A man walks past a logo of Airbnb after a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 26, 2015. Reuters/Yuya Shino

An elderly couple in Tasmania, who hosted their home using Airbnb, has been fined through Tasmanian State Revenue Office’s robo-debt system. It was similar to the controversial Centrelink fiasco. According to the notice from the State Revenue Office, the couple rented out their house for a year and they should be paying land tax.

In most cases, homeowners pay land tax on secondary properties. However, if they were renting out their house, they were only asked to pay the tax. In the case of the couple, the revenue office claimed that they should pay the land tax as they rented out the house for a year because they were not around on July 1 when a new financial year started.

The robo-debt system aimed to collect information about people who were making an income from their home. When the office learned that the homeowner was not paying the land tax, it would send an investigation notice and a questionnaire to the homeowner. The homeowner receives a penalty if the questionnaire was not filled out. According to the office, when a property use changes such as renting out any part of the property, the owner should notify the Commissioner of State Revenue within 30 days of change.

There were many ways landowners did with their property to generate income. Some would host homestay students while some would allow an au pair to live in. Dr Brendan Gogarty, a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania said that there was a grey area of the law. He cited that several instances that homeowners collected money in their home. He said playing poker inside the house was one way of collecting money.

He concluded that taxing Airbnb hosts was fair but he suggested that it should be done clearly in reference to the real law. He advised people who received the letters should find an accountant or legal specialist. He said that homeowners would pay the fine as they were scared of the idea of being a tax cheat.