Floating On-Water Residence Page


Floating On-Water Residence Page

Fillable Forms and Instructions available below

Change to Title Transfer for (most) Floating On-Water Residences


In 2006 the Department of Licensing changed their definition of Houseboat to NOT INCLUDE houseboats without propulsion. Although the Department of Licensing has transferred title for houseboats without propulsion from 2006 to 2017, recently they have been refusing to Register houseboats without propulsion. The 2006 rule is shown below.

(14) “Houseboat” means any vessel as defined in RCW 88.02.010(1).  For registration and certificate of ownership purposes, a houseboat does not include any building on a float used in whole or in part for human habitation as a single-family dwelling which is not powered by self-propulsion by mechanical means or wind.”

Department of Licensing Decision

The Department of Licensing has made the decision that they will not issue vessel registration to houseboats at the time of sale that do not have propulsion. If you have propulsion, you remain a Vessel and no change occurs at time of sale, however, you do have the option of removing or disabling your propulsion to go on the King County tax rolls and be treated as Personal Property.

This means that at the time of sale, houseboats lacking self-propulsion will need to be treated as personal property and will need to be registered with the King County Assessor’s office as Personal Property. King County will consider these houseboats to be “floating homes” for registration purposes.  We provide the process for registering with King County Assessor below (NOTE: Only do this at the time of sale.)

Our understanding is that if you are currently registered as a vessel, no change will happen until you sell your non-powered houseboat and a transfer of title occurs. You will remain a vessel until you sell your houseboat.

How does this affect my Floating On-Water Residence status?

This change in how title is transferred and will not affect your Floating On-Water Residence status. For the purpose of registration as a Floating On-Water Residence in the City of Seattle, this will have no effect. Your houseboat will remain a Floating On-Water Residence according to the City of Seattle laws and State of Washington Laws.  Your Plaque remains as proof that you comply with City of Seattle laws and a validated Floating On-Water Residence.

Differences Between Houseboats (Vessels) and Personal Property
Houseboat (Vessel Registration) Personal Property (King County Tax Roll)
Has Self-Propulsion Does not have Self-Propulsion
Buyers pay Sales Tax at closing
(currently 10.1%)
Sellers pay Excise Tax at closing
(currently 1.78%)
Buyers pay Annual Registration Fee
.5% per year of Depreciating Value
Buyers pay Annual Personal Property tax
Approximately 1% of replacement cost.
Closes as a Vessel through Marine Title Closes as Personal Property (like a Floating Home) through an attorney or possibly a Title Company.


How will this affect taxes?

Previously: Houseboats with or without propulsion were treated as Vessels at time of sale. As Vessels, Buyers paid local Sales Tax (technically referred to as Use Tax) at the time of closing. In Seattle, this rate is 10.1% of the Sales Price. In addition, the new owners paid annual registration fees and were required to display registration numbers and a license tab on the side of their vessel. Annual registration fees are based on the depreciating value of the vessel and were calculated as shown in the following example:

Year Purchase Price times Rate%       = Registration fee
1 $500,000 times 100%   = $2,500
2 $500,000 times 89%   = $2,225
3 $500,000 times 83%   = $2,075
4 $500,000 times 78%   = $1,950
5 $500,000 times 72%   = $1,800
6 $500,000 times 67%   = $1,675
7 $500,000 times 61%   = $1,525
8 $500,000 times 55%   = $1,375
9 $500,000 times 50%   = $1,250
10 $500,000 times 44%   = $1,100
11 $500,000 times 39%   = $975
12 $500,000 times 33%   = $825
13 $500,000 times 28%   = $700
14+ $500,000 times 26%   = $650

A Buyer would pay on a $500,000 Seattle Houseboat, $50,500 in sales tax plus $20,625 in registration fees over 14 years, totalling $71,125 in taxes and registration.

Going Forward: Houseboats (in Seattle) without propulsion will be treated as Personal Property and if not previously registered, will need to register with the King County Tax Assessor’s office.  At the time of sale, the Seller would pay County Excise Tax (currently 1.78%) of the Sales Price. The Buyer would not pay Sales Tax.  The Buyer would be responsible for Annual Personal Property Tax which is based on a valuation derived from a formula for replacement of floating homes. The Annual Property tax is 1.025% of the Replacement Valuation. Replacement valuation varies, so the exact amount will not be known until your property has been assessed by King County Tax Assessor. You will not be taxed the first year you register and the valuation notice will be sent to you sometime during the 1st year. Of the houseboats that are currently being assessed, we are seeing a valuation of approximately 50% of the true market value. We estimate that the tax rate is approximately 1.025% of KCA valuation.  The following is an approximation of the costs associated with the sale and taxation of a houseboat treated as Personal Property on the King County tax roll. The following table shows the an example of the estimated tax cost over 14 years as Personal Property based on a 50% valuation and 3% appreciation:

Year Initial Price times Valuation% times Change in Value = Property Tax
1 $500,000 times 50% times 100% $2,562.50
2 $500,000 times 50% times 103% $2,639.38
3 $500,000 times 50% times 106% $2,716.25
4 $500,000 times 50% times 109% $2,793.13
5 $500,000 times 50% times 112% $2,870.00
6 $500,000 times 50% times 115% $2,946.88
7 $500,000 times 50% times 118% $3,023.75
8 $500,000 times 50% times 121% $3,100.63
9 $500,000 times 50% times 124% $3,177.50
10 $500,000 times 50% times 127% $3,254.38
11 $500,000 times 50% times 130% $3,331.25
12 $500,000 times 50% times 133% $3,408.10
13 $500,000 times 50% times 136% $3,485.00
14 $500,000 times 50% times 139% $3,561.88

A Buyer would pay on a $500,000 Seattle Houseboat, registered as Personal Property, an estimated total of $42,870.63 in Personal Property taxes over 14 years. This is $28,254.37 less than the $71,125.00 Sales Tax + Registration Fees paid if it were treated as a Vessel.

Questions and Answers:

Q: I already paid sales tax! Will I have to start paying personal property tax?
A: Currently, this transition will only occur at the time of sale. If you are registered as a vessel with Department of Licensing, you will be able to renew your tabs online.
Q: I am a registered Floating On-Water Residence. Will this affect my FOWR status?
A: No. Once you have registered as a FOWR, you will remain registered with the City. The protections and regulations associated with being a registered FOWR will remain in effect.
Q: If I change to Personal Property status do I still need a FOWR Plaque for my Houseboat in Seattle?
A: Yes. The Seattle Floating On-Water Residence law is not affected by changing to Personal Property. You are required to have your floating residence approved in the city of Seattle and must display your Floating On-Water Residence plaque.
Q: How will this affect the value of my FOWR?
A: We believe this will NOT affect the values of FOWRs, however, we feel that the buyer pool for FOWRs registered as Personal Property will be larger because of the reduced out-of-pocket expense at closing.
Q: Who is responsible for registering as Personal Property?
A: At the time of sale, the current owner should register the home as Personal Property. The buyer would then assume the Personal Property tax. When changing from Vessel Registration to Personal Property Tax, the assessment is delayed for the 1st year.
Q: Will I, as the Seller of my property, have to pay Excise Tax?
A: Yes, the seller of Personal Property is responsible for 1.78% excise tax at the time of sale.
Q: How long does the process take to complete?
A: We are unsure of the timeline as we only have a sample of one. The Personal Property Account Number was assigned within 24 hours. The valuation could take up to 1 year. During that time, no assessment of personal property tax is levied.
Q: How much will a new buyer pay in Personal Property taxes? How is that determined?
A: The valuation is a bit complicated but is based on a floating home replacement formula developed by the King County Assessor’s office. The value will be significantly less than actual value. A percentage (approximately 1.025%) of the replacement value is charged each year.  Similar to new construction, you will not know the exact amount until the Assessor’s office provides a valuation.
Q: Will my property still be considered a “vessel” if it is registered on the King County Tax Rolls.
A: No, for taxation purposes, the King County Assessor considers non-self-propelled houseboats to be “floating homes.”
Q: My marina requires proof of registration. Will I be evicted without having registration tabs?
A: No. As Personal Property, you are exempt from being required to have registration tabs. There are currently approximately 30 registered house barges (a carryover from 1990 regulations) that are not required to have registration tabs. There is a registration exemption form available to provide to your marina.
Q: How will this affect lending on my FOWR?
A: Sound Community Bank has stated that they will continue to lend on these as before. They will still require a survey/valuation.

