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.
On March 28, Host Compliance, a company that monitors short-term rental listings for communities, identified 299 unique rental listings in Bellingham on over 60 websites (e.g. Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, etc.). To date, the city hasn't established "vacation rental"
or "short-term rental" as a defined term in the Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC). As such, short-term rentals are currently unregulated and many of these 299 short-term rentals are operating illegally. To operate legally under today's regulations, a short-term rental would need to meet the definition of a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast facility, or another applicable use in the BMC, and obtain a land use permit, if needed. The BMC defines a bed and breakfast facility as "... a single-family residence with not more than two rooms 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 many include limited food service for guests." Bed and breakfast facilities in residential single and residential multi (duplex and multi) designations are allowed with a conditional use permit and 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 city is proposing to replace the regulations for bed and breakfast facilities with the short-term rental ordinance.
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 and
- Protect the rights and safety of owners, guests and neighbors.
City Council Meetings
The City Council public hearing on the draft short-term rental ordinance is scheduled for June 18.
Planning Commission Meetings
Click on the meeting dates below to search in the City Council / Planning Commission meeting calendar for meeting materials associated with each meeting. The March 1, 2018 meeting packet includes the draft ordinance.
On March 22, 2018, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 to forward a recommendation of approval to the City Council on the draft short-term rental ordinance, which will include minor modifications discussed at the meeting. The updated draft ordinance will be posted soon.
The Planning Commission held meetings on the following dates:
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
Frequently asked questions about the draft short-term rental ordinance (March 2018): FAQ Sheet (updated 3/28)
Overview of Planning Commission's Recommended Approach for STR's in Residential Areas (March 2018, pdf)
Municipal Research Services Center article (November 2017):
12 Examples of Short-term Vacation Rental Regulations
Municipal Research Services Center article (February 2016):
Local Government Catching Up with Airbnb and Other Short-Term Transient Rental Businesses