Nightlife Establishment Handbook

Welcome, new and established Nightlife Business Owners! 

The City of Seattle and the Office of Film + Music are pleased to have you in our city and want to do everything possible to make your business a success.  We know the time, finance, and effort it takes to open a new business or expand an existing one, and we are here to provide tools and resources to help streamline the process.

There are a great many things to consider when starting or expanding a nightlife business in the City of Seattle. This handbook will assist you in working your way through the various rules and regulations one must consider when opening or operating a nightlife establishment. The Office of Film + Music strives to keep this handbook as up to date as possible, but the intent is not to replace your need to follow all current laws and regulations related to nightlife.  We understand you want to begin doing business without delay. However, hastiness can result in costly problems for your business in the future. We hope you will consider the information you find here to be integral in your process, and well worth your time and attention. Our goal is to put you on the right track to dealing with government agencies while planning, opening and maintaining your nightlife establishment with as much ease as possible. We will connect you with the appropriate offices, organizations, and services to help you start, expand and maintain your business. This guide brings together valuable information on how to run a nightlife business in Seattle.  

NOTE: The material in this handbook is intended for general informational purposes. While it is current at the time of publication, changes to the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC), state laws, or other regulatory requirements may invalidate some of this information. In the event of a conflict between this guide and any official Law, Rule or Code, the law shall control.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Section I. Before You Start

We discuss important steps every business owner should take before applying for licenses to operate a nightlife establishment.  At the end of this section, you will find a helpful checklist to help you stay on track.

  • A. City Permits, Zoning, and Parking Restrictions

      • Land Use and Other Permits (by Department)
    • Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
      • Zoning
      • Certificate of Occupancy
      • Parking
    • Seattle Fire Department
      • Assembly Permits
      • Violations
      • Nightclub Fire Sprinklers
    • Seattle Department of Transportation
      • Public Space Permits
      • Sidewalk Cafés and Tables and Chairs
      • Parklets & Streateries
      • Street and Sidewalk Vendors
      • Queueing and Stanchions
      • Special Activities
      • Portable Signs
      • Fixed Sign
    • Finance and Administrative Services.
      • Nightclub Safety Plans
  • B. Public Health Requirements

    • Seattle-King County Department of Public Health
  • C. Understand Neighborhood Issues

    • Invest in Quality Amplified Sound and Noise Mitigation. 
    • Know Where Your Customers Park.
    • Neighborhood and Business Organizations.
    • Police Precincts
  • D. Business Plan

    • Real Estate: The Triple Net Lease (NNN Lease)

    • Real Estate: Contingency Clause

Section II. Business Licenses

We summarize the key business licenses, registrations, and permits required by city, county and state agencies, as well as other important requirements relevant to nightlife establishments.  

  • WA State Business License
  • WA State Liquor License Endorsement
  • City of Seattle Business License
  • Special Use Licenses
  • City All-Ages Dance License
  • State Tobacco Retailer's License
  • City Amusement Device License
  • City and State Gambling License and Registration

Section III. City, State, and Federal Tax Requirements

We focus on City, State and Federal Tax requirements and where to find important tax-related information.  

  • Federal Tax Requirements
  • WA State Tax Requirements
  • King County Tax Requirements
  • City of Seattle Tax Requirements

Section IV. Best Practices for Your Nightlife Establishment

We address the importance of maintaining neighborhood relations, accessing neighborhood and city resources, managing all-ages dance events, underage performers, safety, and security.  This section also includes a guide to 'Best Practices' for nightclubs.  

  • Night Club Operations 
  • All-Ages Dance and Underage Performers
  • Maintaining Safety and Security
  • Getting Involved in Your Community
  • Maintaining Neighborhood Relations
  • Know Your Liquor Laws
  • Know Your Noise Ordinances
  • Mitigating Nuisance Noise

Resource Directory

Here you will find alphabetical listings by department for city, county, state and federal agencies, plus listings for various resources including business support organizations, chambers of commerce, and small business associations. Many of these organizations provide technical assistance and services to small businesses and can help you maintain neighborhood relations. We encourage you to contact them and take advantage of their important services and networks.

Section I: Before You Start

City Permits, Zoning and Parking Restrictions

Land Use and Other Permits (by Department)

Before you open a nightlife establishment, you must be sure you can do what you want in the location you want. Understanding the zoning and land use restrictions of your desired location is the first thing you should research. This handbook is provided so you as the business owner can educate yourself before opening your business. For example, some restaurants try to operate nightlife establishments after dining hours, but very different rules apply to those uses. As such, do not expect to succeed if you open a restaurant and later decide to operate as a nightclub in a zone that does not allow nightclubs. It is your responsibility to know what is allowed in your zone, the established use of your space, and to operate within those constraints. Failure to research and follow code standards and/or failure to obtain the required permits could mean code violations, significant penalties, an closure of your business. Do your homework. 

The process for establishing or changing use permits, complying with technical (electrical, mechanical, plumbing and building) codes, and obtaining certificates of occupancy can be lengthy if fees, drawings, construction and inspections are required before you open for business. For example, you cannot turn a storefront or warehouse space into an assembly occupancy without obtaining permits, making significant additions or revisions to the current building, and passing several inspections by the City before you can open your business. 

Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections

In the City of Seattle, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) regulates and enforces land use, building, and other technical codes. SDCI's Applicant Services Center will be your point of entry into the land use and building code permit process. Learn more here:  Applicant Services Center - Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

Because land use and building codes can be complicated, and because each case is unique, you must contact the Applicant Service Center prior to visiting in person so you know what to bring with you for your initial appointment. Call 206-684-8850 or visit  Permits - Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

Zoning

There are multiple zones where nightlife establishments may operate.  Every case is unique and must be analyzed by a SDCI zoning/land use specialist. There are several online tools to help you research your zoning:

  • The SDCI GIS feature allows you to zoom in on a particular area and view it with different layers of interest (base map area, environmentally critical areas, zoning, aerial views, etc.).
  • Permit and Property Records allow you to research the history of permits and code violations for your property 
  • Use this mapping tool to find "Status and Activity" for your neighborhood. You may also do this in person at SDCI's Public Resource Center on the 20th floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower. 

The following are brief descriptions of each zone where nightlife establishments may be allowed:  

