The City of Bellingham recently adopted new regulations that define what is allowed as a short-term rental (STR) in Bellingham Municipal Code Section 20.10.037. The regulations are intended to balance the economic opportunity created by STRs with the need to maintain the city’s housing supply and protect the rights and safety of owners, guests and neighbors.
An STR is defined as a lodging use, other than a hotel or motel, in which a dwelling unit or portion thereof is provided to guests by an STR operator for a fee for fewer than 30 consecutive nights. STRs are allowed, with some exceptions, in legally-established dwelling units in residential, commercial and urban village zoning districts.
Key regulations include:
- In Residential Zoning Districts:
- STRs are limited to one per operator.
- 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 Zoning Districts:
- There is no limit on the number of STRs per operator
- STRs may be located in primary or nonprimary residences
- For STRs in nonprimary residences, there is no limit on the number of days/year the unit may be rented
- For STRs in primary residences, there is no limit on the number of days/year the unit must serve as the primary residence of the applicant or the number of days/year it may be rented
- In all Zoning Districts:
- STRs are not allowed in the Lake Whatcom Watershed or shoreline areas.
- STRs are not allowed in units subsidized by the multi-family tax exemption program or other housing subsidy programs.
The new regulations require an STR land use permit for all STRs in the City. The table below summarizes the permit type required in each zoning district. Type I and Type II STR permits are approved administratively by the Planning Director or designee. Please contact the Permit Center (City Hall – 210 Lottie St., 360-778-8300) for more information.
Short-term Rental Type:
Review Process Type
|Review Process Type|
for Commercial and Urban Village Zoning Areas:
|Primary Residence – No more than 2 bedrooms in a dwelling unit, including an accessory dwelling unit (when permitted), may be rented to overnight guests. The subject dwelling unit must serve as the primary residence of the applicant (the owner or long-term tenant) for no less than 270 days per year. The whole dwelling unit may be rented for no more than 95 days per year.||Type I||Type I|
|Primary Residence – No more than 5 bedrooms in a dwelling unit, including an accessory dwelling unit (when permitted), may be rented to overnight guests. The subject dwelling unit must serve as the primary residence of the applicant (the owner or long-term tenant) for no less than 270 days per year. The whole dwelling unit may be rented for no more than 95 days per year.||Type II||Type 1|
|Non-primary Residence – No more than 5 bedrooms in a dwelling unit, including an accessory dwelling unit (when permitted), may be rented to overnight guests. The subject dwelling unit is not the primary residence of the applicant. There is no limit on the number of days per year the dwelling unit may be rented.||Not Allowed||Type 1|
Safety and courtesy requirements include the following:
- One off-street parking space during guest stay in residential zones
- 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 must be posted in the unit and rental agreement
- No events for compensation in residential zones
- Safety requirements and a City inspection per 20.10.037.D.11 (inspection is required prior to application approval)
- Proof of a valid City of Bellingham business license must be submitted with the application (may take several weeks to receive the license number)
- Liability insurance
Please refer to Bellingham Municipal Code Section 20.10.037 for the complete set of requirements for STRs.
Applying for a Short-term Rental Permit
Prior to submitting an application, please complete these pre-application steps:
- Check in with City staff in the Permit Center (City Hall – 210 Lottie St., 360-778-8300) to obtain guidance on your proposal.
- If you are applying for a Type 1 STR permit, a courtesy notice must be mailed or delivered to residents and property owners adjacent to the STR. See the application for instructions and a sample courtesy notice.
The STR application is available on the City’s Land Use Application webpage. After meeting with City staff on your proposal, please fill out the application and submit it to staff in the Permit Center (City Hall – 210 Lottie St.)
An application fee and a City of Bellingham business license number for your STR are required to be submitted with the application. Please note that if you do not currently have a City of Bellingham business license for your STR, you will need to apply for one through the Department of Revenue. Once your business license application is submitted to the DOR, it may take up to two weeks to receive your City of Bellingham business license number.
STR permit application fees are as follows:
- Type I: $370.00
- Type II: $550.00
- Type III-A: $847.00
- Renewal (before January 1 of every even-numbered year): $250.00
- Planning & Community Development Department
- STR Application
- STR Renewal Affidavit
- STR Ordinance 2018-11-024
- Frequently Asked Questions
- STR Example Scenarios
- (Archived) Legislative Process
Permit Center – 360-778-8300