Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program

The Rental Registration & Safety Inspection Program was approved by the Bellingham City Council on March 9, 2015, after more than ten years of public involvement and proposals. RR&SIP is 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 register their property every year and submit the property to inspection every three years.

With an estimated 14,000 rental units in Bellingham, the City Council has determined that some of them are likely unsafe to live in. Based on data from other jurisdictions with similar programs, the City anticipates 10-15% of those total units would be considered substandard at inspection. RR&SIP creates a system to address and monitor rental property issues without the need for a tenant to complain first.

Initial registration will open July 1st, 2015 and close August 1st, 2015. Inspections are scheduled to begin in early 2016. Failure to comply with registration will result in fines and/or penalties. RR&SIP is administered through the City of Bellingham Community Planning & Development Department. Property registration and inspections are processed by the Permit Center.

Printable version of this information:  FAQ​s (PDF)

General Information

What is the Rental Registration & Safety Inspection Program? (RR&SIP)

The City's RR&SIP is a new program that is intended to ensure that all rental housing units are safe to live in.

Why is Bellingham implementing this program?

  • 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.

Are there any "exemptions" to the RR&SIP?

Yes, there are three basic "exemptions." These are:

  • Exempt from the Rental Registration and Inspection Program;
  • Exempt from paying a rental registration fee; and
  • Exempt from a rental inspection.

The RR&SIP does NOT apply to the following housing units:

  • Owner occupied single family residences;
  • Units unavailable for rent;
  • 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 Labor and Industries)
  • Shelters for transitional housing.

The following rental properties are required to register but are NOT required to pay a registration FEE:

  • Owner occupied buildings containing two total 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.

The following rental housing properties or units are NOT required to be inspected:

  • Owner occupied buildings containing two total 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.

What is an owner occupied building containing two total units?

An owner occupied building containing two total units can be any of the following:

  •  A single family home that you own and occupy that has an attached accessory dwelling unit sometimes referred to as a "mother-in-law" apartment;
  • A single family home that you own that also has an attached accessory dwelling unit in which you occupy;
  • A duplex that you own and in which you occupy one of the units within that duplex; and
  • A single family home that you own that has been divided into two apartments and you occupy one of those apartment units.

What are the timelines for registration and inspection?

May 1, 2015: The City will contact rental property owners by mail informing them on how to register their rental property (or properties) during the registration period beginning July 1, 2015 and closing August 1, 2015. Additional public outreach through media and neighborhood associations will be distributed, as well as updates to the RR&SIP website, www.cob.org/rentals.

July 1, 2015: Rental registration period opens. Rental property owners will be able to register online, by mail or deliver their registration in person to the City's Permit Center on the main floor of City Hall.

August 1, 2015: Rental registration period closes. All eligible rental properties must be registered by August 1, 2015. The City will begin conducting follow up with rental property owners who did not register, provided incomplete or inaccurate information or whose initial notification was returned because of an incorrect mailing address or change in ownership.

Early 2016: The City intends to initiate rental inspections at this time. However, the City is currently in the process of implementing a new permitting and inspection system in order to replace the existing obsolete and unsupported software. The City will integrate rental inspections into the new permitting software system. As we learn more about the new software program, we will fine tune the start date for this element of the program.

The City will continue to release updated RR&SIP information as it becomes available using a variety of methods, including the City's web page, www.cob.org/rentals, Technical Assistance Bulletins, educational videos and training sessions.

Are there other communities that have implemented a similar program?

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

Rental Registration

Why do I have to register my rental property?

Registration enrolls the property in the RR&SIP and sets up an inspection schedule..

How much does rental registration cost?

Registration costs are likely to be based upon the number of units that are located on a rental property. The fee structure for rental registration has not yet been established. However, the intent is to set the fees such that it will cover the cost to cover the registration portion of the RR&SIP.

When do I have to register my rental property?

Annually or once per year. Rental registration renewals (and payment of fees) must occur prior to the end of each year in which the registration expires.

Who can register my rental property?

You as the owner or your designated representative (property manager or landlord) may register your rental property. The rental registration form will ask for ownership information and, if applicable the designated representative or agent (property manager or landlord) for the rental property.

Is a rental registration tra​nsferable?

Yes. A rental registration is transferable to any person who at any time has acquired ownership of a registered rental property. However, that rental registration is only valid for the unexpired portion of the one year term for which it was issued.

What happens if I do not register or do not renew my rental property?

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.

What do I do with the registration once it has been validated by the city?

A valid rental registration must either be displayed conspicuously inside every rental unit or provided to each tenant residing on a rental property. If a valid registration is not displayed or provided, the rental property will be in violation of the RR&SIP.

Rental Inspections

When will rental inspections begin?

The City intends to initiate rental inspections in the first quarter of 2016.

How often will rental inspections be performed?

Rental properties will be inspected once every three years.

Who performs the inspection?

City of Bellingham inspectors or an approved consultant under contract to the city will be performing the inspections. If a rental property owner or landlord chooses, they may hire a qualified private inspector provided they have the necessary certifications and are approved by the City.

How much will rental inspections cost?

The City has not set a fee schedule for inspections at this time. The City continues to develop the inspection system. We expect to know the cost of inspections per rental unit by the end of 2015 if not sooner.

Are all of the rental units I own required to be inspected?

Not necessarily. Here are several scenarios that will help you determine if some or all of the rental units you own will be inspected.

  • If you own and occupy a single family home that has an attached accessory dwelling unit that is rented or available for rent it is not required to be inspected.
  • If the same situation exists (as above) but you occupy the attached accessary dwelling unit and the single family home is rented or available for rent it is not required to be inspected.
  • If you own a duplex and occupy one of the units within it and the other unit is rented or available for rent it is not required to be inspected.
  • If you own duplex, triplex or fourplex and do not occupy any of those units then one or more of those units will be inspected.
  • If you own up to 20 rental units (in one or several buildings) on a single rental property up to four total units will be inspected every three years.
  • If you own 21 or more rental units (in one or several buildings) on a single rental property 20% of the total number of units (but not more that 50 total units) will be inspected every three years.

What components of a rental housing unit will be inspected?

 Basic health and life safety components of a rental housing unit. Examples include but may not be limited to; the presence and operability of smoke alarms in each bedroom, carbon monoxide alarms outside of each sleeping area, heating, inspection of plumbing and electrical systems for potential hazards, and the presence and operability of emergency exits in each room.

Are there things within a rental housing unit that will not be inspected?

 Mold may be a symptom of weather intrusion, plumbing leaks, a lack of ventilation or lifestyle choices of the tenant. When mold is observed and determined to be caused by lifestyle, the City will offer advice to the tenant in how to reduce or eliminate mold in their dwelling. The City will not be inspecting for lead paint and asbestos as these are generally not health safety concerns UNLESS they are introduced to air or water by way of removal or disturbance.

Definitions

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.

Contact Information

Planning and Community Development Department, Rental Registration Coordinator, 360-778-8361, rentals@cob.org.