  • Residential-Commercial (RC)  Allows certain types of commercial uses at the street-level, within structures that contain at least one dwelling unit. Find details about this zone in the Seattle Municipal Code, Chapter 23.46.  
  • Neighborhood Commercial 1 (NC1)  A small shopping area that provides primarily convenience retail sales and services to the surrounding residential neighborhood, such as small grocery stores, hair salons, and coffee shops.  Restaurants up to 10,000 square feet are allowed in the NC1 zone.  Drinking establishments up to 10,000 square feet are allowed in the NC1 zone only when conditional use permits are granted.
  • Neighborhood Commercial 2 (NC2)  A moderately-sized pedestrian-oriented shopping area that provides a full range of retail sales and services to the surrounding neighborhood, such as medium-sized grocery stores, drug stores, coffee shops, customer service offices, or medical/dental facilities.  Restaurants up to 25,000 square feet are allowed in the NC2 zone.  Drinking establishments up to 25,000 square feet are allowed in the NC2 zone only when conditional use permits are granted.
  • Neighborhood Commercial 3 (NC3)  A larger pedestrian-oriented shopping district is serving the surrounding neighborhood and a larger community, citywide or regional clientele; allowing comparison shopping among a range of retail businesses. Land uses include supermarkets, restaurants, offices, hotels, clothing shops, business support services, and residences that are compatible with the area's mixed-use character.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the NC3 zone.
  • Seattle Mixed (SM)  A zone that provides for a wide range of uses, to encourage the development of the area into a mixed-use neighborhood. Find details about this zone in the Seattle Municipal Code, Chapter 23.48.
  • Commercial 1 (C1)  An auto-oriented, primarily retail/service commercial area that serves surrounding neighborhoods as well as a citywide or regional clientele, such as supermarkets, building supplies and household goods, and auto sales and repairs.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the C1 zone.
  • Commercial 2 (C2)  An auto-oriented, primarily non-retail/service commercial area, characterized by larger lots, parking, and a wide range of commercial uses serving the community, citywide or regional markets, such as warehouses, wholesale, research and development, and manufacturing uses.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the C2 zone.
  • General Industrial 1 (IG1)  General and heavy manufacturing, commercial uses, subject to some limits, high impact uses as a conditional use, institutional uses in existing buildings, entertainment uses other than adult, transportation and utility services, and salvage and recycling uses.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the IG1 zone.
  • General Industrial 2 (IG2)  General and heavy manufacturing, commercial uses, subject to some limits, high impact uses as a conditional use, institutional uses in existing buildings, entertainment uses other than adult, transportation and utility services, and salvage and recycling uses.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the IG2 zone.
  • Industrial Buffer (IB)  Light and general manufacturing, commercial use subject to some limits, some transportation services, entertainment uses other than adult, institutions generally in existing buildings, salvage and recycling uses.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the IB zone.
  • Industrial Commercial (IC)  Light and general manufacturing, commercial use subject to some limits, some transportation services, entertainment uses other than adult, institutions generally in existing buildings, salvage and recycling uses.  Both restaurants and drinking establishments are allowed in the IC zone.
  • Downtown Zones  The following zones have complex standards that cannot be easily summarized. Both restaurants and drinking establishments may be allowed in downtown zones.  Please check with your SDCI zoning specialist to find the information appropriate for each region.
    • Downtown Office Core 1 DOC1
    • Downtown Office Core 2 DOC2
    • Downtown Retail Core DRC
    • Downtown Mixed Commercial DMC
    • Downtown Mixed Residential DMR
    • Pioneer Square Mixed PSM
    • International District Mixed IDM
    • International District Residential IDR
    • Downtown Harborfront 1 DH1
    • Downtown Harborfront 2 DH2
    • Pike Market Mixed PMM    
  • Additional definitions and details can also be found in SMC 23.30.010.

Certificate of Occupancy

Before a building or structure can be used or occupied, a Certificate of Occupancy (commonly known as a "C of O") must be obtained from SDCI. This certificate indicates that the project complies with the regulations for occupancy and activity required by the Seattle Building Code (Section 109).  Be aware: the "use" determined for land use purposes is not the same thing as your "occupancy" for building code purposes.  Assembly occupancies (e.g., theaters, restaurants, bars and nightclubs) require additional certificates.  Before you make any significant improvements to your establishment, you must consult with SDCI to find out if those changes will affect your occupant load.  Changes in occupancy classification are not permitted until a SDCI official has issued a new C of O.  

NOTE: Before SDCI will issue your final C of O, the Seattle Fire Marshal may need to conduct a final inspection.  The Fire Marshal also enforces compliance with your occupant load, and may conduct random inspections to be sure you are complying.  (see 'Seattle Fire Department' below).

If you have purchased an existing nightlife business, you should contact SDCI to confirm your establishment has a current C of O on file.  If not, you must start the C of O process with SDCI and obtain temporary assembly permits as needed from the Fire Marshal's Office.  If you are operating in an existing space that has not been previously approved for a "nightlife" use, you may be required to bring the building up to different codes required for the new use.

Call SDCI 's Applicant Service Center, (206) 684-8850, to determine what plans and documents you should bring with you to start the C of O process, and review Tip 120, Getting a Certificate of Occupancy.

Parking

You may be required to provide parking spaces or identify available parking near your nightlife establishment.  Parking requirements are also set out in the Land Use code and enforced by SDCI. Minimum parking requirements are based on gross floor area, and the established use and each business should understand its parking requirements and where its parking is located. Your SDCI Zoning/Land Use Specialist will consult with you regarding potential parking requirements for your establishment.

Visit this page for a listing of all SDCI centers and services, including phone numbers, web addresses and hours.

Seattle Fire Department

The Seattle Fire Department ("SFD") administers fire and life safety regulations for all properties within the Seattle city limits. 

Assembly Permits

Annual assembly permit An assembly, classified as an Assembly Group "A" occupancy, is a room or space used for assembly purposes with an occupant load of 50 or more. SFD only requires annual assembly permits for establishments with an occupant load of 100 or more, or 50 or more if candles are used. Effective August 1, 2016, a copy of the C of O must be submitted with the application for an annual assembly permit.  

Temporary Assembly Permits A temporary assembly permit is necessary when conducting an indoor event in which alterations are made to the existing exit configuration, character or use of the facility. Temporary permits are issued on a one-time basis and each event will need a new permit. A Non-conforming occupancy is only allowed one temporary permit per quarter.  Outdoor events may also require a temporary assembly permit when an enclosed area (i.e., fencing, etc.) exceeds an occupant load of 99 people or an unenclosed area exceeds an occupant load of 499 people. Applications received less than 30 days before the event will be assessed a late fee of an additional 50% of the original permit fee.  

Permits are issued by the Seattle Fire Marshal's Office (FMO) for public assembly, special events, outdoor heaters, barbeques, changes in entrances/exits, use of outdoor tents and a variety of other activities where a fire or life safety hazard may exist. A complete list of permits and fees is located on the website

To apply for a permit, submit the application and corresponding documents (if required) via email to permits@seattle.gov and call (206) 386-1450 to make payment; or mail application with payment to:

220 3rd Avenue South, Floor 2,
Seattle, WA 98104.

Payment must accompany all applications. Visit the Fire Marshal's website for more information and to download application forms. Once the assembly permit application has been processed, SFD will perform an inspection.

General fire code requirements for an assembly occupancy are:  

  • Certificate of Occupancy: available
  • Occupancy load NOT exceeded, and the current count of all people in occupancy (including staff)
  • Maximum Occupancy Sign Posted reflecting occupant number on C of O
  • Address visible and proper size
  • Exit Signs: illuminated
  • Exit Doors: Direction, panic or fire exit hardware
  • Stairwells: Stop gate on ground level, exit to a public area
  • Emergency Lights: tested and functional
  • Exit pathways: cleared and well lit
  • Fire Extinguishers:  present
  • Fire Alarm Systems fully functional and currently tested
  • Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems fully functional and currently tested
  • Range Hood Fire Protection systems fully functional and currently tested
  • Wall hangings and drapes have been flame-retardant treated
  • Proper and Fire Code compliant candle holders  

The list above does not constitute all the requirements for the operation of an assembly occupancy. Please refer to the Seattle Fire Code for all assembly requirements.

NOTE:  The Seattle Fire Code also requires a Fire Safety and Evacuation Plan for any location having an occupant load of 100 or more. For information on submitting your plan to SFD, contact the Fire Marshal's office at 206-386-1450 or visit their website.