Process for Registering as Personal Property:
At the time of Sale…
Email personal.property@kingcounty.gov attention Susanna Vattem (Susanna.Vattem@kingcounty.gov)

 Indicate you need to register a floating home as Personal Property

  • Owner Name, Phone, and Address
  • Dock Name
  • Dock Property Address
  • Marina & Slip Number
  • FOWR Plaque Number
  • Year built
  • Condition
  • First floor SF
  • Second floor SF
  • Total Living SF
  • # Bedrooms
  • #Bathrooms
  • Include Photo 


Susanna Vattem 
Administrative Specialist II
DOA – Commercial/Business Property Division (CBPD)
Email:  susanna.vattem@kingcounty.gov
Office:  206-263-2358    Fax: 206-296-0107

Rowena Dutton 
Auditor Appraiser Assistant
DOA – Commercial/Business Property Division (CBPD)
Email:  Rowena.Dutton@kingcounty.gov
Office:  206-263-2358    Fax: 206-296-0107

Lucy M Espinosa
Auditor Appraiser Assistant
Department of Assessments
Email:  Lucila.Espinosa@kingcounty.gov
Office:  206.263.2334   Fax: 206.296.0107
Beverly Hawkins
King County Department of Assessments
Commercial Business Division
Personal Property Section
206.263.2270 (ph) /206.296.0107 (fax)
Email – Beverly.Hawkins@kingcounty.gov
King County Administration Building
500 4th Ave Rm 708
Seattle, WA 98104
Website:  www.kingcounty.gov/assessor

Additional DCI Links:






Floating On-Water Residences

The Seattle Shoreline Master Program went into effect on June 15, 2015! This created new requirements for what used to be called Houseboats and House barges. (Not to be confused with floating homes – See our On-Water Property Definitions Page)

What does this mean for Houseboats in Seattle?

  • A structure will be considered a Floating On-Water Residence if it was moored pursuant to a lease or ownership interest in a Marina within the City, prior to July 1, 2014 and was used as a dwelling unit.
  • Houseboats are required to be verified as Floating On-Water Residences
    • Applicants will pay a one-time fee to receive a verification number
    • Submit an application for verification with pictures, dimensions, a sketch, and proof of moorage in the City prior to July 1, 2014.
  • Verification Numbers will be assigned and must be displayed in a prescribed manner on the Floating On-Water Residence.
  • Houseboats may be expanded with height restrictions, but may not change in footprint size.
  • Expansion is allowed up to 120 square feet and is subject to height limitations, unless graywater is contained and disposed of properly, or the Floating On-Water residence is connected to a City waste-water system.
  • Houseboats may be replaced, but are subject to the same footprint, height, and expansion requirements.
  • A one-time expansion of footprint is allowed for safety reasons, as certified by a Naval Architect. If footprint is expanded, no other expansion may occur.
  • Open Railings may be added to decks and stairs, but if over height restriction, are limited to 36 inches.
  • A Floating On Water Residence may be relocated and owners should update verification records within 60 days. Failure to update may result in enforcement action, but does not forfeit right to maintain the Floating On-Water Residence.
  • No New Houseboats are allowed in Seattle Waters.
  • Vessels with Dwelling Units that were moored in Seattle Waters prior to 6/15/2015 are allowed, but are required to be verified and must be designed and used for navigation. These will be verified using a different form and have different requirements than Floating On-Water Residences.

The forms are available here and are also available through the Department of Planning and Development’s Floating Residences page.

GET A HEAD START!  Download the official forms here!

TIP 229
Client Assistance Memo 229 – describing the rules for Floating On-Water Residences, House-barges, and Vessels with Dwelling Units.
Definition Sheet
This document describes which form you need to submit based on the type of floating residence you have.
Floating On-Water Residence Form
This is the form to be completed to obtain verification of a Floating On-Water Residence. It also indicates what supplemental information must be included with the application and how to pay the required application fee.
Vessel Containing Dwelling Unit Form
This is the form to be completed to obtain verification of a Vessel with Dwelling Unit. It also indicates what supplemental information must be included with the application and how to pay the required application fee.
House Barge Verification Form
This is the form to be completed by house barges as defined in the previous Shoreline Master Program (circa 1990). There are approximately 34 house barges in Seattle Waters.
1. The house barge was moored at a recreational marina in the City of Seattle before July 1, 1990; and
2. A permit for the house barge was secured from the DPD verifying that the house barge existed and was used for residential purposes
within the City of Seattle before July 1, 1990 and has been continuously used since that time.
Change of Owner-Address
This form can be used to satisfy the regulation requiring the owner of a Floating On-Water Residence to notify the City of Seattle within six months of a change of ownership or address. NOTE: You need to submit this form even if you only change slip locations.
In Case of Emergency
This form can be used to create an Emergency Contact form that you can place in a window or conspicuous place that can be used by neighbors or emergency personnel to facilitate contacting you, other emergency personnel, or to identify on-board pets. This form is in duplicate to easily create 2 displayable pages (cut in the middle). NOTE: You will need to save this to your hard drive before using.

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