Bellingham’s New 120 Day Notice of Rent Increase Requirement

April 28th, 2023 - Luke Phifer

On March 13, 2023, the Bellingham City Council approved Ordinance No. 2023-03-007, which requires landlords to provide tenants of rental units in Bellingham a minimum of 120 days’ prior written notice ahead of ANY increase in rent or other periodic housing costs. The requirements of this new ordinance took effect on March 28, 2023, and can be found in Bellingham Municipal Code 6.12.020–050.

What changed?

The prior law only required landlords to provide 60 days’ written notice of increases in rent (or other periodic housing costs) of 10 percent or more. The previous 60 days’ notice requirement was consistent with RCW 59.18.140(3), a state law which separately requires landlords across Washington to provide 60 days’ notice of any increase in rent.

The new ordinance increases the notice requirement from 60 to 120 days and requires notice prior to any increase in rent (or other periodic housing costs). This is a significant change that all Bellingham landlords need to be aware of as they forecast potential future rent increases.

Are there any exceptions to the notice requirement?

Yes. The notice requirement does not apply “to the renting, subrenting, leasing, or subleasing of a portion of a dwelling unit, wherein the owner … thereof maintains a permanent residence, home, or abode therein.” Essentially, if the landlord is renting out a room in their own home, this Bellingham law does not require them to provide a notice of rent increase.

However, it is important to note that there is no similar exception to the 60 days’ notice requirement established by RCW 59.18.140(3). So, landlords renting out rooms in their own home must still provide at least 60 days’ notice of any increase in rent to comply with this state law.

Can the notice requirement be waived in a rental agreement?

Yes, but only if four specific requirements are met. The law allows a tenant to waive the right to notice if:

  1. The waiver is in writing and identifies the specific provision waived,
  2. The waiver is not a part of a standard form written lease or rental agreement,
  3. The is no “substantial inequality” between the bargaining position of the landlord and the tenant, and
  4. The tenant’s attorney approved in writing that the agreement complies with requirements 1-3.

As a practical matter, these requirements mean that it will not be possible to obtain a valid waiver in most residential leases. And, here again, there is no equivalent waiver provision to RCW 59.18.140(3)’s 60 days’ notice requirement. So, a waiver that complies with the Bellingham law would effectively only reduce the notice requirement from 120 to 60 days.

Where can I get additional information?

The City of Bellingham issued a news release about the ordinance and has developed an FAQ page about the new notification requirement. The ordinance was also covered in articles by Cascadia Daily News, The Bellingham Herald, and KIRO 7.

Landlords with specific questions about notice requirements should consult with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney.

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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