Violations

SFD is authorized to conduct random inspections of premises to ensure compliance with the fire code and enforce occupancy limits for establishments. A Notice of Violation (NOV) may be issued to the owner; owner's authorized agent, operator, occupant or another responsible person if any conditions which constitute a fire safety hazard are present. Overcrowding or admittance of any person beyond the approved capacity is prohibited. Upon discovery of any overcrowding conditions, SFD will require the establishment reduce the occupancy to the maximum number allowed and may issue an NOV. The establishment is responsible for maintaining the occupant load (including the staff in the overall occupant count) at or below the maximum allowed.

Nightclub Fire Sprinklers

The Washington State Legislature requires the installation of fire sprinklers in nightclubs, restaurants, taverns and bars in which 'the aggregate area of concentrated use space that is specifically designated and primarily used for dancing or viewing performers exceeds three hundred fifty square feet (350 Sq. Ft), excluding adjacent lobby areas.' For information on sprinkler permits, visit this page.

This can be a major cost to your business if it is required and not already in place, so be certain you consult with the Fire Department to determine the status of your location. If your establishment is required to upgrade and install fire sprinklers, and you do not already have a fire service connection to your property, the process will go something like this:

  1. Apply for and obtain a Water Availability Certificate (WAC), which is your approval to order water service from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). Here is the link to a Water Availability Certificate. 
  2. Work with a contractor and submit your sprinkler plans to SDCI for review and approval by SFD.
  3. Work with a contractor and submit your site plan to SPU (customer plans must have the approval of SPU Development Services Office)
  4. Once plans are approved, you must submit a "Water Service Application and Agreement" to SPU and pay for services up front. Here is the link to water services application online. 
  5. SPU installs services from the water main to the property line
  6. Coordinate with your contractor and SPU to make connections to the new services at the property line. You are also responsible for all on-property plumbing, including the sprinkler system itself.

For personalized assistance, guidance through the process and cost estimates for SPU fire service connection, contact SPU Development Services Office at:

Development Services Office
Seattle Municipal Tower
700 Fifth Ave, 27th floor
Seattle, WA 98124
(206) 684-3333
spu_dso@seattle.gov

SFD Public Education Resources

The SFD Public Education Section is responsible for fire prevention education and outreach services. They provide fire prevention and preparedness assistance to the City's business community.  Resources for developing fire emergency plans and for training staff are available free of charge for a variety of occupancies. Please take the time to review the resources provided in the Business Fire Safety section of SFD's public education resources. Should you need further assistance or have questions regarding the information presented online, contact the Public Education Office via email at fireinfo@seattle.gov.

Seattle Department of Transportation

Public Space Permits

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) manages the City's rights of way (streets, sidewalks, and alleyways), operating under the authority of Seattle Municipal Code, Title 15. The Street Use Division of SDOT provides permitting for uses of the right-of-way. The Public Space Management Program in the Street Use Division works with businesses to enliven public spaces and promote economic vitality through a variety of permit and program types. Examples include sidewalk cafes, signage, and vending; they also regulate and enforce the public right of way to ensure safety, mobility, and access for the general public. Businesses that occupy or make use of public right-of-way must comply with City regulations and obtain the appropriate permits.  

Below is a list of the Street Use permit types that commonly apply to businesses. Please refer to the Street Use website or contact Public Space Management for additional information.  

SDOT Street Use http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/stuse_contact.htm
Email: annualpermits@seattle.gov
Phone: (206) 684-5267  
In Person: Permit Services Counter on the 23rd floor of SMT, 700 5th Ave  

  • Sidewalk Cafés and Tables and Chairs A sidewalk café permit allows a permitted food service establishment to set up tables and chairs on the public sidewalk immediately next to the business. A sidewalk cafe can provide table service and serve alcohol if the establishment has an active liquor license. Both umbrellas and fencing may be used in the café design. As of summer, 2016, SDOT is piloting a new fence-free sidewalk café option. 
    NOTE: You must also contact your local WSLCB enforcement officer to obtain approval for alcohol service in sidewalk cafés. Please see WAC 314-02-130. A tables-and-chairs permit allows businesses to set up tables and chairs on the sidewalk immediately adjacent to their business. They must be available for use by both customers and the general public. Table service may not be provided, and alcohol cannot be consumed. 
  • Parklets and Streateries Parklets and Streateries convert on-street parking spaces into open spaces for our community to enjoy. These privately funded and maintained spaces activate streets and create a vibrant business environment. Parklets are always open to the public and can be hosted by anyone in the community. Streateries allow hosting restaurants, cafes, and bars to offer table service in the space during business hours and provide a public open space at all other times.
  • Street and Sidewalk Vendors All vendors selling on the public right of way (the street, alley, or sidewalk) must obtain a vending permit from Public Space Management within the Street Use Division of SDOT. Street Use does not regulate vending on private property. Applicants should check in with SDCI for regulations for private property. Street Use only permits the selling of food or flowers on the right of way. Selling merchandise or services is not allowed outside of the Stadium Vending area. Food establishments may apply for a vending permit as the permittee within the frontage of their own food establishment. All other sidewalk and street vendors must be located more than 50' from an existing food service establishment. 
    NOTE: Street vendors serving food must also maintain a valid permit from the Public Health Department. 
  • Queueing and Stanchions A queueing stanchion is a temporary post with removable or retractable ropes or belts used to set up queueing areas outside of busy restaurants, clubs, or event spaces. There is currently no permit required to put this kind of stanchion in the right of way, but mobility and safety must be maintained, including applicable pedestrian zone widths: a minimum 6' width in the Downtown Core and a minimum 5' width outside of the Downtown Core.     Businesses with sidewalk cafes that also use the sidewalk to manage their line queuing must pay special attention to ensure that sufficient sidewalk remains for pedestrian access.  
  • Special Activities SDOT issues permit for temporary activities that close a portion of the street or sidewalk for small to mid-sized events on non-arterial streets. (Larger events or events on arterials require a Special Event permit from the Office of Economic Development.) Such activities require permits so that the police, the fire department, and emergency responders know what is going on and know how to navigate the street in the event of an emergency.  
  • Portable signs (also known as A-frame or sandwich board signs) are placed in public right-of-way to attract customers. SDOT allows one sign per business and does not currently require a permit, but they enforce portable signs to ensure safety and mobility.   
  • Fixed Signs Signs projecting into public right-of-way require a Public Space Management Permit and must meet the requirements of the Seattle Sign Code (SMC 23.55). In addition to a Public Space Management permit, signs require a permit from SDCI. Sign installation may also trigger an SDOT Construction Use permit depend on installation methods and location.

Finance and Administrative Services

The City of Seattle requires all nightclubs to file a written safety plan with Finance and Administrative Services (FAS). A nightclub is defined for this purpose as "any business open to the public in which liquor is served between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., except where service of liquor is incidental to an event that is not open to the public; and has a maximum occupancy capacity of two hundred (200) or more people".  A copy of the full Ordinance, including definitions, requirements, and penalties, can be found here or on the City Clerk's website, by querying Ordinance #122474.   

If your business is classified as a nightclub by the above definition, you must file a security plan with FAS.  There are monetary penalties for non-compliance with this requirement, so be sure to include this in your pre-opening to-do list.  If you have questions about security plans or need technical assistance with preparing a security plan, please contact RCCP Strategic Regulatory Compliance Coordinator Joanna Kham at 206-684-8408 or by email at Joanna.kham@seattle.gov

Public Health Requirements

Seattle-King County Department of Public Health

Almost every liquor establishment in the City of Seattle must sell food.  And all food service within Seattle city limits is regulated by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health ("Public Health").  Before applying for licenses to operate your nightlife establishment, you must research and understand the requirements and restrictions of the Health Department and how they will apply to your business before you apply for land use or other technical code permits at SDCI.  For example, some Health Department requirements will dictate the number of sinks and appliances you will need, which will, in turn, alter the requirements for your plumbing and electrical permits.  Find information on how to start and maintain a food-serving business in Seattle on their website.

