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How Very Taxing

I've just returned from a four-day trip to Portland, Ore., where I enjoyed a reunion with my high school girlfriends. After graduation, we scattered to the four winds, and now reside in different states. But we try to get together every couple of years to catch up on each others' lives, to laugh over old memories and create new ones. It's extremely liberating to have long-standing friendships in which it's perfectly acceptable to let all your shortcomings, anxieties and quirks hang out. We don't judge each otherit's OK to just be.


Understandably, it's tough to leave the comfort of such an accepting comraderie, and our good-byes are usually bittersweet. This year, I added a heinous case of food poisoning to my separation woes (must've been the shellfish, which was so good going down). Today is the first since my return that I feel re-grounded in reality.


It's a good thing, too, as I had a Legal Learning webinar to host bright and early this morning. Jeff's presentation on self-storage late fees was stellar as always, and my stomach only mildly gurgled during my short contributions.


Anyway, Jeff did a brief overview of the states that currently have late-fee legislation, and a question came in from the audience: Are late fees and other fees taxable? This led me to think about the tax-based stuggles several states are facing. I've been reading bits about them in the newspapers and in the weekly e-mail updates sent out by the Self Storage Association. I thought I'd give you a brief recap of what I've seen lately.


I've written about New Jersey's situation in this blog several times. For those of you who don't know, storage operators in that state now have to impose a 7 percent sales tax on unit rentals, which has understandably hurt their business in sundry ways. The NJ Association has been doing its best to battle the burden. There have been a couple of recent articles by way of an update.


According to The Record, the NJSSA was to tackle the issue during its meeting on March 29th. Association members sued the state in November, claiming it's unconstitutional to force storage customers to pay sales tax on what is essentially a real estate transaction. Businesses that rent space for store inventory do not have to pay the tax, but that puts storage operators in the position of having to police what customers storewhich is technically impossible thanks to the Fourth Amendment.


Chris McGrath, the executive director for NJSSA, points out that the facilities taking the greatest hit are those along the New York State border, as New York has no comparable sales tax. The tax not only hurts storage businesses, but the clientele it serves.


According to the Record article, a conference on the association's lawsuit just took place in the Superior Court in Monmouth County, where the suit was filed. I checked the NJSSA's website this morning, but did not find anything new posted. I wonder what the status is.

 

Another article on NewJersey.com explains that state legislators have introduced several bills to repeal the sales tax that was only recently applied to several business sects including self-storage, health clubs and massage parlors. For self-storage, one bill asks for an exemption for active-duty military, while another ask for a complete reprieve. All measures are "in committee."


There are other states fighting sales tax too. For example, in Illinois, language was added to a bill that would amend the state's Retailers' Occupation Tax to include self-storage. If passed, the bill will impose a 6.25 percent sales tax on storage rentals.


Arkansas storage rentals have been subject to sales tax since July 2004. In that state, the association has waged a self-storage tax-repeal campaign, with a bill that made it through the state senate in March. But according to ASSA President Bill Humble, the Speaker of the House held the bill "hostage" and would not let it be introduced to the House for a vote. Humble now hopes it will pass in 2009, after a new Speaker of the House takes office.


No matter where you do business, you should take pains to follow these developments. Though the threat may seem far, you could find it at your doorstep some day. Pay careful attention to the processes behind the fight, and be at the ready with a state association membership when the time comes. There's almost nothing worse than a state-imposed sales tax on self-storage ... Except maybe food poisoning.

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