Iowa Vacation Rental Tax Guide
Avalara Tax Guides

Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO have changed the way vacationers travel. More and more guests are choosing to rent private homes rather than book hotels. With a bounty of popular destinations including Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, The Hawkeye State offers prospective short-term rental hosts the opportunity to bring in extra income and meet new people.

But new income opportunities bring new tax implications. Like hotel, motel, and B&B stays, short-term rentals in Iowa are subject to tax. Tax authorities expect short-term vacation rental hosts to collect short-term rental taxes from their guests and remit them to the proper authorities.

Failure to comply with state and local tax laws can result in fines and interest penalties. These may not catch up with short-term rental operators in the short term, but the sharing economy is increasingly being placed under the proverbial microscope. It’s recommended that you address compliance before tax authorities address it for you.

Avalara has put together this guide to help you comply with Iowa short-term rental tax laws. For more information on the tax rates and jurisdictions that apply to your rental’s specific location, use our lodging tax lookup tool.

Disclaimer: No short-term vacation rental tax guide is a substitute for professional tax advice. Consider it an asset to help you understand and prioritize your vacation rental questions and concerns. Questions pertaining to specific situations or out-of-the-ordinary conditions are best solved with a certified tax professional familiar with Iowa tax laws.

Short-term Rental Tax Basics

When you start operating a short-term rental, you may not have experience with lodging taxes, but you are probably familiar with income tax. It’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Income taxes are reported and paid annually to the federal and many state governments on “taxable” income, which is income after allowed expense deductions. You pay this tax directly to the government.

Lodging taxes on a short-term rental is a percentage of the cost of your guest’s stay that is added to the price of the bill. The guest pays the tax, but you are responsible for collecting the tax and paying it to the proper tax authority.

Taxes on short-term rentals can be known as hotel and motel tax, excise tax, transient tax, lodging tax, occupancy tax, bed tax, tourist tax, and more. In Iowa, the total tax rate you charge your guest is made up of many different taxes required by the state and/or local entities such as counties, cities, and towns.

What is the definition of “short-term rental” in Iowa?

Short-term rentals in Iowa are defined as lasting 31 consecutive days or less. Residents with a signed lease for continuous residence longer than this should not be charged short-term rental taxes. It is important to note that this definition may vary from location to location. Check with your local tax authority for the most up-to-date information.

Who is required to collect and file taxes on short-term rentals in Iowa?

If you collect payment from short-term guests renting out a room, apartment, house, or other dwelling, you’re likely responsible for collecting, filing, and remitting short-term rental taxes to Iowa authorities. You may be the property owner, a renter subletting a room, a third-party property management firm, or other party.

Location is key to compliance

The location of your rental is a crucial piece of information for short-term rental tax compliance. Your address will determine which tax jurisdictions you are required to report to, which taxes you need to collect, and your tax rates.

You can use our lodging tax lookup tool to get a rate report specific to your Iowa address. The report includes the estimated total tax rate to collect from guests, number of required registrations, number and frequency of returns per year, and minimum number of rented days to qualify as a taxable stay.

It should be noted that tax rates and the rules governing them change frequently. Please consider your tax rate report to be informative rather than authoritative.

Registering with Tax Authorities

Before you can begin collecting taxes on your short-term rental in Iowa, you are legally required to register with the Iowa Department of Revenue. You can register online. When you register, you will receive a tax permit as well as instructions on filing your lodging taxes.

Do I need to form an LLC?

In Iowa, you do not need to form an LLC in order to register with tax authorities.

Local short-term rental regulations

Short-term rental operators in Iowa should be aware of local regulations that apply to them, including rules covering:

  • Legality
  • Permits, licenses, and registration
  • Zoning
  • Advertising
  • Neighborhood notification
  • Building and housing standards

Homeowner Associations (HOA) located in Iowa may also have specific rules regarding vacation rentals. As a member, it’s your responsibility to be aware of the association’s policy. It’s important to review this information to understand any restrictions or limitations on short-term vacation rentals.

Other rules and regulations associated with leases/subletting or condo/co-op rules may apply to your situation. A good place to start is by reviewing your signed lease and speaking with your landlord or property manager.

Collecting Short-term Rental Tax

Once you’re registered with tax authorities, you are ready to start collecting lodging tax, which you’ll add to your guest’s bill when they pay for their stay.

Which taxes apply to Iowa short-term rentals?

In Iowa, a number of different lodging taxes may apply to your short-term rental, depending on your location. These can include:

Tax Name Filed and Remitted To
State hotel and motel tax Iowa Department of Revenue
Local hotel and motel tax Iowa Department of Revenue

Tax Rates

Before you can begin collecting short-term rental taxes, you need to know the correct rate to charge. Rates can and do change frequently, so it’s important to make sure you have the latest rate to avoid over- or undercharging your guests and running into compliance issues. State and local tax authorities should have the latest rates posted. You can also use our lodging tax lookup tool to find the right rates.

