individual relationship concluded. Which means that did not retain 21% of the sums paid by the future guests of the houses and, consequently, it has not paid these sums to the State on behalf of those who make those houses available (owners or, often, tenants as sub-lessors).
Does this mean that all those who have “placed” their home through Airbnb and the like have not paid the cedulare, i.e. the tax on rental income in lieu of Irpef? Certainly not. They may or may not have done it independently, no more or less than owners who rent out their properties for long periods have always done. In the latter case, in fact, no withholding tax was ever envisaged and therefore no one has to make withholding taxes at source: it is the owner who must, on his behalf, pay the tax (or Irpef, if more convenient for him).
Summing up, Airbnb did not withhold and, consequently, did not pay them. But, in theory, the state may not have lost a single euro. The fact is, however, that the two obligations – that of the lessor and that of the platform – are distinct and separate. And consequently the State, having verified Airbnb’s failure to fulfill its obligations, did nothing other than proceed as it should in theory do with all non-compliant subjects: first with an assessment by the Revenue Agency (which contested 500 million euros of unpaid taxes) and, lastly, with the action of the Prosecutor’s Office which is much talked about, an action due to the fact that the obligations of tax withholding agents, in certain cases, are criminally sanctioned.
How it will end is difficult to say, but to continue following the story it is important to clearly distinguish the two levels.