A site plan review is required for all new permits and any permits for locations that have been inactive for over six months. To prepare for your first health inspection, use the 'Plan Guide for Food Service Plan Review' check-list.

Your Health Department Permit must be renewed annually by March 31st or penalties will accrue. 

NOTE: A new application must also be submitted to Public Health for any change of ownership. 

For more information on obtaining KCPHD permits, contact the Food Protection Program Section of the Environmental Health Division at (206) 263-9566 or visit their website.

 

Understand Neighborhood Issues

Know the neighborhood where you intend to do business and develop and maintain good relationships with your neighbors, both residential and commercial. It is critical to your success. Are there other liquor-licensed establishments in the area?  What is the proximity to your intended location, and how does the neighborhood interact with the other establishments?  Any liquor license application requires neighborhood notification, so it is best to start building those relationships as soon as possible. Get to know your neighbors, address their concerns, and maintain these important relationships.

Consider public safety issues: amplified sound, parking proximity and availability, crowd & line control, litter, etc.  Residential and mixed-use neighborhoods have heightened concerns where nightlife establishments are located.  Also, if you are considering a location that was previously a nightlife establishment or similar business, investigate and make yourself aware of any pre-existing public safety or other concerns about the location. Research and plan for minimizing any potential negative impact on neighborhood residents and businesses. It is critical to do this before opening your business.  

Invest in Quality Amplified Sound and Noise Mitigation

Mitigating the impact of amplified sound is extremely important and can be accomplished by installing double entry doors, keeping windows closed while the amplified sound is played, and/or by installing buffering walls and ceilings.  Have a sound engineer evaluate your premises, and work with you to establish speaker placement, maximum amplification settings, and other noise control options.  Often, investing in high-quality equipment will give you better sound, particularly at lower levels, allowing you to deliver a high-quality music experience at less extreme noise levels.  More detailed information about mitigating the impact of sound and details on the City of Seattle Noise Ordinances can be found later in Section IV, Maintaining Your Nightlife Establishment and Section V, Best Practices.  

Know Where Your Customers Park

As we mentioned earlier, you may be required to provide or identify nearby parking spaces for your nightlife establishment.  But this parking may be insufficient to meet the needs of your customers because parking in many of Seattle's popular neighborhoods is at a premium.  In addition to taking parking away from the neighborhood, nearby parking lots and other areas can become a place where nightlife customers congregate, smoke, create noise, litter or place other burdens on nearby residents.  During and after closing time, fights may break out, and significant public safety issues may erupt.  Consideration for the neighborhood and its parking needs is something you will need to understand and possibly meditate.  Partnering with your neighbors to keep these areas clean, quiet and safe is critical.  Also, installing security cameras will protect you, your neighbors and your customers from criminal activity and enable you to better assist law enforcement in the event of a significant public safety event.

Crowd and Line Control (See the 'Best Practices' list in Section IV)

Neighborhood and Business Organizations

Join and become active in your neighborhood business district and other community organizations. We strongly encourage you to join and participate in your local business association, chamber of commerce, neighborhood community, and district councils, block watch, precinct advisory councils, crime prevention councils, Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) or any of the other community groups in your area.  Find information on these neighborhood groups on the Office of Economic Development website here. You can also research neighborhood groups and services on the Department of Neighborhoods website. More information on BIA's is provided in this handbook Section III under "City of Seattle Tax Requirements."  In addition to local neighborhood groups, you should also join the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce (GSCC). The greater Seattle chamber nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit that drives small business owners and is committed to providing programs and services that help you take your business to the next level.  Visit the Chamber website and browse the services offered to business owners in the greater Seattle area, or contact them at (206) 389-7200, info@seattlechamber.com.  

Police Precincts

SPD operates within a framework that divides the city into five geographical areas called precincts. These precincts define east, west, north, south and southwest patrol areas, with a police station in each. You can find detailed information and resources from each of the five precincts on their websites, including precinct maps, precinct news, and detailed contact information.

East Precinct 
1519 12th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 684-4300 
http://www.seattle.gov/police/precincts/East

North Precinct 
10049 College Way N. Seattle, WA 98133
(206) 684-0850 
http://www.seattle.gov/police/precincts/North

South Precinct 
3001 S. Myrtle Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 386-1850 
http://www.seattle.gov/police/precincts/South

Southwest Precinct 
2300 S.W. Webster, Seattle, WA 98106
(206) 733-9800 
http://www.seattle.gov/police/precincts/Southwest

West Precinct 
810 Virginia St., Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 684-8917 
http://www.seattle.gov/police/precincts/West

Contact and build a relationship with your local Seattle Police Department (SPD) precinct.  Maintaining open communication with SPD is vital to your success as a nightlife business.

Business Plan

A sound business plan and thorough financial analysis are vital to starting and maintaining your establishment. Ensuring adequate staffing, security, training, equipment, and the all-important financial cushion will keep you from having to cut corners that result in risky business practices and ultimately may lead to the closure of the business.

Need help creating a business plan?  Take a look at the following resources:

  • Business Impact NW BINW is a non-profit small business development organization. Business Impact NW offers Technical Assistance and Consulting services at every stage in a business' development. They offer support classes and one-on-one counseling for startups & established businesses.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration Business Plan Assistant 
  • The Office of Economic Development offers tips to develop a business plan in their "10 Steps to Starting a Business"  

Real Estate: The Triple Net Lease (NNN lease)

At some point in your business plan preparation, you should also familiarize yourself with the concept of a Triple Net Lease (NNN lease).  A triple net lease requires the tenant to pay base rent plus a share of the Operating Expenses (OE) for the leased property. Such expenses typically are itemized within the following categories: Taxes; Insurance; Utilities; and CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges.  Lease costs are less predictable for an NNN lease because the landlord provides an estimate of OE each lease year and adjusts for actual expenses at the end of each year. If expenses are greater than estimated, the tenant pays the difference; if expenses are less than estimated, the tenant receives a credit. Such leases are common in the Seattle area and should be figured into your business plan options

Real Estate: Contingency Clause

If you are purchasing an existing business, you should do so contingent upon obtaining a liquor license, necessary permits, and satisfaction of compliance with land use and other conditions. There is no guarantee you will be approved for a liquor license, and without confirmation, through SDCI's permitting process you may not be allowed to operate where the building is located. When this major financial commitment is on the line, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Section II: Business Licenses

WA State Business Licenses

WA State Business License

Every business in Washington State must apply for and maintain a Washington State Business License.  There is a $19 processing fee for the Business License. You must also pay different fees associated with the various State licenses, registrations, or permits you may need for your particular business.  For more information on fees, see the License Fee Sheet.  For customized information on licenses, use the Business Licensing Wizard. Applications, explanations of fees and process instructions are available from the Business Licensing Services (BLS) section of the State Department of Revenue ("DOR") online at Business Licensing Service of Washington State. The DOR website provides information such as business name lookup, online address change, types of business structures, and links to other resources.  Check out other resources for starting a new business, including the Small Business Guide, here

WA State Liquor License Endorsement

WA State Liquor License Endorsement

Research the WA State Liquor License requirements before you apply.  A liquor license is an endorsement on your State Business License. Routine liquor license applications can take anywhere from 45 days to several months to process, depending on the complexity of your application. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board ("WSLCB") will provide you with a customized licensing packet when you begin the application process.  Call the Licensing and Regulation Division at (360) 664-1600 or visit their website for complete instructions. A Nightclub Liquor license allows for the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises without food services. For more details, please review RCW 66.04.010(28) and WAC 314-02-36. When submitting the WSLCB Addendum to your Washington State Business license, you will be asked to identify the liquor license type for which you are applying.  For more detailed information, visit the WSLCB website at Available License Types | Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Keep in mind; you must obtain prior approval from the WSLCB for any change in business ownership under the requirements outlined in WAC 314.07.080.

