Floating Residences Code

See also: Floating Residences, Land Use Code, Shoreline Master Program, Shoreline Master Program Update

What Is It?

The Shoreline Master Program (SMP) limits uses and development in the City’s shoreline environments (on land and over-water). The SMP includes many regulations specific to floating residences, such as floating residence verifications, uses, development, and records updates. In addition to liveaboards on conventional recreational vessels, the City recognizes these types of floating residences:

  • Floating homes
  • Floating on-water residences (FOWRs)
  • House barges
  • Vessels containing dwelling units (VDUs)

As part of the Shoreline Master Program updates in 2015, owners of existing floating residences are required to complete a one-time verification or registration process to remain on the water. When verified, each residence is assigned a unique 3-digit number. Owners must keep their verification records current, which includes updating the City about any changes in ownership or location. Liveaboards on conventional recreational vessels (CRVs) as defined in the Shoreline Master Program are exempt from these requirements. 

Owners must update the City's records every time a floating residence changes ownership or location (address, parcel, marina, slip). The City requires floating residence records to be updated within 60 days of one of the above changes. To update the City records:

    When SDCI receives your record update, a land use routing coordinator will create an SDCI digital record in the Seattle Services Portal, assign a unique record number, notify the applicant of the record number, collect fees, and upload submitted materials. Once this is completed, the shoreline code compliance analyst will review the record update materials. 

    Note: Submittal instuctions and forms are occasionally updated. Make sure you are following the latest instructions and using the latest forms by checking this site each time you need to update your record. 

    Nearly all development actions on floating residences require some form of authorization from SDCI. The SMP states: “No development shall be undertaken, no shoreline modification shall be made, and no use, including a use that is located on a vessel, shall be established in the Shoreline District unless the Director has determined that it is consistent with the policy of the Shoreline Management Act and the regulations of this Chapter 23.60A. This restriction applies even if no shoreline substantial development permit is required” (SMC 23.60A.012).

    Before you start work on your floating residence project ensure your project is in compliance with Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) and Seattle Municipal Code (SMC). Consult the following resources to determine what approvals are required for your project. 

    If after review of the above, you need more information, please schedule a paid zoning coaching appointment with a Land Use Planner. 

    Important: An “exemption” is a type of required authorization. If your project qualifies for an exemption, that does not mean that you do not need any authorizations from SDCI. You must apply for a shoreline exemption authorization.

    SDCI is accepting verification applications for floating on-water residences that meet the requirements of SMC 23.60A.203.B. Applications submitted under these code provisions must demonstrate the following:

    1. The residence you want to verify has been continuously used as a residence in the City of Seattle since a date prior to July 1, 2014. You must demonstrate this by providing evidence, including, but not limited to, one or more of the examples below. 
      1. Dated receipts for payment of rent or moorage fees for a liveaboard lease or sublease in a marina.
      2. A signed, dated lease indicating liveaboard status tied to the specific floating residence you want to verify.
      3. Voting registration records indicating that the primary residence is the marina address.
    2. Sworn statements of the owner, marina employees, or others are not sufficient for verification without additional independent documention proving the residential use since a date prior to July 1, 2014.

    FOWR verification application instructions:  

    • Download and complete a FOWR Verification Application Form.
    • Assemble all required materials listed on the application form (residential use records, photos, plans or drawings, etc).
      • Accepted verification includes, but is not limited to, a copy of a dated and signed lease (this is the preferred verification method) and confirmation of use as a residence. 
      • SDCI will consider other supporting information, such as a written statement from the marina owner, dated historical photographs, licenses, and other material clearly demonstrating that the proposed floating on-water residence has been lawfully in place and in use as a residence before July 1, 2014.
    • Pay required fees.
    • Submit your application to SDCI in the following ways:
      1. By US mail:
        Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections
        P.O. Box 34019
        Seattle, WA 98124‐4019
      2. By email:
    • Pay your fees in the following ways:
      1. Make a payment via the Seattle Services Portal once SDCI has initiated your project in the portal
      2. Send a check and your reference information to:
        Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections
        Attn: Cashiers
        P. O. Box 34234
        Seattle, WA 98124-1234

    When SDCI receives your FOWR verification application, a land use routing coordinator will create an SDCI digital record in the Seattle Services Portal, assign a unique record number, notify the applicant of the record number, collect fees, and upload application materials to the record. The FOWR verification application team will then review and evaluate your application materials.

        • Once the City approves your application, you will receive a unique, three-digit verification number. Your verification number must be displayed on your residence and be visible at all times.
        • All information and dimensions provided for verification purposes are subject to field inspection, and staff may require additional plans and measurements before you obtain the necessary authorizations for subsequent repair, remodeling, or replacement of a registered residence.

    Note: Submittal instuctions and forms are occasionally updated. Make sure you are following the latest instructions and using the latest forms by checking this site each time you need to update your record. 

    Read the Code

    In order to comply with the Seattle Municipal Code, floating residence owners must: 

    • Display a City-assigned, unique identification number.
    • Obtain SDCI authorization before starting any exterior repair, remodel, expansion, demolition, rebuild, or replacement.
    • Follow City of Seattle best management practices (BMPs) while in the shoreline and over-water to minimize impacts on the aquatic environment.
    • Before moving a floating residence, make sure the new location is compliant with City regulations for marinas with floating residences.
    • Notify the City of Seattle within 60 days when you move your residence to a new tax parcel, new marina, or new slip within the same marina.
    • Notify the City of Seattle within 60 days of any change in ownership or contact information for the owner.
    • Do not use your floating residence as a short-term rental (under 30-days). Short-term rentals are considered a commercial use and are prohibited in all over-water locations, and in nearly all of Seattle’s shoreline district.


    Need to Report an Environmental Issue? 

    Note: There are no penalties for reporting a spill unnecessarily, but there may be significant penalties for not reporting one.

    For spills of oil or hazardous substances into Seattle waterbodies: 

    1. Report the spill immediately to:
      Washington Emergency Management Division
      1 (800) 258-5990
    2. If you spill, you must also call 1 (800) 424-9902
    3. After you report the spill to Washington Emergency Managment Division, contact:
      Seattle Shoreline Code Compliance
      (206) 256-5410

    For non-emergency spills, discharge of waste or other materials, debris release events, or other pollution into Seattle waterbodies:

    1. Report the spill as soon as possible to:
      Washington State Department of Ecology
      Statewide Environmental Incident Report Form
      (206) 594-000
    2. Contact Seattle Shoreline Code Compliance:
      (206) 256-5410

    Construction and Inspections

    Nathan Torgelson, Director
    Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
    Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
    Phone: (206) 684-8600
    Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
    Contact Us

    Newsletter Updates


    Sign up for the latest updates from Construction and Inspections

    SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.