The City of Bellingham receives numerous requests for help from property owners/managers on issues around rental housing. While the City does not provide direct assistance, there are a number of local resources available in the community. The following information was compiled to assist rental property owners in understanding their rights and responsibilities and to identify helpful resources.
Federal Fair Housing Law – Fair Housing pertains to Federal Laws that protect people from housing discrimination. All housing providers (including property owners, managers, and leasing agents) are subject to Fair Housing laws.
The City of Bellingham has codified certain aspects of tenants’ rights that will be enforced in the City in BMC 10.48.030. The City also provides regular trainings available to landlords, property owners, and tenants. General information on fair housing is also available on our website.
State Landlord-Tenant Law – The state Residential Landlord-Tenant Act creates the over-arching rules for the landlord-tenant relationship. The act defines rights and responsibilities of owners and tenants, identifies permitted elements in leases, and sets forth procedures for owners and tenants to assert their rights in court. The Washington State Bar Association’s brochure entitled Landlord-Tenant Rights clearly explains the key aspects of the state law.
The Landlord-Tenant Act (Sec. 59.18.060) details what standards must be maintained by the rental owner. This section (Sec. 59.18.115) identifies procedures that tenants need to follow to address health and safety issues in rentals.
City Ordinances to protect vulnerable renters – The City passed an Ordinance to Protect Vulnerable Renters, which adds additional protections beyond State and Federal Law that apply to all rental properties within the Bellingham City limits. This ordinance took effect in March 2018, and includes the following protections:
- Source of Income discrimination: A landlord may not refuse to rent to a tenant based on a tenant’s source of income, which includes public benefits or rental subsidies from federal, state, or local housing programs.
- *60-day Notice of Rent Increase: Landlords who wish to raise a tenant’s rent by ten percent or more must give a 60-day written notice of rent increase.
- *Please note: BMC 6.12.020 regarding notice requirement has been amended by the Bellingham City Council. Amendments were made final on March 13, 2023, and become effective on March 28, 2023. Beginning March 28, 2023, 120-day advance notice is required for any rent increases for residential units. A news release and FAQs are available to describe this change. Until the March 28 effective date of the newly adopted ordinance, the 60-day notice requirements described above remain in place.
- 60-day Notice to Vacate: Landlords must give tenants a 60-day notice to terminate month-to-month tenancies without cause. If a tenant is otherwise in compliance with the terms of the lease, the landlord must provide written notice 60 days in advance for an eviction is to be enforceable.
- Note: the state has since passed a more restrictive law, which now requires that a landlord must give proper notice and can only terminate a lease for an acceptable cause. See RCW 59.18.650(2) for a list of acceptable reasons for terminating a residency.
Obtaining mediation assistance
Renters and property owners are encouraged to resolve disputes through the mediation process; contact the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center at 360-676-0122 for details.
If you are considering an eviction, the WDRC currently has an Eviction Resolution Pilot program. Call 360-676-0122 x115 or email email@example.com for more information.
- State Landlord Mitigation Fund – According to the Department of Commerce’s website, “Washington State’s Landlord Mitigation Law (RCW43.31.605) became effective on June 7th of 2018 to provide landlords with an incentive and added security to work with tenants receiving rental assistance. The program offers up to $1,000 to the landlord in reimbursement for some potentially required move-in upgrades, up to fourteen days’ rent loss and up to $5,000 in qualifying damages caused by a tenant during tenancy”. Check out the Landlord Mitigation Info Sheet for more information on this program.
- Rental Housing Association of Washington – This agency will provide limited assistance (for non-member landlords and tenants) regarding rights and responsibilities.
- Resolving maintenance issues in rental housing. The Landlord-Tenant Act (Sec. 59.18.060) details what standards must be maintained by the rental owner.
The following are some of the codes that help reduce conflict and maintain the livability of neighborhoods in Bellingham. If you don’t see a particular issue listed below, you may try going directly to the Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) and searching for it.
- BMC 6.11 – Source of Income Protection
- BMC 6.12 – *60 Day Notice of Rent Increase (*120 Day Notice of Rent Increase, Effective March 28, 2023. See news release and FAQs for details)
- BMC 6.13 – 60 Day Notice to Vacate
- BMC 9.12.070 – Accumulation of Garbage and Refuse
- BMC 10.24.130 – Fireworks regulations
- BMC 10.28.020 – Nuisances Declared (property-related nuisances, etc.)
- BMC 10.60.130 – Property Owners’ Duty to Keep Premises Litter-Free
- BMC 10.24.120 – Public Disturbance Noise
- BMC 11.33.185 – Parking Within Residential Yards Prohibited
- BMC 11.33.040 – Parking not to obstruct driveways
- BMC 11.33.060 – Other parking prohibitions including parking in front of mail boxes or parking for more than 24 hours.
August 9, 2022 – Housing Laws and Local Resouces for Landlords & Property Mangers
The City of Bellingham hosted an educational event with presenters from the Northwest Justice Project, Opportunity Council, and Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. If you missed the event, you can watch the live recording here: https://youtu.be/lKZCkvKKPwI
- PowerPoint presentation
- Event Q&A
- Eviction Resolution Pilot Program flier
- Whatcom Landlords & Housing Professionals site
Fair Housing Center of Washington
The Fair Housing Center of WA periodically offers free trainings via Zoom and Facebook Live. These can be accessed either via their website (see education drop-down options), their Facebook page, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 27, 2018 – Landlord Resource Meeting – New Ordinance Protecting Vulnerable Renters
The City of Bellingham was happy to host local landlords, housing partners and community experts at the 2nd Landlord Resource Meeting! The presentation covered how the new ordinance protecting vulnerable renters affects landlords in our community. The additional resources listed below were also made available to the attendees. If you missed the event, we encourage you to watch the live recording!
April 19, 2018 – Free Fair Housing Training
The City of Bellingham was pleased to have a speaker from the Fair Housing Center of Washington to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act with a comprehensive presentation. Some useful fair housing resources are pasted below.
- Reasonable Accommodations & Modifications (PDF)
- Service and Assistive Animals (PDF)
- Reasonable Accommodation & Parking (PDF)
- Fair Housing Agencies in WA State (PDF)
December 12, 2017 – Landlord Resource Meeting
The City of Bellingham, in partnership with Western Washington University’s Campus Community Coalition, held its first landlord resource meeting. Presentation topics included the Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program, Western’s Campus Community Coalition, Litter Compliance and an overview of residential landlord / tenant law.
Other City Programs
- Landlords and Apartment Renters Safety and Compliance Tips
- Home rehabilitation loans – The City offers low-cost loans for income-qualified rental owners
- Lead hazards – Information on lead-based paint and remediation
- Safety Education – Videos about presentations from Police and Fire Departments