PLEASE NOTE OBJECTION PROCESS:  The City of Seattle has legal authority to file written objections to either a new liquor license application or the renewal of an existing license.  In addition, schools, churches and public institutions also have the option to contest new licensee applications if the establishment is within 500 feet of their entrance.  Maintaining positive relationships with the neighborhood, City regulators, and the Seattle Police Department is important if you want to avoid objection proceedings, unnecessary expenses and delays, and possible closure of your business.

Your Washington State Liquor License must be renewed annually.  It is your responsibility to renew on time whether a renewal form is received from the Department of Revenue Business Licensing Service or not. Be sure to carefully review City land use restrictions alongside the requirements of the WSLCB.  In every case, it is your responsibility to ensure compliance with both City and State laws.  For example, just because you have a liquor license, does not automatically mean you can operate at a particular location.

City of Seattle Business License

Any person operating a business within the City of Seattle is required to obtain a City of Seattle Business License in addition to the Washington State Business License.  In 2016, City Council adopted Ordinance 125083, creating a new fee structure for the Seattle Business License tax certificate. The new fees will be implemented over 2017-2019 as follows:

Annual Seattle Taxable Revenue

Annual Fee / Prorated Fee*
2017 2018 2019
$0 and $19,999 $55 / $27.50 $55 / $27.50 $55 / $27.50
$20,000 - $499,999 $110 / $55 $110 / $55 $110 / $55
$500,000 - $1,999,999 $480 / $240 $480 / $240 $500 / $250
$2,000,000 or more $1,000 / $500
$2,000,000 - $4,999,999 $1,000 / $500 $1,200 / $600
$5,000,000 or more $2,000 / $1,000 $2,400 / $1,200
Branch locations $10 per location $10 per location $10 per location

*If you start your business in the second half of the year, July 1 or after, your license tax certificate fee for the first year will be reduced by half.

Summary of 2016 license tax certificate fees
Starting in 2016, the yearly cost of a Seattle Business License Tax Certificate is $110 in most cases. The fee for small businesses with total revenues of less than $20,000 in a year is $55. Total revenue includes income generated from business activity in Seattle and all other business locations. If you start your business in the second half of the year, July 1 or after, your license tax certificate fee will be reduced by half. If you have more than one business location in Seattle, you must pay an additional $10 per year for each additional branch location. The Seattle Business License is issued for one calendar year and must be renewed every year by December 31st. Applications are processed through the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) via the Regulatory Compliance Consumer Protection (RCCP). To apply for a new business license, contact the City of Seattle Regulatory and Consumer Affairs Division (RCA) by calling (206) 684-8484, by sending an email to rca.bizlictx@seattle.gov, or by visiting their website. City of Seattle Business License holders may also be subject to several different business taxes, which are discussed later in Section III. In rare instances, the City of Seattle may exercise the option to suspend or revoke a business license. FAS  has the authority to suspend or revoke any licensee that is in default of any payment of a license fee or tax, as defined in SMC 5.55.230. Unlawful acts or failure to comply with the provisions of Title 5 and Title 6 of the Seattle Municipal Code may lead to, including but not limited to, business license suspension or revocation and/or civil penalties or criminal prosecution

Special Use Licenses

In addition to general business licenses, there may be additional requirements for unique businesses that are not covered in this section. For clarification of your circumstances, consult the appropriate government agencies and/or your legal advisor.

City All-Ages Dance License

An All-Ages Dance License is required for anyone operating an all-ages dance of 250 or more patrons, and for all persons operating an all-ages dance venue. This license is not required when fewer than 250 patrons are admitted, or if the dance is sponsored by an accredited educational institution. Learn more about all-ages dance and underage performers in Section IV, Maintaining Your Nightlife Establishment. There is a $120 fee for this license which must be renewed annually by September 30th. See SMC Chapter 6.295.

State Tobacco Retailer's License

Anyone selling cigarettes or other tobacco products in the State of Washington must obtain either a Washington State Cigarette Retailer's License or a Tobacco Products Retailer License. All sales and distribution of tobacco products are regulated by the WA State Liquor and Cannabis Board.  For more information on these licenses and how to obtain them, contact the WSLCB at (360) 664-1600 or online.

City Amusement Device License

An Amusement Device is any machine or device which provides recreation or entertainment for which a charge is made for the use of play. This includes, but is not limited to, pool and billiard tables, shuffleboards, music machines, video games, pinball games, and riding devices. Exemptions may apply, and fees vary. This license must be renewed annually by November 30th. See SMC Chapter 5.32.150.

City and State Gambling License and Registration

You must obtain a license from the WA State Gambling Commission to conduct gambling activities or similar fundraising events in the state of Washington under RCW Chapter 9.46.  Information can be found online or by calling (800) 345-2529.

Also, a nightlife establishment intending to conduct any amusement games, bingo, and raffles, punchboards and pull tabs, and social card games or any other gambling activities must register for gambling activity with Seattle FAS  Regulatory Consumer Compliance Protection prior to the commencement of such activity under SMC 5.52 Gambling Tax. Details can be found on their website.

Nightlife Business Checklist

Before you start

  • Consult the City of Seattle Nightlife Business Advocate at 206-256-5152  

  • Complete a Business Plan

  • Understand land use, occupancy, Health Department, Fire and other local permit requirements

  • Understand WA State Liquor License requirements

  • Understand neighborhood impacts and resources

Finalize licenses and permits

  • Obtain a Washington State Business License and the appropriate WA State Liquor License Addendum

  • Obtain a City of Seattle Business License

  • Obtain all local permits and a final Certificate of Occupancy

  • Obtain Special Use Licenses

  • Consult tax professional, FAS, BIA, etc. 

Section III: City, State and Federal Tax Requirements

City of Seattle Tax Requirements

From the inception of your business, you should employ the services of a licensed tax professional to guide you through the complex world of tax liabilities.  Brief descriptions of local tax liabilities that may affect nightlife businesses are listed below. 

Detailed information about these or any other City of Seattle taxes, along with information on tax exemptions, can be found online in the Guide to Seattle's Business License & Taxes. This information should always be confirmed by consulting your tax professional.

NOTE: Failure to pay any required City of Seattle tax may result in suspension or revocation of your Seattle business license:

Pursuant to Seattle Municipal Code, FAS has the authority to suspend or revoke any licensee that is in default of any payment of a license fee or tax. Unlawful acts or failure to comply with the provisions of SMC Title 5 and SMC Title 6  may lead to penalties including but not limited to license suspension, revocation and/or civil penalties or criminal prosecution.  The authority to suspend or revoke a business license is defined in SMC 5.55.230

For questions about any of the City of Seattle tax requirements, contact FAS at (206) 684-8484 or by email at rca.bizlictx@seattle.gov

City Business and Occupation (B & O) Tax

Nightlife establishments that engage in business within the City of Seattle are subject to the Business and Occupation Tax (B & O Tax) under SMC 5.45.050. If gross receipts do not exceed $100,000 in a calendar year, no B & O tax is due. If gross receipts exceed $100,000 in a calendar year, the business license tax is levied at proscribed rates. A B & O tax form must be filed whether tax is due or not. Revenue from the B & O tax is distributed to the City's General Fund which funds basic City services, such as police, fire, libraries, and parks. For classifications and rates, please visit the City of Seattle's Business license tax overview page. 

