It’s important for you to understand your local laws if you want to become an Airbnb host. We provide a platform and marketplace, but we don’t provide legal advice. Even so, we want to share some information to help you understand the main laws and other rules that relate to short term rentals in Seattle. The information in this article isn’t exhaustive, but it should help you start your research on local laws. Contact the Department of Finance and Administrative Services directly for more information. You can also consult a local lawyer or tax professional.
Here’s information about the new short-term rental registration process in Seattle. Use this section to learn what’s required for your listing. You can learn more about each license type and other requirements in the sections below.
License requirements (four different types of licenses that you may need to apply for)
- Business license tax certificate
- Short-term rental operator's license
- Rental Regulation and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO)
- Bed and breakfast operator's license
What's required for your listing?
- You host your primary residence (entire home or private room)
- You host multiple private rooms in your primary residence
- You host a secondary residence, like a second home or vacation home
- You host multiple secondary residences
- You operate a hotel or motel
- You host as a tenant
The City’s short-term rental ordinance sets operational standards and license requirements for hosts of short-term rentals in Seattle. There are four different types of licenses that you may need to apply for. Here’s an overview of each license:
Business license tax certificate
Anyone who hosts short-term stays (fewer than 30 nights at a time) in Seattle needs a business license tax certificate and may be required to pay business license taxes. You’ll need to get this certificate first before you can apply for your short-term rental operator’s license or bed and breakfast operator’s license, and both the certificate and license are required. A Seattle business license is valid until the end of December of each calendar year. You only need one business license for all of your listings. A Seattle business license is valid until the end of December of each calendar year. You only need one business license for all of your listings.
- It may take anywhere from 48 hours to 2 weeks for you to receive your tax certificate back from the city, so start the process early.
- This application asks for either a state UBI code (the state business license code) or a FEIN (which could be your social security number if you do not have a FEIN). Not everyone is required to have a Washington State business licence, but you are required to have a City of Seattle business license.
Check Seattle’s business license guide for more information on the licensing process.
Short-term rental operator’s license
If you host short-term stays, you’ll also need a short-term rental operator’s license to host in Seattle. The Department of Finance and Administrative Services issues short-term rental licenses, which cost $75 per unit and are valid for one year. Short-term rental licenses are renewed on their anniversary date of issuance. If a license is issued on 10/1/2019 then it is valid until 10/1/2020. You can apply for a license online through the City of Seattle. Once you obtain your short-term rental operator’s license, you’ll need to add the number and expiration date to your listings on Airbnb.
A short-term rental operator’s license allows you to host up to two dwelling units that you own as short-term rentals. One must be your primary residence, which the city defines as “a person’s usual place of return for housing as documented by motor vehicle registration, driver’s license, voter registration, or other such evidence.” The other may be a secondary residence that you also own, like a vacation home or second home.
There are limited exceptions to the maximum number of units, including some exceptions for short-term rentals legally operated before September 2017. Check Ordinance 125490, the City’s summary table, and the City’s short-term rental limits map for more info about limitations.
Pro-tip: You need your business license tax certificate number to complete this application.
Where to find your short-term rental operator’s license and the expiration date: For instructions on how to access your short-term rental operator’s license via the Seattle Service portal, follow the step-by-step City of Seattle short-term rental user guide, pages 31-39. You can find the expiration date and license number on the overview page of the "My Records" section of the website (after you apply and the payment is processed), or under "Attachments" if you click the record number in blue and download the PDF.
Rental Regulation and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO)
If you host a secondary residence, like a second home or vacation home, you’ll also need a Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) registration number in addition to the short-term rental operator’s license and business license tax certificate. This costs $70, requires you to meet basic housing maintenance requirements, and allows the city to inspect the property.
It’s important to note: RRIO requires an inspection within 2 years of registering. You do not need to wait for an inspection to move forward to register for an STR license.
