New Short-Term Rental Regulations in the City of Bellingham

July 24th, 2019 - Catherine A. Moore

The City of Bellingham’s new short-term rental (“STR”) ordinance became effective on May 5, 2019. BMC 20.10.037. It places restrictions on the rental of rooms, accessory dwelling units, and homes on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. The City has created a helpful website describing the new regulations.

All owners of STRs will need to obtain a permit from the City in order to continue operations. STRs that predate the ordinance are not “grandfathered” in. And, due to the new regulations, it is likely that some current STRs will no longer be able to operate, such as those located in shoreline jurisdictions or rentals that are not the primary residence of the host in some zones. As this is an ordinance of the City of Bellingham, only STRs in the Bellingham city limits are affected.

Sometimes our clients ask us what the risk is that code enforcement will notice their illegal land use. In this case, the chances are very good. The City recently entered into contract with Host Compliance to help it to manage the STR market in Bellingham (Contract #2019-0318, available here). Pursuant to the contract, for at least one year, Host Compliance will continuously monitor the fifty most popular STR websites, including Airbnb, VRBO, Craigslist, and HomeAway, and provide the City with screenshots of all STR listings and full addresses and contact information for those STRs, plus weekly screenshots of calendars and reviews for each STR. Host Compliance will also supply the City with a list of STRs suspected to be under-reporting taxes and quarterly report on the City’s STR tax compliance. Host Compliance will also be working with the City to communicate with STR landlords.

We suggest that you contact a local attorney if you need more information on your obligations and rights as a STR host or if you have received a determination from the City you think may be in error.

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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