Admissions Tax

Nightlife entertainment establishments that charge a fee, cover charge or ticket price for admission including complimentary tickets, are required to collect and pay the 5% admission tax. Admission tax is often overlooked by business owners, resulting in significant penalties. It is in your best interest to educate yourself, your staff and your event promoters on these requirements. Admissions tax is paid by the customer, to be held in trust by the person/promoter collecting the admission charges, and paid to the City as provided by law, under SMC 5.40.020 H. A copy of the rule on approved methods of counting, record keeping, tracking of complimentary admissions, and clarification on the responsibility to collect and remit can be found here - SMC 5.40.070Ultimately, you as the business owner are responsible for payment.  Consult your tax advisor to find out if you qualify for an exemption from this particular tax under SMC 5.40.025.

PLEASE NOTE:  There are very specific restrictions on collecting admissions or donations for benefit shows or events, fundraising events, and/or non-profit sponsored events.  According to Seattle Municipal Code:

It is unlawful for any person to request a donation or contribution that effectively represents an admission charge at any event unless the event is held by an exempt organization pursuant to SMC 5.40.025. Donations or contributions requested by such organizations that would otherwise be subject to the admission tax... are not subject to the tax; provided, that people are admitted or allowed to remain in attendance without payment of such donation or contribution and the signage, invitation, advertisement, notice or other literature related to the event contains a statement, conspicuously posted, that such donation or contribution is not required for the privilege of entering, attending, or remaining in attendance at the event. (SMC 5.40.020 (J)

Exempt organizations such as non-profits must be licensed and recognized by the City, and they must obtain a certificate of exemption from FAS before the event. As the business owner, you are responsible for ensuring that any benefit/fundraising/non-profit sponsored events have obtained the appropriate exemption from FAS. Otherwise, you may be held responsible for paying the admissions taxes.

In 2009, the Live Music Venue Admissions Tax Exemption went into effect.  A venue can qualify for this exemption by meeting all  the following requirements:

  • A premise or location with a certificate of occupancy of 1000 persons or less; and
  • Hosting or presenting live music on at least three separate days per week on a regular schedule; and
  • Hiring one or more musicians to perform the equivalent of sixteen individual performances per week; and
  • Is current with all City of Seattle license and tax requirements; and
  • Has not obtained more than three violations of law concerning public health, public safety, noise, licensing, taxing or permitting related to the ownership, possession, occupation, operation, use or maintenance of the location or premises. A venue that has had more than three violations in any twelve (12) month period shall be ineligible for a certificate of exemption for one year from the date of the last violation.

For general information regarding the admissions tax, and instructions on how to obtain a Certificate of Registration or Certificate of Exemption, please visit this page or contact the FAS information number, (206) 684-8484 and request an Admissions Tax Inspector. The admissions tax is applied to the General Fund, with 20% annually distributed to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Gambling Tax

Any nightlife establishment is intending to conduct any amusement games, bingo and raffles, punchboards and pull tabs, and social card games or any other gambling activities must register for gambling activity with FAS Regulatory Compliance Consumer Protection before the commencement of such activity under SMC 5.52. Details can be found here. Revenue from the gambling tax is also distributed to the City's General Fund. Reminder: You must also register gambling activity with the State Gambling Commission. See Section II, Licenses.

Business Improvement Area [BIA]

A BIA is a funding mechanism for business district revitalization and management. They are assessments on businesses and/or properties within defined boundaries. BIA funds can be used for services such as parking, joint marketing, cleanup and maintenance, security, special events, beautification, and professional management. The City contracts with an agency to manage each BIA and each BIA are governed by a ratepayer's advisory board. The City collects the assessments and reimburses the Agency for BIA expenses. Currently, BIAs are operating in Broadway/Capitol Hill, West Seattle, International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square, University District, Columbia City, SODO, and the Downtown Seattle Association.

For questions about BIA assessments, please contact the BIA Administrator at bia.administrator@seattle.gov, 206-256-5137 or 206-233-7172.

King County Tax Requirements

Property Taxes

If you are the owner of your building, Commercial Properties are annually valued by the King County Assessor's Office, which determines the amount of property tax for state and local governments, including the operating costs of schools, roads, parks, libraries, hospitals, city and county government, and other taxing districts such as ports, fire districts, utility and sewer districts. A large part of each property tax dollar goes to pay off construction bonds for school buildings and other public projects.   You may appeal your property value within 60 days of the mailing date printed on the Official Property Value Notice online.  

Personal Property Taxes

In Washington State, both real and personal property is assessed for property tax purposes. Personal property refers to assets used in conducting a business. The chief characteristic distinguishing personal property from real property is mobility, meaning it can be moved from one place to another. The Personal Property Tax is a State Department of Revenue tax that is administrated by the King County Assessor's Office. You will need to set up a personal property tax account to report your personal property assets. Accounts are self-reported by the business owner, and non-reporting will result in a 25% penalty by DOR as well as King County penalties. Any accounts under $7500 in "assessed value" are exempted and considered "non-active." Unless specifically exempt, all tangible personal property is taxable. More information and exemptions can be found here. To set up your property tax account, you need to complete the New Business Set-Up form.

WA State Tax Requirements

For information on State Business Taxes including classifications, rates, filing & reporting, frequencies & due dates, deductions, late fees, etc., visit the State Department of Revenue website or contact them at 1-800-647-7706.  Be sure to consult your tax professional as well.

Federal Tax Requirements

For information on Federal Taxes including classifications, rates, filing & reporting, frequencies & due dates, deductions, late fees, etc., visit the IRS website. You can also consult the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource. Again, be sure to consult your tax professional.

Notification Requirements for Changes 

Notify all licensing/permitting/taxing departments, and comply with departmental requirements regarding change of ownership, change of location, additional business locations, and change of business name.

Section IV: Best Practices for Your Nightlife Establishment

Mitigating Nuisance Noise

Noise is typically the biggest issue that neighbors have with nightlife establishments.  As we mentioned previously in this handbook, when considering opening an establishment, owners should take into account surrounding land uses, the condition of the building and test their equipment with neighbors.  Older buildings (and some newer ones as well) typically do not have noise mitigation measures in place and may not have door vestibules, triple-glazed windows, or air conditioning.  Nightlife establishments should work to mitigate the amplified sound and crowd-related noise they create.  Have a sound engineer evaluate your premises, and work with you to establish speaker placement, maximum amplification settings, and other noise control options

Mitigating the impact of amplified sound is extremely important and may be accomplished by installing double entry doors, keeping windows closed while the amplified sound is played, or by installing buffering walls and ceilings.  There are several ways a nightlife establishment can make improvements to control better-amplified sound that escapes from within and to better control noise from their patrons as they enter or exit their establishments.  As noise mitigation measures can be expensive, a full understanding of the building's construction and the surrounding land should be fully considered before opening an establishment; talk with your landlord and neighbors about improvements everyone can make.  The following improvements may not apply to all establishments or be feasible to implement.  They are intended to provide guidance on how to better understand noise and on how to reduce noise issues or prevent those issues from arising.

