Program Information

The Rental Registration & Safety Inspection Programs were approved by the Bellingham City Council on March 9, 2015, after more than ten years of public involvement and proposals. RR&SIP was designed to ensure that all rental housing units comply with specific life & fire safety standards and are providing a safe place for tenants to live. Starting in July 2015, all rental property owners will be required to renew their rental license every year and submit the property to inspection during the required assigned quarter (approximately every 3 – 3.5 years).

​According to BMC 6.15, all residential rental properties (apartments, homes, duplexes, ADUs, etc.) within Bellingham city limits are required to be registered with the City (with some exceptions as indicated below). A list of all registered rental properties (PDF) is maintained on the City’s website and is made up of both exempt and non-exempt properties.

Completing the Registration Process

There are two types of rental units:

  • Non-exempt: Most units will fall under this status, as more often than not a property owner is renting the unit for a profit and not living onsite.
    • Non-exempt rental registration application – this registration form can be emailed to our office via rentals@cob.org, or printed and mailed (or dropped off) with a check or money order to City Hall, 210 Lottie St., Bellingham WA 98225 – attention Rental Registration Program Coordinator.
    • Checks or money orders should be made payable to “City of Bellingham Finance Director”.
  • Exempt: Select units will qualify for an exemption (see criteria below to see if your unit qualifies).
    • Rental exemption declaration – this registration form can be emailed to our office via rentals@cob.org, or printed and mailed (or dropped off) at City Hall, 210 Lottie St., Bellingham WA 98225 – attention Rental Registration Program Coordinator.
    • Be sure to indicate which criteria applies to your unit on the registration form.

Registering your unit online

Rental units can also be registered via the online web portal which allows you to manage your license via our eTrakit system.

Do I need to register if I am renting out bedrooms in the property I own and live in?

No, you would not be subject to a rental registration license, but you may be required to obtain a short-term rental license depending on how the bedrooms are being rented out.

Registration Fee: An annual fee due by December 31st of each calendar year to avoid late fees and other penalties, regardless of the month the application is received. For example: If a new Rental Registration is submitted in March 2022, that license is valid until December 31, 2022 – and must be renewed by 12/31/2022 to be valid for 2023.

  • $10.00/unit (for properties with 1-20 units on a single parcel)
  • $8.00/unit (for properties with 21+ units on a single parcel).

Safety Inspection Fee (Intermittent): A fee due only during the inspection quarter assigned to your neighborhood by the City.

  • $100.00/unit for City of Bellingham Inspector
  • $45.00/unit program fee for Private Inspector (separate from fees paid directly to the private inspector)

Please review the program fee schedule for a complete list of additional charges for late payments, missed appointments and safety re-inspections.

Although there are no additional registration forms needed when renewing an active license, all fees must be received by December 31st for the license to be valid for the upcoming year.

The City will send out invoices about 6 weeks prior to the end of the year, once the invoice is received the annual renewals can be completed in one of the following ways:

  • Online – The online web portal allows you to manage your license via our eTrakit system, including paying all fees for those units already attached to your dashboard. Use this “how to” guide for step-by-step instructions.
  • In person / By mail –  fees can be paid with check, cash, money order, or credit card to the City of Bellingham – 210 Lottie Street  Bellingham, WA 98225. Please make checks payable to: “City of Bellingham Finance Director” and reference your license # or rental address when submitting payment.​


Processing:
We do as much correspondence by email as possible, so if you have an email but did not enter it on your application, send us a quick note at rentals@cob.org. If there is no email on file, we are happy to mail the invoice to the primary contact listed.

Invoice: Registration fees, as determined by the Program Fee Schedule, can be paid with check, cash, money order, or credit card. Please reference your license # or address when submitting payment. Use this “how to” guide for step-by-step instructions on paying your license fees through the etrakit system. 

Certificate of Registration: A Certificate of Registration will be issued once the application has been processed and the $10.00 fee has posted to your account. We will email (or mail if no email is provided) the certificate of registration to the primary contact we have listed, and it will also be made viewable on your ‘dashboard’ if you use our online permitting / license program to manage your license.   

There are specific instances that will qualify certain units to be considered “exempt”. Housing units that can be described using any of the following criteria are required to register the property, but will not be required to pay registration fees or be subject to inspections on the unit.

  •  Owner-occupied buildings containing two units
    •  A single-family residence that the owner occupies with an attached accessory dwelling unit (sometimes referred to as a “mother-in-law” apartment) that is rented out;
    •  A single-family residence with an attached accessory dwelling unit that the owners occupy;
    •  A single-family residence that has been converted into two apartments, one of which the owner occupies; or
    •  A duplex in which the owner occupies one of the units.;
  • Units owned, operated or managed by a government agency or authority or are specifically exempted from a fee by state or federal law, however, once government ownership, operation or management ceases so does the exemption for fee payment;
  • Rental units that receive funding or subsidies from federal, state or local government, and that are inspected at least once every three years as a condition of that funding; and
  • Accessory dwelling units that are attached to a single-family residential unit AND the owner of the property resides in either of those housing units.

Housing units that meet one of the following criteria are exempt from participating in the program at this time.  

  • Owner occupied single-family residences;
  • Units unavailable for rent or outside the city limits;
  • Accommodations in hotels, motels, inns or similar facilities for transient guests (except for units occupied by non-transient guests);
  • Retirement or nursing homes and housing within any hospital or State licensed medical care facility, service care facility, convent, monastery or other housing occupied exclusively by members of a religious order;
  • Mobile or manufactured homes (these fall within the jurisdiction of Washington State Labor and Industries); and
  • Shelters for transitional housing.

