Short-Term Rentals

In December 2017, the City of Seattle adopted new regulations for short-term rentals. This impacts short-term rental operators, platform (e.g., Airbnb, VRBO) and, in some cases, bed and breakfast operators.

What is a short-term rental?

A short-term rental is a type of lodging where a home, or part of a home, is rented for a fee for fewer than 30 consecutive nights. Examples of short-term rentals are those rented through platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO.

What is a short-term rental platform?

Platforms are companies that facilitate rentals and charge a fee for the facilitation. Ordinance 125490 defines a platform as "a person or entity that provides a means through which an operator may offer a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for short-term rental use, or which a bed and breakfast operator may offer a bed and breakfast unit and from which the person or entity financially benefits." An example of a platform is an online rental service like Airbnb or VRBO.

Publishing a short-term rental advertisement without charging a fee for facilitating accommodations does not make the publisher a short-term rental platform.

What is a short-term rental regulatory license and do I need one?

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, if you are operating a short-term rental in Seattle, you must have a short-term rental regulatory license (aka operator's license). The Department of Finance and Administrative Services issues short-term rental regulatory licenses, which are valid for one year. This license is in addition to a Seattle business license tax certificate.

Short-term rentals are also subject to new requirements and rules in the Land Use Code. Contact the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections with questions related to the Land Use Code.

How do I get a short-term rental regulatory license?

The City's online system for applying for a short-term rental license (either as an operator or as a platform) or bed and breakfast operator license will not be available until Jan. 2, 2019. Although the new short-term regulations take effect on Jan. 1, due to the delay in launching the online system, City staff will be focusing initial enforcement efforts on outreach and education. For now, please review information on this page and take steps to make sure you are well prepared (e.g., have applied for and been issued a City of Seattle business license tax certificate) when the license application system goes online.

How much will the license cost?

The new license will cost $75 per unit and will be valid for one year. You must also have a Seattle business license tax certificate.

How many short-term rentals may I operate?

If you have an operator's license, you may operate up to two dwelling units you own as short-term rentals. If you operate two dwelling units as STRs, one must be your primary residence. The other may be located in another dwelling unit you own. You may rent out the entire dwelling unit or just a portion of it, such as a bedroom or an accessory apartment.

There are limited exceptions to the maximum number of units, including some exceptions for short-term rentals legally operated before September 2017. See Ordinance 125490 and refer to this summary table and reference map for more information on the limits.

What requirements must I meet to rent out my units?

  • The rules in Ordinance 125490 defines the owner of a short-term rental property as the "operator." An operator may hire a property management company to list and manage short-term rentals, but the operator's license must be in the owner's name.
  • The short-term rental operator license number (issued by the City) must appear on any listing advertising the property for use as a short-term rental. The City has proposed a director's rule that will allow, during the first 120 days following the effective date of Ordinance 125490, online listings to not include an operator's license number assuming the operator is actively applying for a license (and the City is processing that application).
  • The operator must follow new operating standards, such as posting basic safety information and providing a local contact number for guests in the unit.
  • The building must meet current building and safety codes.

Refer to Ordinance 125490 for more information.

I operate a bed and breakfast. How do these rules affect me?

If you operate a bed and breakfast AND you use a short-term rental platform like Airbnb and VRBO to list your property, you will need a bed and breakfast operator's license. The Department of Finance and Administrative Services will issue this license. The license will cost $75 and will be valid for one year.

Other common questions

If you already have a Seattle business license tax certificate for your short-term rental business, it will meet our short-term rental regulations. You are still required to obtain the short-term rental operator license to legally operate your short-term rental(s) in Seattle.

Yes. However, after Jan. 1, 2019, the City expects operators to be actively working to meet the City's short-term rental requirements. By the end of the 120-day implementation period proposed by Director's Rule STR-7, operators and their units should be licensed and meeting the City's requirements.

If you are operating your primary residence as a short-term rental, your home must meet basic habitability requirements, but you do not need to register your home with RRIO or have your unit inspected.

If you have a dedicated short-term rental unit (i.e., not your primary residence or a portion of your primary residence), you must register that unit in and comply with the RRIO program. Visit the RRIO website for more information.

If you operate a short-term rental without a short-term rental regulatory license, or if you use a platform to offer a bed and breakfast unit without a bed and breakfast operator license, you may be subject to a $500 penalty for the first violation. Second and subsequent violations are subject to $1,000 penalties.

If you operate a business in Seattle without a Seattle business license tax certificate, you may be subject to a $513 citation.

As the City begins enforcing short-term rental regulations, it will work with operators to bring them into compliance before taking a more punitive approach.

An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and a detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU) are defined in SMC 23.84A.032 and SMC 23.84A.032, respectively, under residential use. When used as a short-term rental on the same parcel as a primary residence, an ADU would not be included in the short-term operator licensing fee paid for the primary residence. Likewise, when used as a short-term rental on the same parcel as a primary residence, a DADU would not be included in the short-term operator licensing fee paid for the primary residence.

An ADU is considered a separate dwelling unit and would require a license to be considered a short-term rental. A DADU is considered a separate dwelling unit and would require a license to operate as a short-term rental.

SMC 6.600 will not apply to a right of occupancy associated with a bona fide earnest money agreement to purchase or contract sale of the dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part. This arrangement is commonly referred to as a rent back.

In March 2018, Governor Inslee signed into law HB 2015, which changes some of the rules for lodging excise taxes. Visit the Department of Revenue's website for more information regarding Washington state requirements for short-term rentals.

As a result of HB 2015, in June 2018 the City Council repealed Ordinance 125442, which would have imposed a separate Seattle city tax on short-term rentals.