Improvements

Patrons

  • Visual cues  Provide clearly visible reminders - through the interior and exterior signage in front of your establishment - that your establishment is part of a neighborhood and that you respect their needs.  Encourage your patrons with signage to respect your neighbors by refraining from:
    • Loud conversation when waiting in line outside, leaving your establishment, or when taking smoke breaks.
    • Hanging out in the street or adjacent parking lot after closing time
    • Playing loud music over their car stereos
  • Staff role  Ask your staff to promote your "good neighbor" efforts by walking along outside lines as a means to discourage disruptive behavior - if individuals do not refrain from disruptive behavior bar their admittance; have staff remind patrons that they are leaving your establishment but entering a neighborhood.

Know Your Noise Ordinances

The general rules on public nuisance noise can be found in SMC 25.08.500 .

"It is unlawful for any person knowingly to cause or make, or for any person in possession of property knowingly to allow or originate from the property, unreasonable noise which disturbs another, and to refuse or intentionally fails to cease the unreasonable noise when ordered to do so by a police officer... or any employee of the Department of Planning and Development authorized by the Director of that Department." 

"Unreasonable noise" shall include but is not limited to the following sounds or combination of sounds:

  • Loud or raucous, and frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds created by use of a musical instrument, or another device capable of producing sound when struck by an object, a whistle, or a sound amplifier or another device capable of producing, amplifying, or reproducing sound.  
  • Loud and raucous, and frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds made by the amplified or unamplified human voice between the hours of ten (10:00) p.m. and seven (7:00) a.m.

For complete definitions and rules on Noise Control, see SMC 25.08. In addition, Noise Ordinance #122614 (SMC 25.08.501 Nightlife Disturbance ) states that

"it is unlawful for any person in possession of real property, other than residential property, to allow to originate from that property between the hours of ten (10:00) p.m. and seven (7:00) a.m. amplified noise that is plainly audible to a person of normal hearing  when measured inside a receiving dwelling unit."

Know Your Liquor Laws

When it comes to State Liquor Laws, there are several ways violations may be enforced.  Violations may be issued via direct inspections by liquor enforcement officers, in response to police reports or in response to citizen complaints.  Law enforcement, liquor officers and regulatory agencies such as the fire and health departments have the right to inspect your premises for violations. 

Types of conduct prohibited on a liquor licensed premises can be found at WAC 314-11-050.

Employees Must Be 21 Yrs. Ol

A person must be twenty-one years of age or older to be employed in the sale, handling, or service of liquor, except as provided for in WAC 314-11-040. Persons between eighteen and twenty-one years of age may perform certain duties as proscribed by Washington law.  

Performers and Employees May Not Consume Alcohol

Washington State Law prohibits any liquor licensee, or employees of a licensee, from consuming liquor of any kind while working on the licensed premises.  (WAC 314-11-015) This includes all public spaces such as behind the bar. Performers may consume under certain conditions.

Over-service is Prohibited

Liability for over-service of alcohol rests on you, the business owner.  The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) standard says any person "apparently under the influence" of alcohol may not be served alcohol.  All employees should be trained and aware of WSLCB standards regarding appropriate service of alcohol and recognition of signs of intoxication.  Never hesitate to call 9-1-1 to report suspected drunk drivers.    If you have a recurring over-service problem, consider new policies like: 1)   limit the number of drinks an individual can purchase as closing time approaches, 2)   eliminate late-night sales of shots or straight alcohol, 3)   eliminate late-night happy hour discounts, 4)   offer incentives to servers and security staff for identifying over-intoxicated patrons, 5)   consider offering 'free cover' coupons to diffuse anger of patrons who are cut-off, and 6)   instead of announcing the last call, simply stop serving alcohol when the closing time nears.  

Weapons are Prohibited

Post "Weapons and Firearms Prohibited. All firearms are prohibited by law inside all liquor establishments in the State of Washington.  Liquor establishments must call 911 when weapons are discovered, in case of injuries and medical emergencies, or when any criminal activity is discovered. 

Smoking is Prohibited

Washington State Law (RCW 70.160) prohibits smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.  Public Health has issued the following guidance notice regarding smoking restrictions in King County:  Smoking is prohibited in all indoor areas of nightlife establishments.  In addition, smoking is prohibited in any area under the control of an employer where employees must pass through during the course of their employment, where alcohol is permitted, on any portion of a building (including decks, patios, rooftops, etc.), and within 25 ft. of a window, door, or air-intake to an indoor area. Smoking marijuana is prohibited in a liquor-licensed establishment per WAC 314-11-015.   Nightlife business owners are encouraged to be mindful of their neighbors when determining where to direct people to smoke.  To prevent unintentional violations of the smoking ban, ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia should never be placed within 25 ft. of any protected area.  And remember, litter and garbage near your business is your responsibility   For more information on this law and its implications for your business, contact Public Health Seattle & King County at fel.pajimula@kingcounty.gov or by phone at 206-263-8203.

Maintaining Neighborhood Relations

Staying active in your community and building relationships with your neighbors is something that requires extra work on your part, but there is no doubt it will benefit you in the long run. 

In addition to attending local community meetings, joining and contributing to neighborhood associations, and communicating with both neighborhood business owners and local law enforcement, it is critical to stay aware of potential negative impacts your business may have on your immediate neighbors. Staying involved with neighboring business owners and residents is beneficial to all parties, and vital to maintaining a vibrant nightlife. It may also increase your business. Be sure the area surrounding your immediate premise is kept clear and free of litter or cigarette butts. Implement a no tolerance policy where the code of conduct is concerned, and be sure that code is enforced both inside and outside your immediate premises. The safety of your neighborhood, not just the safety of your immediate premise, is vital to the success of your business.

Get Involved in Your Community

Seattle Nightlife & Music Association

The Seattle Nightlife & Music Association ("SNMA") is a coalition of music, nightclub, and bar interests.  The association seeks to provide nightlife customers a safe and vibrant nightlife, protect music venue, bar, and club owner's rights, respond to proposals which impact the industry, support local communities, and promote responsible music venue, bar, and club management. 

SNMA is an important resource for nightlife business owners.  They provide members with an invaluable connection to their community.  Contact the SNMA via their website.

Neighborhood and Business Organizations

As mentioned in Section II, you should research neighborhood associations, chambers of commerce, community organizations and neighborhood service centers or block watches at the Department of Neighborhoods and the Office of Economic Development.

Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) - Seattle Chapter

The WHA responds to member needs by providing a variety of programs that help businesses succeed. This includes educational classes, such as food safety and alcohol server training, and many business assistance programs, such as a workers' compensation program, health insurance, and financial and legal consultation.

In addition to these programs, the WHA provides government relations services. The association directly represents members through lobbying efforts with the state legislature and may have one of the most sophisticated and effective grassroots lobbying organizations in the state. Learn more about the  Seattle Chapter on the WHA website.

Maintaining Safety and Security

As you are undoubtedly aware by now, nightlife hospitality businesses have many more regulatory and enforcement agencies to comply with, are subject to more oversight and inspections, and face a greater risk of liability than the average business.  Your best strategy for maintaining safety & security is to develop and maintain a comprehensive risk management program and strategy. 

Customers act irresponsibly for one of three reasons: They don't know the rules or boundaries; they know of but don't know how to follow the rules or boundaries; or they know how but don't care. Effective management requires an understanding of these basic principles and works to support all three types. Ongoing training of service, security, and management staff is crucial to the effective implementation of policies and procedures. Selecting the proper training requires an understanding of risk, the level of training required, appropriateness of curriculum to the needs of the business, qualifications of the instructors, and the integrity of the agency or organization providing the training. 

