King County, Washington Short-Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

King County, Washington

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What are Short-Term Rental (Airbnb, VRBO) Regulations in King County, Washington?

Short-term rental regulations in King County, Washington vary by city and jurisdiction. It's important for vacation rental owners to familiarize themselves with the specific rules and requirements in their area to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues. Here are some key regulations to be aware of:

Starting a Short-Term Rental Business in King County

To legally operate a short-term rental in most cities in King County, you'll need to:

  • Obtain a business license tax certificate from your city. For example, in Seattle, this is required for all short-term rentals.
  • If renting out a secondary residence (not your primary home), register with the city's Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) program. This costs $70 in Seattle and requires meeting basic housing maintenance standards.
  • Obtain a short-term rental operator's license from your city. Seattle has specific requirements around this, like only allowing one secondary residence per host to be used for short-term rentals.
  • Add your registration/license details to your listings on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

Some cities have additional rules beyond licensing. For example:

  1. In Kirkland, there are parking requirements of 1 space per rental, plus 2 more if permanent residents live there.
  2. Gig Harbor recently passed an ordinance restricting rentals to certain zones and requiring a conditional use permit in some cases.
  3. Leavenworth only allows "bed-and-breakfasts" as a conditional use if the owner resides on premises during stays.

It's crucial to check your specific city's municipal code and regulations. Condo and homeowners associations may also have their own rules around short-term rentals that you need to follow.

At the state level, Washington passed a law (RCW 64.37) in 2019 with some general requirements for short-term rentals, like consumer safety and liability insurance. However, most of the detailed regulation happens at the city/county level.

Ultimately, starting a short-term rental business in King County requires carefully navigating the licensing, permitting, and zoning rules in your particular jurisdiction. Many owners find it helpful to consult with local government offices, lawyers, or tax professionals to ensure they are in full compliance.

Short-Term Rental Licensing Requirements in King County

Short-term rental regulations in King County vary by city, so it's important to check your specific jurisdiction's requirements. However, most cities in the county have similar licensing processes. Here's an overview of what's typically required:

Business License: You'll need to obtain a general business license from your city to legally operate a short-term rental. For example, in Seattle, this costs $125 initially. Check your city's website or contact their business licensing department for specific fees and forms.

Short-Term Rental Operator's License: Many cities, like Seattle, require a specific short-term rental operator's license in addition to the business license. In Seattle, this costs $75 per unit annually and the unit must be your primary residence (where you live 6+ months of the year). You can usually apply for this online through the city's business licensing portal.

Rental Registration: If your short-term rental is not your primary residence, you likely need to register it with the city's rental inspection program. For example, Seattle's RRIO program charges $70 for this and requires an inspection to meet housing standards.

The typical timeline is:

  1. Get your business license (may take 1-2 weeks to receive after applying)
  2. Register with rental inspection program if required (1-2 weeks for registration, then schedule inspection)
  3. Apply for short-term rental operator license (instant upon completing application and paying fee)

So expect the full process to take anywhere from 2-6 weeks depending on scheduling and processing times. It's important to have all licenses in place before listing and renting your unit.

Fines and Penalties

Cities can impose fines between $150-500 per day for operating without the proper licenses. For example, Seattle can take enforcement action and issue fines if you're not in compliance with their short-term rental operator license requirement.

Some cities like Kirkland and Gig Harbor also have specific zoning restrictions or permitting requirements for short-term rentals, with potential additional fines for violations. Always carefully review your city's municipal code and check with their planning/zoning department if unsure.

The key is to start the licensing process early, ensure you meet all requirements unique to your unit and jurisdiction, and wait until everything is in order before launching your short-term rental business. This will help you avoid penalties and ensure you're in full legal compliance.

Required Documents for King County Short-Term Rentals

To legally operate a short-term rental in King County, you'll need to gather and submit the following documents:

  1. Business License Application: This registers your short-term rental as a business with your city. It requires basic information about the owner/operator and property. Apply through your city's business licensing department or online portal. For example, in Seattle, this is the Short-Term Rental Operator License Application.
  2. Proof of Residence: For your primary residence (where you live 6+ months per year), you'll need to provide documentation like a driver's license, voter registration card, or utility bill in your name and address. This proves the property is your main home, a requirement for many cities' operator licenses.
  3. Rental Registration Form: If your short-term rental is not your primary residence, you must register it with the city's rental inspection program. This ensures the property meets basic safety and maintenance standards. For example, the Seattle RRIO program application requires owner and property details.
  4. Floor Plan: Some cities require you to submit a floor plan of the short-term rental property, indicating which rooms/spaces will be rented out to guests. This is to ensure compliance with occupancy limits and other regulations.
  5. Parking Plan: Certain jurisdictions have specific parking requirements for short-term rentals. You may need to submit a parking plan showing available off-street parking spaces. Check your city's municipal code for details.
  6. Land Use Permit Application: A few cities, like Gig Harbor, require conditional use permits for short-term rentals in certain zones. This involves a more extensive land use permit application process with the planning department.
  7. Tax Registration Forms: You'll need to register your short-term rental with the Washington Department of Revenue for state taxes, and potentially additional local tax authorities. This is separate from the city business license. Forms are available on the DOR website.

These documents are typically submitted to your city's business licensing and planning/zoning departments, either in-person, by mail, or online. Some, like the tax registration, are handled through county or state offices.

It's crucial to carefully review the exact requirements for your city, as they can vary. Check your local government's website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date forms, fees, and submission instructions to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork for your short-term rental.

King County Short-Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rentals in King County are subject to several types of taxes that must be collected from guests and remitted to the appropriate authorities. Here's a breakdown of the key taxes to be aware of:

Sales Tax

  1. The combined state and local sales tax rate in King County ranges from 10.1% to 10.5% depending on the exact location.
  2. This includes the state rate of 6.5% plus local city and county rates.
  3. Sales tax applies to all short-term rental charges, including cleaning fees, pet fees, etc.

Convention and Trade Center Tax

  1. Effective January 1, 2019, all lodging businesses in King County, regardless of size, must collect the Convention and Trade Center tax.
  2. The rate is 7% in Seattle and 2.8% in the rest of King County.
  3. This tax is in addition to the regular sales tax.

Special Hotel/Motel Tax

  1. Many cities in King County also impose an additional special hotel/motel tax on short-term rentals.
  2. Rates vary by city but are typically around 1-2%. For example, the rate in Bellevue is 2%.

Tourism Promotion Area Charges

  1. Some cities have established Tourism Promotion Areas and charge an additional fee on lodging to fund tourism marketing.
  2. For example, Seattle has a TPA charge of $2 per night per occupied room.

So in total, short-term rentals in King County are subject to sales tax of 10.1-10.5%, Convention Center tax of 2.8-7%, potentially a special hotel/motel tax around 1-2%, and in some cases a flat TPA fee per night. All of these taxes must be collected from the guest as part of their bill.

Deductions and Write-Offs

Short-term rental operators can typically deduct expenses directly related to running their rental business. This may include:

  1. Mortgage interest and property taxes
  2. Utilities
  3. Cleaning and maintenance costs
  4. Supplies
  5. Platform service fees (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.)
  6. Depreciation on furnishings and equipment

It's best to consult with a tax professional to determine exactly which deductions apply to your rental business. Good recordkeeping is essential.

Hosts should also be aware that short-term rental income is subject to federal income tax and potentially state income tax as well. But many of the expenses listed above can be used to offset that income tax liability.

The key is understanding your tax obligations at the local, state, and federal level and staying on top of your tax filings. With the proper registrations, collection of taxes from guests, and strategic use of deductions, King County short-term rental operators can stay compliant while maximizing their profits.

Washington State-Wide Short-Term Rental Rules

In addition to King County's specific regulations, short-term rental hosts must also comply with state-level laws in Washington. Here are some key state-wide rules to be aware of:

Defining Short-Term Rentals

  • Washington state law (RCW 64.37) defines a short-term rental as any lodging provided for less than 30 consecutive days.
  • This broad definition encompasses a wide range of rental types, from entire homes to individual rooms.

Business Licensing

  • All short-term rental operators in Washington must register with the state Department of Revenue and obtain a business license.
  • This involves getting a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number from the state.


  • Short-term rental income is subject to state sales tax (6.5%) and any applicable local lodging taxes.
  • Short-term rental booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo collect and remit state and local taxes on behalf of hosts in Washington.
  • However, hosts are still required to register with the Department of Revenue and file regular tax returns reporting their rental income, even if taxes are collected by the platform.

Liability Insurance

  • State law requires short-term rental operators to maintain primary liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million.
  • Alternatively, hosts can use a platform like Airbnb or Vrbo that provides equal or greater liability coverage.

