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20.10.037 Short-term rentals.
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A. Purpose. This section provides standards for the establishment of short-term rentals. The regulations are intended to balance the economic opportunity created by short-term rentals with the need to maintain the city’s housing supply and protect the rights and safety of owners, guests and neighbors.

B. Applicability.

1. The regulations and standards in this section apply to short-term rentals citywide, unless otherwise noted.

2. Subsections (D)(1)(a) through (D)(1)(c), (D)(2), (D)(5), and (D)(9)(a) and (D)(9)(b) of this section do not apply to short-term rentals in commercial and urban village general use type areas.

3. Short-term rentals are permitted in residential, commercial and urban village general use type areas per this section.

4. Short-term rentals are not permitted in industrial, institutional or public general use type areas, including these designations within urban village general use type areas.

5. Short-term rentals are permitted in legally established accessory dwelling units in accordance with this section as follows:

a. Short-term rentals are permitted in legally established attached accessory dwelling units citywide.

b. Short-term rentals are permitted in legally established detached accessory dwelling units in commercial, residential multi and urban village general use type areas.

c. Short-term rentals are not permitted in detached accessory dwelling units in residential single general use type areas. If the citywide housing vacancy rate reaches four percent or higher, the city council shall review whether short-term rentals should be allowed in detached accessory dwelling units in residential single general use type areas.

d. On sites where a short-term rental is permitted in a legally established accessory dwelling unit, a short-term rental permit may be obtained for either the primary dwelling unit or accessory dwelling unit, but not both.

e. All other Bellingham Municipal Code sections related to accessory dwelling units apply to short-term rentals, including owner occupancy requirements.

6. Short-term rentals are not permitted on properties in the Lake Whatcom Watershed that drain to Basin One of Lake Whatcom as identified on BMC Map 16.80.040, or shoreline areas regulated per BMC Title 22, Shoreline Master Program.

7. Short-term rentals are not permitted in any dwelling unit or building that has received approval under the city’s multifamily tax exemption program (Chapter 17.82BMC). This standard does not apply after the exemption period has ended.

8. Short-term rentals are not permitted in housing units subsidized through city programs.

9. Specific terms in this section are defined in Chapter 20.08 BMC, Definitions.

10. Short-term rentals do not include hotels or motels. See Chapter 20.08 BMC, Definitions, for definitions of “hotel” and “motel.”

C. Process. Upon the effective date of the ordinance codified in this section, all short-term rental operators will be required to obtain a short-term rental permit. Short-term rental permit applications will be processed per the table below as a Type I or Type II permit in accordance with Chapter 21.10 BMC, Procedures and Administration.

1. The following table applies to all dwelling units:

Short-Term Rental Type:

Review Process Type for Residential General Use Types:

Review Process Type for Commercial and Urban Village General Use Types:

– 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. (1)

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. (1)

Type II

Type I

– Nonprimary 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 (2)

Type I

Notes for the process type table:

1In commercial and urban village general use type areas, the requirements for the minimum number of days per year the dwelling unit must serve as the primary residence of the applicant and the maximum number of days per year the dwelling unit may be rented do not apply.

2If the citywide housing vacancy reaches four percent or higher, the city council shall review whether short-term rentals should be allowed in nonprimary residences in residential general use type areas.

D. Standards.

1. Number of Short-Term Rental Permits per Operator. It is the intent of these regulations to limit the ownership and operation of short-term rentals located in residential general use type areas to no more than one per individual, family living together, domestic partnership, those living as a family unit and/or acting as a principal in any business entity that has ownership of a residential unit. Assigning ownership and/or application for short-term rental use to separate individuals that are living together as a family, in a domestic partnership, or living as a family unit as a means of exceeding this limitation is not permitted.

a. An operator may be a principal, spouse or registered domestic partner of a principal in no more than one short-term rental permit issued pursuant to this section.

b. A maximum of one Type I or Type II short-term rental permit is permitted per operator.

c. A long-term tenant who has signed at least a 270-day lease may serve as a short-term rental operator. The property owner must serve as a co-applicant on the tenant’s application. A tenant’s short-term rental permit counts toward the permit cap of one short-term rental permit for both the tenant and property owner.

2. Number of Short-Term Rentals in Condominiums. No more than one unit or 25 percent of the total units, whichever is greater, in a condominium building may include a short-term rental. If a condominium association approves, more than 25 percent of the dwelling units in the building may include short-term rentals if approved through a Type III-A conditional use permit process.

3. Proof of Primary Residency. An affidavit must be submitted to the planning and community development department on or before January 1st of every even-numbered year attesting to primary residency when the short-term rental is identified as such in the original application.

4. Number of Guests. No more than two guests, excluding children five years old and under, per bedroom are permitted per guest stay.

5. Parking. At least one off-street parking space must be provided for guests on site during guest stay. The planning director may determine, through a simple parking analysis provided by the applicant, that on-street parking or nearby parking may be substituted for off-street parking.

6. Appearance and Behavior.

a. The short-term rental must be operated in a way that will prevent unreasonable disturbances to nearby residents.

b. There must be no change in the outside appearance of the building or premises that indicates the site is hosting a commercial use, other than one flat, unlighted sign not exceeding two square feet in area and mounted flush against the building.