What charges are taxable?

In Iowa, all charges related to the rental of the accommodations are taxable. This includes items such as cleaning fees, pet fees, rollaway bed fees, extra person fees, etc. Fees that are refundable, such as damage deposits, are generally not subject to lodging taxes unless you keep the deposit.

If a person is charged for other items when renting a room, the charges must be stated separately or the entire amount will be subject to the hotel/motel tax. If the host bills a lump sum for the room rental and taxable items or services, state and local sales taxes apply to the entire bill. If taxable items and services are separately stated from the room rental on the invoice, sales tax only applies to the sales price of the non-accommodations items and services.

What happens when my short-term rental platform (such as Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO) collects taxes for me?

Before collecting any short-term rental tax from your guests, you need to be aware of whether any taxes have already been collected for you. Some vacation rental platforms, including Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO, collect Iowa short-term rental taxes for you when the listing is booked. However, platforms do not collect taxes in all locations, and they may not collect all the state and local taxes you owe.

At the time of this guide’s publication, Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO collect state and local hotel and motel tax for all Iowa hosts.

Even if your online rental platform collects taxes for you, do not assume that the platform is taking care of short-term rental tax registration or filing for you. Often, when rental platforms collect lodging taxes in a particular jurisdiction, they do not file lodging tax returns on behalf of individual hosts. Rather, they pay a lump sum to the jurisdiction and often do not share identifying information on hosts. That means it’s usually up to hosts themselves to report how much lodging tax has been collected and paid on their behalf.

Are guests ever exempt from taxes?

There are situations in which you aren’t required to collect lodging taxes in Iowa. For example, a guest who rents for a long term rather than a short term will be exempt from short-term lodging taxes. In Iowa, accommodations paid for directly by the United States government are be exempt from short-term lodging taxes.

Filing Short-term Rental Tax Returns

After you’ve collected taxes from your guests, it’s time to file your tax returns with the Iowa Department of Revenue and local tax jurisdictions. In Iowa, you can file short-term rental tax returns online. In order to file, you will need to enter information on how much you charged for your rentals. You’ll also need to pay the tax amount due, usually via check or electronic transfer. The Iowa Department of Revenue allows credit card payments, but you may be charged convenience fees for this type of payment.

Take the time to double check your returns prior to submitting. Simple mistakes such as typos, missing signatures, and incorrect tax information can lead to unwanted delays.

When do I need to file my returns?

You will be assigned a filing frequency and due dates when you register with the tax authority. At the state level, annual, quarterly, and monthly due dates are as follows:

Filing Frequency Due Date
Annually Due by Jan. 31 following each calendar year.
Quarterly Due the the last day of the month following each calendar quarter.
Monthly For each of the first two months of the calendar quarter, deposits are due by the 20th of the following month. For the third month, file the quarterly return with the payment for the balance of tax due for that quarter, due by the last day of the month following each calendar quarter.
Semi-monthly Deposits must be filed twice each month: one the 25th for the period from the 1st through the 15th, and on the 10th for the period from the 16th through the end of the month. A deposit is not required for the final (sixth) semi-monthly period of each quarter. A quarterly return and the last (sixth) deposit of the quarter are due by the last day of the month following each calendar quarter.

Am I still required to file a tax return if I didn’t rent my property during the filing period?

Yes. Short-term rental operators registered with the Iowa Department of Revenue are required to file returns each assigned filing period, regardless of whether you had any short-term rental income or any short-term rental taxes were collected. Such returns are commonly known as “zero dollar returns.” Local tax authorities may have their own requirements.

Are there penalties for filing taxes late?

Whether you choose to offer short-term rentals through a marketplace like Airbnb or directly to the consumer, you open the door to tax liability. As tax revenue is a major source of local funding, tax authorities are becoming more aggressive in their efforts to identify individuals and businesses not in compliance with local tax laws. Failure to register with tax authorities and file short-term rental tax returns in Iowa on time may result in late fees, interest payments, and in extreme cases, legal action.

What options do I have if I have been renting without collecting lodging tax?

If you’re already operating a short-term rental but are not collecting short-term rental taxes, you may be in violation of Iowa tax laws. Take the time to review your legal responsibility (with a tax professional, if necessary) and understand the risk of continuing to not collect tax.

Short-term rental hosts in Iowa may be able to take advantage of a voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA). A VDA offers an opportunity for hosts to proactively disclose prior period tax liabilities in accordance with a binding agreement with the Iowa Department of Revenue. VDAs are offered to encourage cooperation with state tax laws and may result in some or all penalty and interest payments being waived.

Are there options for outsourcing transient occupancy tax filing?

Yes. Many short-term rental hosts in Iowa file several lodging tax returns every year. For many, filing solutions such as MyLodgeTax can relieve this burden.