New rules for Bellingham's short-term rental (STR) businesses go into effect May 5, allowing these businesses to come into compliance through application for a short-term rental permit.
On November 5, 2018, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2018-11-024 establishing regulations for STRs, which are defined as “a lodging use, other than a hotel or motel, in which a dwelling unit or portion thereof is provided to guests by a short-term rental operator for a fee for fewer than 30 consecutive nights.” The new STR regulations took effect on May 5, 2019. The new STR regulations replace and expand on the previous regulations for bed and breakfast establishments.
As of February 9, 2019, the number of unique STR units in the City of Bellingham was 308, most of which are operating illegally. The new STR regulations allow for many of these units to become legal with an STR land use permit.
These program goals guide the STR program: 1) balance the economic opportunity created by STRs with the need to maintain the City's housing supply and 2) protect the rights and safety of owners, guests and neighbors.
The regulations further the goal of retaining the City's housing supply for owners and long-term renters by limiting the number of STRs an operator may have in residential zones to one. Also, in residential zones, the dwelling unit, including accessory dwelling units, hosting the STR must serve as the primary residence of the owner or long-term renter (with at least a 270-day lease) for at least 270 days/year and the whole unit may be rented no more than 95 days/year. In single-family zones, STRs are not permitted in detached accessory dwelling units. In commercial and urban village zones, the primary residency requirement does not apply, and there is no limit on the number of STRs a host may operate. Please see Bellingham Municipal Code Section 20.10.037 for exceptions and additional information.
To reduce potential impacts on surrounding property owners and residents, the regulations include a number of safety and courtesy provisions, including:
- One off-street parking space during guest stay
- Operations must prevent unreasonable disturbances to nearby residents
- No change in outside appearance of building or premise that indicates the site is hosting a commercial use
- Local contact person must be available 24 hours/day
- Good neighbor guidelines that must be posted in the unit and rental agreement
- No events for compensation in residential zones
- Basic safety inspection of the unit
- Proof of valid City of Bellingham business license
- Liability insurance
The STR permit application is available on the City's Land Use Application webpage. To find out if your project is viable and what type of permit(s) you might need, please visit the Permit Center, City Hall – 210 Lottie St. to talk with City representatives from Planning, Building Services and Public Works. A fee is required with the STR land use permit application. Fees for STR permits are as follows:
- Type I: $370
- Type II: $550
- Type III-A: $847
- Renewal (before January 1 of every even-numbered year): $250
For more information