7. Local Contact Person.

a. The name, address and telephone number(s) of a local contact person who is responsible for the short-term rental and lives within an hour’s drive of Bellingham must be submitted with the short-term rental application. This person can be the operator or a designee of the operator.

b. Any changes to the name, address or telephone number(s) of the local contact person must be submitted to the planning and community development department within one month of the change(s).

c. The local contact person shall be available 24 hours a day to ensure that the short-term rental is maintained and operated per the requirements of this section.

8. Notifications.

a. For Type I short-term rental permits:

i. A courtesy notice with information regarding the short-term rental (e.g., description of the rental and number of bedrooms to be rented) and the local contact person’s information must be mailed or delivered to residents and property owners of property abutting and across the street from the short-term rental.

ii. If the Type I short-term rental is located in a multifamily building, the notification letter must be mailed or delivered to all recognized organizations whose boundaries include the short-term rental, the property manager if there is one, and all residents and owners of dwelling units abutting, across the hall from, above, and below the short-term rental.

iii. A copy of the notification letter and a list of the names and addresses of all the residents and property owners that received the notification must be submitted with the short-term rental application.

b. For Type II and Type III-A short-term rental permits, notice must be provided per the noticing procedures in Chapter 21.10 BMC, Procedures and Administration.

c. The planning director shall prepare a set of “good neighbor guidelines” that must be included in the rental agreement and posted in the short-term rental unit, which includes at least the following:

i. A copy of the short-term rental permit;

ii. Contact information for the operator or designated local contact person;

iii. The location of the designated parking space(s), if required;

iv. The location of fire extinguisher(s), fire exits and escape routes;

v. The location of trash, compost and recycling containers; and

vi. Noise considerations and other rules of conduct.

d. The city-issued short-term rental permit number must be clearly displayed on the platform(s) advertising or offering the short-term rental.

9. Events.

a. Type I or Type II short-term rentals must not include weddings, banquets, parties, charitable fundraising, or other gatherings for direct or indirect compensation. The intent of short-term rentals is to provide transient accommodations and allow for limited accessory uses. These limited accessory uses must be consistent with typical residential uses that are allowed.

b. Small, informal noncommercial gatherings of family and friends of short-term rental guests are permitted, provided the gathering is not a disturbance to the surrounding neighborhood.

10. Food. If a short-term rental operator provides breakfast, light snacks, or both to guests, the facility and operator must meet applicable health and safety regulations including, but not limited to, regulations of the Whatcom County health department and the Washington State Department of Health.

11. Safety. The planning and community development department must verify, through a city inspection, that each dwelling unit to be rented to overnight guests meets the following requirements:

a. Each bedroom must comply with building code requirements for a sleeping room that were in place when the bedroom was legally established;

b. Each bedroom must have a smoke alarm that is interconnected with a smoke detector in an adjacent hallway that is in the dwelling unit; and

c. Each bedroom must be located on the floor of a dwelling unit that is equipped with a functioning carbon monoxide alarm. If the dwelling unit does not have fuel burning equipment or an attached garage, a carbon monoxide alarm is not required.

12. Age Requirement. The person booking the short-term rental shall be over the age of 25 years old.

13. Licenses and Taxes.

a. Short-term rental operators shall meet all local, state and federal requirements regarding licenses and taxes.

b. Proof of a valid business license is required with the short-term rental permit application.

14. Insurance. Short-term rental operators shall maintain liability insurance appropriate to cover the short-term rental use in the aggregate of not less than $1,000,000 or conduct each short-term rental transaction through a platform that provides equal or greater insurance coverage.

15. Renewal. Short-term rental permits must be renewed on or before January 1st of every even-numbered year.

16. Nontransferability. Short-term rental permits are not transferable to another operator or location.

17. Permit Revocation.

a. If an operator fails to comply with the regulations of this section and conditions of approval, the planning director shall work with the applicant to achieve voluntary compliance. If voluntary compliance cannot be achieved, the planning director may revoke a short-term rental permit for failure to comply with the regulations of this section. Any such decision may be appealed to the hearing examiner in accordance with BMC 21.10.250.

b. A legally established, previously approved bed and breakfast use is abandoned if the use ceases for at least one year. An operator seeking to reestablish the bed and breakfast use shall obtain a short-term rental permit to operate a bed and breakfast facility.

c. A new short-term rental permit will not be issued to the operator of a revoked bed and breakfast facility or short-term rental until two years from the time of revocation have passed.

18. Nonconforming Status. No use that constitutes or purports to be a short-term rental, which was engaged in that activity prior to the adoption of this section, will be deemed to have been a legally established use under the provisions of the Bellingham Municipal Code and that use will not be entitled to claim legal nonconforming status.

19. Alterations and Expansions. If construction, including expansion of building area or alterations that increase the intensity of the facility, accompanies the short-term rental use, the project will be reviewed for conformance with all applicable building and construction codes.

20. Relationship to Other Sections of the Code. The provisions of this section apply in addition to the provisions of any other code provision or ordinance. Where there is a conflict, the more restrictive provision applies.

21. Effective Date. The provisions of this section and other sections of the Bellingham Municipal Code related to short-term rentals will not take effect until six months after the date of adoption.

22. Evaluation of Ordinance. This section will be reviewed two years from the effective date of the ordinance codified in this section to assess the impact of short-term rentals on the city’s neighborhoods and housing market. [Ord. 2018-11-024 § 5 (Exh. A)].

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