Consumer Safety

  • Short-term rentals must meet all local building codes and have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and adequate means of egress.
  • Hosts are prohibited from engaging in unlawful discrimination.

Platform Requirements

Booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo must register with the state, inform hosts of their tax collection obligations, and provide safety information to guests.

While not exhaustive, these state-level regulations provide a framework that King County hosts must operate within. It's important to understand both the state and local legal landscape to ensure full compliance.

As always, short-term rental laws can change over time, so hosts should stay informed of any updates or amendments to state statutes. When in doubt, consult with local officials or a qualified attorney for the most current and accurate regulatory information.

Does King County Strictly Enforce STR Rules?

Based on discussions in real estate investing forums like BiggerPockets and Reddit, it appears that King County does enforce its short-term rental regulations fairly strictly, especially compared to other jurisdictions. Seattle in particular is known for having some of the tightest Airbnb rules in the country.

One Reddit user shared their experience trying to evict a tenant from their rental property in Seattle, noting that "Of all the places I would never want to be a landlord, King County is at the top of the list." They described waiting years for a court date due to the city's eviction bans and changing laws.

Another Redditor mentioned that their attorney said they were "lucky the house wasn't in King County" when they had to evict a tenant for nonpayment in nearby Pierce County. This suggests King County's rules are particularly stringent.

On the BiggerPockets forums, an investor posted about seeking an "Airbnb arbitrage opportunity" in Seattle, where they would lease a property from an owner to sub-let on Airbnb. However, the lack of replies may indicate this isn't a popular or easy strategy in the city.

While there are undoubtedly some hosts operating short-term rentals under the radar in King County, the consensus seems to be that the county and its cities (especially Seattle) are not very Airbnb-friendly compared to other markets. The regulations are strict and the authorities do enforce them.

One Seattle Reddit thread discussed a house that was sold to an "Airbnb mogul" and now operates as a short-term rental, with neighbors frustrated by the situation. This shows that even when STRs do exist, the community and city often crack down on them swiftly.

So in summary, King County appears to have a fairly hostile regulatory environment for short-term rentals, with active enforcement of their strict rules. Hosts considering operating STRs in the county should be cautious and well-versed in all the applicable laws and restrictions. It's not an Airbnb-friendly market compared to other major metros.

How to Start a Short-Term Rental Business in King County

Starting a short-term rental business in King County requires careful planning and adherence to local regulations. Follow these steps to launch your venture successfully:

Research local regulations: Thoroughly review King County's short-term rental laws, including zoning restrictions, licensing requirements, and tax obligations. Visit your city's website or contact their business licensing department for the most up-to-date information.

Choose a property: Select a property that complies with local zoning laws and is well-suited for short-term rentals. Consider factors like location, amenities, and potential guest appeal. If you plan to rent out your primary residence, ensure it meets the county's requirements.

Register your business: Register your short-term rental business with the Washington State Department of Revenue and obtain a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number. This is required for tax purposes and business licensing.

Obtain necessary licenses: Apply for a business license from your city, which is required to legally operate a short-term rental. In Seattle, you'll also need a specific Short-Term Rental Operator's License. Gather required documents like proof of residence and property details.

Comply with safety regulations: Ensure your rental property meets all building codes, safety standards, and health regulations. This includes providing working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and adequate means of egress. Schedule any necessary inspections.

Set up your rental space: Furnish and equip your rental property to create an inviting space for guests. Consider essential amenities, attractive décor, and any unique features that will set your rental apart. Take high-quality photos for your listings.

Choose a booking platform: Select a reputable booking platform like Airbnb or Vrbo to list your property. Create a compelling listing with detailed descriptions, amenities, and high-quality photos. Set competitive rates based on your market research.

Manage your bookings: Establish a system for managing bookings, communicating with guests, and coordinating cleanings between stays. You can handle this yourself or hire a property management company to assist you.

Comply with tax requirements: Collect and remit all applicable taxes, including state and local sales tax, lodging taxes, and any other required fees. Platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo will collect some taxes on your behalf, but you are still responsible for proper reporting.

Maintain your property: Regularly maintain and update your rental property to ensure it remains in top condition for guests. Respond promptly to any guest concerns or maintenance issues that arise.