Bed and breakfast operator’s license
If you operate a bed and breakfast, you’ll need a bed and breakfast operator's license. You can apply for a license online through the City of Seattle. The license costs $75 and is valid for one year. Once you obtain your bed and breakfast operator’s license, you’ll need to add it to your listings on Airbnb.
What’s required for your listing?
We put together a few examples to help you understand the different license types and requirements for your listing.
You host your primary residence - entire home or private room
- Seattle business license tax certificate: You can apply online, and should receive your certificate anywhere from 48 hours to 2 weeks to receive your tax certificate back from the city. It costs $55 and must be renewed each year.
- Short-term rental operator’s license: You’ll need your business license tax certificate in order to complete the application. You can apply online, and should receive your license in two weeks. It costs $75 and must be renewed each year.
You host multiple private rooms in your primary residence
You’ll only need one business license tax certificate and one short-term rental operator’s license. Licenses are issued per address, not per room.
You host a secondary residence, like a second home or vacation home
You’ll need a short-term rental operator’s license, which you can apply for on the City of Seattle’s website for $75. Before you apply, you’ll need a Seattle business license tax certificate, a copy of your driver’s license, and a Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) license.
- Seattle business license tax certificate: You can apply online, and should receive your certificate in 1-2 business days. It costs $55 and must be renewed each year.
- RRIO license: You can apply in person and will receive your RRIO license the same day. It costs $70 + $15 unit fee (2+ units), and $175 for a city inspection fee, and must be renewed every 5 years.
- Short-term rental operator’s license: You’ll need your business license tax certificate and RRIO license in order to complete the application. You can apply online, and should receive your license immediately. After the payment is processed, go to "My Records" to get your number. It costs $75 and must be renewed each year.
You host multiple secondary residences
Based on the Seattle law, only one secondary residence per host is eligible for short-term stays in Seattle. If you host multiple secondary residences, you can get a short-term rental operator’s license for one and switch to long-term stays (30+ nights) for the rest. Listings that host only long-term stays don’t need to register for an STR permit and there’s no cost involved, however you are required to obtain an RRIO.
This rule applies to most hosts, but there are a few exceptions. If you started hosting before September 2017, you may still be permitted to operate multiple secondary residence listings based on Seattle’s legacy unit operator rule. If this applies to you, you’ll also need to provide documentation to verify your legacy status.
You operate a hotel or motel
Hotels and motels that list on Airbnb aren’t required to register for a short-term rental permit, but do need to claim a formal exemption. You can claim your exemption directly through Airbnb, free of cost.
You host as a tenant
Tenants are only eligible to host on Airbnb and other platforms if their listing qualifies as a legacy unit. Legacy units are listings in certain Seattle neighborhoods that have been active since before September 2017. If you rent your place and your listing is not legacy unit, you are no longer eligible to host in Seattle.
A short-term rental tax applies to rentals within the city of Seattle. However, Airbnb collects and remits state and local taxes within the State of Washington on your behalf. The state and local taxes are paid for by the guest.
The Seattle Land Use Code regulates land use in Seattle neighborhoods. Seattle defines short-term rentals as a type of lodging activity where a dwelling unit, including a partial unit, is rented to a guest for a fee for fewer than 30 consecutive nights. Short-term rentals are not allowed in some types of properties, like waterfront properties and over water properties, like houseboats. You also need to meet any other requirements that apply to your property, such as parking and noise regulations.
Building and Construction Code
The Seattle Building and Construction Code specifies minimum standards for construction, design, maintenance, habitability, health, and safety. You’re allowed to host short-term rentals in most structures that are established as dwelling units other than RVs, tents, garages, treehouses, tiny houses, boats, houseboats, and live/work units.
Other contracts and rules
As a host, you need to understand and abide by other contracts or rules that bind you, including leases, co-op rules, HOA rules, or other rules established by tenant organizations. You should be able to find out more by contacting your housing authority (such as a community council) or landlord. Your lease (or other contract) might also have specific details.
Our commitment to your community
We are committed to working with local officials to clarify how local rules impact the short term rental community. We will continue to advocate for changes that will enable people to rent out their homes.
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