The City of Bellingham receives numerous requests for help from tenants on issues around rental housing. While the City does not provide any direct services to tenants, there are many useful resources available in our community. The following information was compiled to assist tenants in understanding their rights and responsibilities and to identify where to go for assistance.
Federal Fair Housing Law – Fair Housing pertains to Federal Laws that protect people from housing discrimination. The City of Bellingham has codified certain aspects of tenants’ rights that will be enforced in the City in BMC 10.48.030. 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 ordinance requiring 60-day notice to Vacate or Increase Rent – if you have a month-to-month lease and your landlord does not wish to renew your lease without cause, they must give 60-days’ notice before asking you to move out.
- 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.
If a property owner wishes to raise a tenant’s rent by 10% or more, they must also give 60-days’ notice before the increase can take effect. See the Ordinance Protecting Vulnerable Renters handout for more details.
Do you wish to make a complaint about substandard housing? The City requires that all rental properties within the City limits register for the Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program and undergo regular inspections to ensure that Bellingham’s residential rental housing meets specific health and safety standards.
A resident of the City of Bellingham that has concerns regarding substandard conditions can call into the Permit Center (360-778-8300) or submit a Code Enforcement Request. You have the option to submit an anonymous request.
For tenants who find themselves in situations requiring legal information or assistance from an attorney, Law Advocates runs local clinics on landlord-tenant law and may provide a referral to a lawyer under certain circumstances.
Low-income tenants can call Law Advocates’ Coordinated Legal Education, Advice, & Referral (CLEAR) line between 9:15 AM and 12:15 PM Monday through Friday at 1-888-201-1014.
Renters and property owners are encouraged to mediate disputes through the resolution process; contact the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center at 360-676-0122 for details. If you are faced with an eviction, the WDRC currently has an Eviction Resolution Pilot program. Call 360-676-0122 x115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Two Seattle-based organizations provide helpful information on renters’ rights under state law:
Affordable Housing – Resources that might be of assistance in looking to find affordable housing in Bellingham.
Financial Literacy for Renters – The Opportunity Council sponsors a program for Financial Literacy and Renter Education (FLARE). The program includes classes to teach budgeting and basic skills to renters. Call (360) 734-5121 for information.
Indoor Air Quality – Information and tips from the Northwest Clean Air Agency to help you keep your indoor air clean and healthy.
Mold Guidance – Tenants and landlords both have responsibilities for addressing water and moisture problems that can cause mold. Generally, fixing leaks is the landlords’ responsibility and reducing condensation is the renter’s responsibility. More information can be found through the Washington State Department of Health.
Relocation assistance – The Northwest Justice Project can assist tenants who are having to move because of substandard rental conditions and can be reached at 1-888-201-1014.
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
- 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.
Other City Programs
- Lead hazards – Information on lead-based paint and remediation
- Safety Education – Videos about presentations from Police and Fire Departments