Tips for Success:

  • Provide exceptional customer service to earn positive reviews and repeat bookings
  • Stay up-to-date on any changes to local short-term rental regulations
  • Maintain accurate records of your income and expenses for tax purposes
  • Consider hiring a professional photographer to showcase your rental property
  • Develop a thorough cleaning and sanitization protocol between guest stays
  • Continuously improve your listing and amenities based on guest feedback

By following these steps and prioritizing compliance with King County's regulations, you'll be well-positioned to launch and grow a successful short-term rental business.

Who to Contact in King County about Short-Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

For questions about short-term rental regulations and zoning in King County, particularly in the City of Seattle, here are the key contacts:

Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI)

  • Phone: (206) 684-8850
  • Email: Send SDCI a question online via their Contact Us form
  • Address: Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98104

SDCI handles land use and zoning questions, building codes, and rental property inspections. They can help clarify where short-term rentals are allowed under the Land Use Code.

Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS)

  • Phone: (206) 684-2489 (CITY)
  • Email:
  • Address: Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

FAS oversees business licensing for short-term rentals in Seattle, including the required Short-Term Rental Operator's License. Contact them for questions about the licensing process, fees, and posting requirements.

In addition to official city resources, connecting with other local short-term rental hosts can provide valuable insights and support. Some helpful communities include:

Seattle Area Airbnb Host Facebook Group - An active group of Airbnb hosts in the Seattle area who share tips and advice.

Short-Term Rental Forum on BiggerPockets - While not King County specific, the BiggerPockets forums have useful discussions about short-term rental investing and regulations in Washington State.

By utilizing both official government contacts and host community resources, short-term rental operators in King County can stay informed of the latest rules and requirements to run their business successfully.

What Do Airbnb Hosts in King County on Reddit and BiggerPockets Think about Local Regulations?

Based on discussions in local real estate investing forums, short-term rental hosts in King County have mixed feelings about the strict regulations they face, especially in Seattle. Here are some key takeaways from verified local threads:

Reddit - r/SeattleWA

In a thread about renting in King County, one commenter shared their challenging experience trying to evict a non-paying tenant in Seattle:

"I'm a landlord in Seattle and am still waiting on a court date to evict a tenant that hasn't paid since March 2020. With the eviction ban, then ever changing laws, first court date is this month. Then with the winter eviction ban, free rent through March either way."

They noted that "Of all the places I would never want to be a landlord, King County is at the top of the list." This sentiment was echoed by others, with one replying "This is why the only places available to rent are in fucking high-rises."

Reddit - r/Seattle

A post in the Seattle subreddit from a homeowner who unknowingly sold their house to an "Airbnb mogul" generated discussion about the impact of short-term rentals on housing affordability.

The original poster expressed frustration, saying "Fuck you, if you do this. We are in the middle of a housing crisis. Next time you complain about the people in tents with garbage piled on the sidewalk, know that it's largely in part due to the fact that our housing is not protected from this predatory behavior."

Commenters debated potential solutions, with one arguing "we need to start thinking of housing as a human right, not a plaything for investors or 'passive income' types. Especially when these schemes (like Airbnb) create even further scarcity of housing."

BiggerPockets Forums

On the BiggerPockets forums, a new investor asked for tips on starting a short-term rental in the Seattle area. One response cautioned:

"Seattle is notoriously hard on owners/hosts, and the last thing you want is a potential bad apple playing the 'eviction game' with you, tying up your property for months on end with no income and high legal fees."

In another thread about local opportunities, hosts discussed the potential tradeoffs between short and long-term rentals given Seattle's tight rental market:

"Seeing as LTRs are on the scarce side in Seattle and rents are high, you might do nearly as well with a long term tenant vs STR."

Overall, while some hosts are still finding ways to operate short-term rentals profitably in King County, many express frustration with the strict regulatory environment, especially in Seattle proper. The city's rules around licensing, zoning, and tenants' rights create unique challenges compared to other markets. As a result, some investors are shifting towards long-term rentals or looking to neighboring counties with fewer restrictions.

Disclaimer: While we here at BNBCalc strive to keep all of our regulation guides updated and accurate with all the latest local laws, we still do not suggest using them as your sole or primary source for local regulations. We also do not recommend you rely on the third-party sources we link to or reference, and we are not responsible for any of the information on these third-party sites. These guides are for entertainment purposes only and only provide basic information and should not be considered as legal advice.

We highly recommend directly contacting the responsible parties for each and hearing what their officials have to say. Ultimately, it's your responsibility as an investor to ensure you fully comply with the local laws, and it's best to speak with professionals before making an investment decision.

Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.