Alarm system monitoring FAQ

The City of Seattle requires each alarm-monitoring company in Seattle to obtain an annual license. For licensing information and a list of fees, see businesses that require a regulatory endorsement.

Do homeowners or businesses need an alarm license or permit?

No. Your alarm monitoring company is responsible for the system license and paying the required fee(s).

What is the false alarm fee?

In addition to annual license fees, alarm monitoring companies will be billed $115 for false burglar alarms and $230 for false panic/duress/robbery alarms at any location inside Seattle city limits when the Seattle Police Department (SPD) have been dispatched and arrive at the alarm location. If SPD is dispatched but the call is canceled prior to their arrival at the alarm site, the false alarm fee is $30. For more information, see the Seattle police department false alarm program.

What is the purpose of this law?

The main intent of the law is to hold alarm-monitoring companies and their customers more accountable for false alarms, and reduce the number of unnecessary police and fire responses. The fees offset the costs to the Seattle Police and Fire Departments when responding to false or unintentional alarms. More than 98 percent of all burglar and property alarms ultimately prove to be false alarms.

Can alarm companies pass along fees to customers?

Yes. Because of this, the City of Seattle urges consumers to understand their contractual agreements and the alarm-monitoring companies' obligations. If your alarm-monitoring company passes these charges on to you, it is possible administrative costs will be added to the license fees and to the false burglar alarm fees. Your alarm-monitoring company will also owe state and local business and occupation (B&O) taxes on any amounts passed on to and collected from their customers. The amount of state and local B&O taxes for each alarm fee is:

  • $10 annual license fee for burglary, panic and robbery alarms: $0.19 in taxes.
  • $76 annual license fee for fire and sprinkler alarm systems: $1.44 in taxes.
  • $223 annual license fee for fire and sprinkler alarm systems: $4.24 in taxes.
  • $693 annual license fee for fire and sprinkler alarm systems: $13.17 in taxes.
  • $230 false burglar alarm fee (per occurrence): $4.37 in taxes.
  • $115 false burglar alarm fee (per occurrence): $2.19 in taxes.
  • $30 false burglar alarm fee (per occurrence): $0.57 in taxes.

If an alarm-monitoring company decides to pass along the cost of the individual alarm fee to subscribers, each subscriber must be provided a copy of its policies and practices with respect to the billing of this fee, including information about any administrative charges added to the license fees. You may also be offered options by your alarm-monitoring company to lower your costs, such as dispatching private security services instead of the Seattle Police Department when your alarm is activated.

Why doesn't the City charge the fees directly to the customer?

Seattle's main intent with this law is to hold alarm-monitoring companies more accountable for false alarms, and reduce the number of unnecessary police and fire responses. Alarm monitoring companies are the experts and should be teaching their customers how to properly set and care for their alarm systems. National and local statistics have proven that raising fines paid directly by homeowners and businesses have had no significant impact on reducing the number of false alarms. Alarm-monitoring companies have enjoyed the benefit of police response to their customers' alarms without any accountability for the accuracy or reliability of those alarms.

How were these fees determined?

The fees were set following careful analysis of response costs when an alarm activates (regardless of whether the alarm activation was false). In 2002, more than 98 percent of the dispatched alarm calls for police response were deemed false. In 2001, more than 75 percent of the dispatched alarm calls for fire response were deemed false, unintentional, or a system malfunction. Historically the costs of these responses have been paid by the City's general fund. Seattle estimates the fees will recover more than $1.8 million in City costs that were previously absorbed by general taxpayers.

Is sales tax added to the fee?

State and local retail sales taxes are not due on alarm monitoring activities or on the fees charged to the companies by the City. Any billings by the companies greater than the amount for the City fee, plus the applicable business and occupation taxes, represent administrative fees and/or profit added by the company.

What if I cancel my service or switch companies?

The City does not refund license fees to alarm-monitoring companies when subscribers cancel their service. Individual alarm companies may have their own policies regarding refunds. The City is allowing subscribers to switch monitoring companies without charging the new monitoring company for a license fee that was paid within the calendar year by the previous monitoring company. Be prepared to provide your new company with the documentation of prior payment.

Are monitored medical alarms subject to these fees?

No. Monitored medical alarms are not included in this new law. These alarms differ from panic alarms, which are covered. Panic alarms receive police response based on fear of impending injury or bodily harm due to criminal activity, while medical alarms generally receive fire response based on an emergency due to a pre-existing (doctor-diagnosed) medical condition.

Is there a senior or fixed-income discount?

The City offers no discounts. Your alarm-monitoring company may offer discounts.

What if my alarm is activated during a power outage?

During power outages, alarm activation may occur when an alarm system battery is low or faulty, or in some cases, the reason for the alarm activation is unknown. Alarm installation, equipment or maintenance of any alarm system is not a police matter and must be handled by the alarm user or the alarm company. When your alarm company calls SPD and officers are dispatched to your location but find no evidence of a crime, attempted crime or other emergency documented by physical evidence, your alarm company will be charged a false alarm fee which they may subsequently pass on to you. For fees, see above question "What is the false alarm fee?"

How can I learn more about the alarm-system monitoring law?