Update on Seattle’s Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance

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In 2014, Seattle’s Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) was implemented, requiring landlords and property managers to register all rental housing units in Seattle with the City of Seattle. According to the schedule dictating the registration deadlines, landlords with 1-4 rental housing units must register their property by a date in 2015-2016 determined by their zip code. Two deadlines have now passed, with another deadline coming up fast. The next deadline is December 31, 2015, and the neighborhoods covered include: Ballard, Westlake, South Lake Union, Mt. Baker, Magnolia and half of Queen Anne.

In addition to the typical rental housing unit, the RRIO also reaches a whole other class of rental properties. A homeowner might be wondering if renting out their mother-in-law basement apartment, a tiny house in the backyard or an apartment over the garage makes them the owner of a “rental housing unit.” The answer is yes, the ordinance is applicable to all accessory dwelling units (basement apartment) and detached accessory dwelling units (backyard cottage or garage apartment).

This leads us to another category of rental properties – short-term rentals. A “host” with space listed on popular vacation rental websites such as Airbnb, VRBO, Flipkey and HomeAway might also wonder whether their property is a “rental housing unit.” Renting out a room in your own home is not considered a “rental housing unit” under the RRIO. Housing units used as vacation or short-term rentals for no longer than 3 consecutive months also do not need to register with the RRIO program. However, if you are renting out an entire housing unit or accessory dwelling unit for more than 3 months, then the RRIO does apply and you must register by your zip code’s deadline.

While Seattle’s RRIO currently does not apply to short-term vacation rentals, we will need to stay tuned to see if Seattle will follow the movement of other major cities. San Francisco recently voted down a measure, Proposition F, which would have imposed restrictions on short-term housing rentals such as restricting all such private rentals to 75 nights per year, requiring reports from “hosts” every 3 months, and prohibiting the use of “in-law” units for short-term rentals. Proposition F would have allowed the city as well as neighbors to enforce its provisions.

Missing a registration deadline, failing to complete a property inspection or renting out a property that does not meet the standards in the RRIO checklist can be costly. The City may issue a violation, impose penalties, and take legal action. Penalties are $150 per day for the first 10 days and $500 per day after that.

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