  • The Bellingham City Council has determined that rental units likely exist that are unsafe to live in.
  • The RR&SIP intends to ensure that Bellingham’s rental housing meets specific life and fire safety standards.
  • The RR&SIP intends to promote compliance with these standards so that the health and safety of tenants is not jeopardized.
  • In addition, the RR&SIP intends to increase awareness and sharing of information relating to rental housing standards between existing and future rental property owners, property managers, landlords and tenants.

Yes, several cities in Washington State have similar programs such as Seattle, Lacey, Pasco, Bremerton and Tukwila.

If a rental registration is not secured for a rental property then it would not be in compliance with the RR&SIP. If a rental registration is not provided in a timely manner and rental units are available for rent or are being rented, the rental property will be in violation of the RR&SIP. Financial penalties will be applied to owners of rental properties that do not register per the required timelines. Financial penalties are likely to be based upon the length of time that passes beyond either the initial registration due date or the renewal date.

Although there are certain exemptions (see above), the majority of rental properties that register with the program will be required to be inspected once every three years (approximately).

The intent of the Safety Inspection Program (RR&SIP) is to ensure that Bellingham’s residential rental housing meets specific health and safety standards and to promote compliance with these standards so that the health and safety of tenants is not jeopardized. Inspections will address the items found on the Final Inspection Checklist (PDF)

About 30 days prior to the beginning of your neighborhood inspection quarter, a postcard (or letter) will be mailed to the primary contact’s address listed on the account. This correspondence will contain the pre-assigned date/time of the inspection (if you have chosen to use a City of Bellingham Inspector) as well as which units have been selected for inspection.

IMPORTANT: The inspections are assigned to two-hour blocks of time in which the inspector may arrive onsite, City inspectors are not able to guarantee an exact time of arrival. Please contact the rental registration team at (360) 778-8361 or rentals@cob.org at least 48 hours in advance of your assigned date/time if:

  • You need to change the appointment date/time,
  • If you have an appointment with the City, but wish to use an approved private inspector instead, or
  • Have questions/concerns about what to expect

Provide Notice to Tenants: Prior to the inspection occurring, written notification of intent to allow an inspector to enter must be provided to the tenant of that unit as required by (RCW 59.18.150(6)). (see our FAQ webpage for notification requirements). 

Ensure Access to unit for Inspector: Property owners are not required to be onsite unless they personally want to meet with the inspector; however, an adult must be present onsite during the inspection (which typically will last no more than 20 minutes) to provide access to the property.

Provide Email if applicable: We do as much corresponding by email as possible, so if you have an email but did not enter it on your application, send us a quick note at rentals@cob.org. If there is no email on file, we are happy to mail the invoice (if necessary) to the primary contact listed.

Yes, the program does require a fee for the inspection. The inspection fee can be paid prior to, or immediately following the inspection visit. The fees can be paid with check, cash, money order, or credit card. Please reference your license # or address when submitting payment. 

A Statement of Compliance will be issued once the unit has passed (or passed with conditions) and all outstanding fees have posted to your account. We will email (or mail if no email is provided) the certificate to the primary contact we have listed, and it will also be made viewable on your ‘dashboard’ if you use our online permitting / license program to manage your license.

Property owners have the option to use a City of Bellingham inspector or a qualified private inspector who has passed the RR&SIP inspections training course and possess at least one of the following credentials:

  • American Association of Code Enforcement property maintenance and housing inspector certification;
  • International Code Council property maintenance and housing inspector certification;
  • International Code Council residential building code inspector;
  • Washington State licensed home inspector; or
  • Other acceptable credential the director establishes by rule.

Our private inspector webpage contains more details of this option, as well as the program documents private inspectors are required to use. 

The definitions below are described generally. Specific definitions to these terms will be contained in BMC 6.15 once the RR&SIP ordinance is approved by the City Council.

Rental Property: A parcel of land or contiguous parcels of land under single or same ownership that contain rental units that are currently rented by a tenant or are available for rent.

Rental Housing Unit: Residential housing that is occupied or rented by a tenant or available for rent by a tenant.
Property Owner: One person or more than one person such as an LLC or Trust who are named as owners of the rental property on a legal title.

Landlord: Person or entity that acts as a representative or agent for the owner such as a property manager or property management company. A landlord may also be the owner.

Tenant: Person who resides in a rental housing unit and agrees to pay for and occupy a rental housing unit via a rental agreement.

Residential Housing: A building or part of a building that is available for rent or currently rented and is used as a home or residence or sleeping place by one or more persons. These include but are not limited to single family residences, duplexes, multi-family dwellings, townhouses, condominiums and other similar housing types.

Rental Registration: A process where owners or landlords submit basic information to the City that verifies the rental property, where it is located, who will act as the landlord, the contact information, the number of rental units, and a general rental unit description such as ‘duplex’ or ‘condo’ or ’20 units in 5 buildings,’ etc.

Rental Inspection: A process by which either the City or qualified private inspector inspects a rental housing unit or units on a rental property every three years to ensure that the rental property is compliant with life and fire safety standards.

Transient: An individual or group who occupy housing furnished with services for a period of 30-days or less.

Transitional Housing: Residential housing units owned, operated or managed by a nonprofit agency or governmental entity in which supportive services are provided to individuals or families that were formerly homeless in order to move them into permanent housing within 24 months of their arrival.

Resources

Contacts

​Planning and Community Development Department
Rental Registration Specialist
(360) 778-8361 or rentals@cob.org