Short-Term Rental Regulations

The City is in the process of developing regulations for short-term rentals (STRs), a booked stay of 29 consecutive nights or fewer. For many years, STRs have been a popular lodging choice for travelers in Europe and certain high volume tourist destinations in the United States. With the advent of technology-based online platforms that facilitate the marketing and booking of STRs, this market has rapidly expanded across the globe. According to Airbnb, one of the leaders in the home sharing industry, roughly 47,000 people stayed with Airbnb hosts during the summer of 2010. By the summer of 2015, that number had increased to nearly 17 million total guests. Airbnb currently touts more than three million listings in 65,000 cities across 191 countries. HomeAway, another home sharing company that includes VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and others, offers more than two million listings in 190 countries.

According to one website that analyzes Airbnb data (, the Bellingham area has 346 active Airbnb listings. While not quite at the scale of peer cities such as Bend, OR (2,254 listings) or Boulder, CO (1,587 listings), without regulation, this practice could continue to rapidly expand. That same website estimates that roughly 33 hosts in the Bellingham area manage more than one Airbnb listing.

To date, the city hasn't established "vacation rental" or "short-term rental" as a defined term in the Bellingham Municipal Code. As such, these uses have been captured under the definition of "bed and breakfast facilities," which states "... a single-family residence with not more than two room let as transient housing. For the purpose of this section, a transient shall be defined as a person who stays for a period not to exceed two weeks. Accommodations may include limited food service for guests." Bed and breakfast facilities are permitted through a conditional use permit that must meet special requirements such as no change in the outside appearance of the building or premises and compliance with local fire codes and guidelines.

The following program goals will guide the discussion on STR regulations:

  • Balance the economic opportunity created by STRs with the need to maintain the City's housing supply.
  • Level the playing field for individuals and companies in the short-term rental market.
  • Protect the rights and safety of owners, guests and neighbors.

Planning Commission Meetings

The Planning Commission public hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 1, 2018

The Planning Commission will hold an additional work session on January 18, 2018 to continue the work started at the 1/4/18 meeting.

The Planning Commission held a work session on January 4, 2018, to consider two options for the new BMC section on STRs.

The Planning Commission held a second work session on September 21, 2017, to review answers to questions posed by Planning Commission during the August work session, and to discuss a potential regulatory approach. During this meeting, the Commission directed staff to develop draft regulations for consideration at a future public hearing. 

The Planning Commission held an initial work session on August 17, 2017 to review background information, current city regulations and regulatory approaches used by other jurisdictions.

City Council Meetings


Public Comments

The public is invited to submit comments throughout the legislative process. Written comments may be submitted to: Planning and Community Development Department, Attn: Lisa Pool - 210 Lottie St. Bellingham, WA 98225 or via email at


Municipal Research Services Center article: 12 Examples of Short-term Vacation Rental Regulations

Municipal Research Services Center article on short-term rentals: Local Government Catching Up with Airbnb and Other Short-Term Transient Rental Businesses