When determining the level of training your service staff and/or security staff require, first consider your level of risk.  For example, the Responsible Hospitality Institute offers the following risk level categories:

  • Low Level  A low risk business is one that serves alcoholic beverages as a secondary source of revenue, depending primarily on food sales. These businesses typically do not have a separate lounge area, rarely or never provide entertainment, have limited seating under 100 people, an owner is available during most or all business hours, customers are older or more mature, beverages may be available only with food, and it may close early.
  • Medium Level A medium risk business depends more on the sale of alcoholic beverages but still maintains a higher percentage of food sales. There is a separate lounge area, entertainment may be provided, clientele varies depending on the time of day or day of the week, and there is a relatively low amount of staff turnover.
  • High Level  A high risk business has beverage sales that exceed food sales, caters to younger, less mature, or a heavy drinking clientele, is accessed by automobile, usually by traveling on highways or interstates, and typically does not have direct owner involvement in management.  Such a business may be staffed and managed by young or inexperienced individuals and experience high turnover and low compensation. These businesses depend on high volume at a few select times such as weekend nights. Otherwise the business has low or no volume of sales.

Hiring Off-Duty Seattle Police Officers 

Department policy prohibits, under any circumstances, Seattle Police from working for or on behalf of establishments that sell or dispense intoxicating beverages.  This policy is in place to prevent any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.  

However, SPD recognizes that under certain conditions, the augmentation of on-duty officers with the presence and services of off-duty officers may enhance public safety in specific areas. Areas with a high concentration of liquor establishments have the opportunity to join together and work closely with SPD to provide additional security officers to specifically defined public areas. SPD may grant permits for the employment of off-duty SPD officers, in a secondary employment capacity, to business associations meeting eligibility requirements and agreeing to be bound by specific terms and conditions. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. Questions and additional information about this opportunity should be directed to the SPD Audit, Accreditation and Policy Section at (206) 684-4116.

All-Ages Dance and Underage Performers

All-Ages Dance

If a liquor-licensed premise is open to the public for food service, and not restricted to minors, minors must leave the entire premises after 11 pm if there is live entertainment. If the liquor licensee obtains an exception to this restriction, through the WSLCB,  then all-ages shows are permitted only when minors are not in or have access to any area where alcohol is served or consumedThere must be an established system for keeping alcohol away from minors - such as restricting alcohol service and consumption inside a lounge area and not allowing it into the restaurant or live entertainment area.

For dedicated all-ages events or venues where no alcohol is served, performers of any age are allowed at all times during regular operating hours. The City of Seattle requires you to have a license for all-ages dance. See the 'Special Licenses' section of Section II.  

Instituting a 'no re-entry' policy is strongly encouraged when holding all-ages events. This eliminates the possibility of underage patrons leaving, only to return intoxicated after consuming alcohol off-premises. You are responsible for an intoxicated person on your premises, even if they drank outside. This includes an intoxicated minor on your premises during an all-ages event regardless of where that minor consumed the alcohol or other substances.  

There are special concerns when a 21+ venue holds an all-ages show, and a special license is required as well. Consultations regarding all-ages events are encouraged and can be arranged through the Nightlife Business Advocate. If you would like further information on policies and procedures for conducting all ages shows, including how to stage and monitor separation of 21+ from underage patrons, please contact the Office of Film + Music at (206) 256-5152.  

 Underage Performers in 21+ Establishments

Performers 18 and older are allowed to play in 21+ liquor licensed venues. State Law dictates that underage performers cannot be present in a venue where alcohol is being served at any time before their set, during breaks, or after playing their set.   Performers 17 and under are not allowed in 21+ venues to perform at any time for any reason (unless it is an all-ages show as explained above). The State law addressing this issue can be found here.

RCW 66.44.316 specifically provides:

"It is lawful for (1) Professional musicians, professional disc jockeys, or professional sound or lighting technicians actively engaged in support of professional musicians or professional disc jockeys, eighteen years of age and older, to enter and to remain in any premises licensed under the provisions of Title 66 RCW, but only during and in the course of their employment as musicians, disc jockeys, or sound or lighting technicians."  

Hiring underage musicians don't have to be a hassle if you take a controlled approach.  ID every band member and clearly stamp or wristband both 21+ and underage performers so staff can identify them.  You may be able to provide a designated area where there is no access to alcohol, but if that is not possible your staff will be able to easily recognize who should not be present in areas where alcohol is being served. Either way, be consistent in implementing your plan in order to remain in compliance with state liquor laws.

Night Club Operations

The suggestions listed here are meant as a general roadmap for operations, not as a list of laws applicable to all establishments or all situations. Using your best judgment and keeping these suggestions in mind could help decrease the number of public safety and other incidents attributable to your business.

Employees

  • Perform background and reference checks of all employees. At a minimum, you can obtain a simple criminal conviction background check via the Washington State Patrol for a $10 fee. Request online or contact the State Patrol at (360) 534-2000.
  • Ensure that staff is trained to maintain smoke detectors and fire systems, and to keep stairways, exit routes, and aisles clear at all times.
  • See that shift manager and/or supervisors are responsible for checking all emergency exits at the beginning of shift AND for ensuring that all exits remained clear and unlocked for the duration of their shift. Train security staff to complete incident reports or log entries for every security, police, injury, use of force, or other public safety incident that occurs in or around your immediate premises. When SPD or another official law enforcement agency is involved, obtain the relevant incident number and report.
  • Maintain strict policies on checking identification of all patrons and provide on-going monitoring and supervision of staff.
  • Reduce the risk of intoxication by limiting the use of drink specials or promotions, use standard measures for drinks, maintain a limit on the number of drinks a person can consume and intervene with anyone whose behavior is inappropriate regardless of whether they are intoxicated.

Event Promoters

  • Hiring event promoters with a valid business license and professional references are in your best interest.  Be sure to check their references and observe other events they may be promoted in your area. Ask them about previous events and all public safety incidents that may have occurred. Ask how they handled them and how you can verify that. You place your business at risk by turning it over to an unlicensed, inexperienced, or unscrupulous promoter, so do your research. 
  • Be aware of how and where events will be advertised. Be careful not to allow excessive promoting of events. 
  • Always require a written, fully-executed contract with your event promoter. Work with your legal counsel to draft a contract that addresses issues of staffing, security, ID and weapons screening, occupancy, over-service, drugs & contraband, finances, and admissions tax. You, the business owner, are liable for these items.  Without a contract and a clear agreement with your promoter, you could suffer losses. Keep your investment safe by maintaining control at all times.
  • Never allow a promoter or their staff to control ID checking at the door, the clicker, the bar, or collection of the cover charge. While it is a promoter's job to get as many people through your door as possible, you are liable for occupancy limits, contraband, weapons, behavior, levels of intoxication, admissions tax, etc.
  • Be sure you communicate the admissions tax requirement to your promoter and that an agreement addressing this issue is in writing before the event. As the business owner, you are responsible for payment of this tax.  If you choose to allow someone other than your staff to collect entry fees, it is still your responsibility to collect and pay the 5% admissions tax (see Section III re admissions tax requirements)

Age Verification

When ID scanners are used, nightclubs have far fewer issues with fake IDs and other criminal activity. All door staff should be aware of policies regarding types of acceptable vs. unacceptable ID and what to do when encountering fake ID. Be aware that as of June 2009, U.S. Passport cards are an acceptable form of identification for purchasing alcohol or tobacco. Policies should be clear and consistent and strictly enforced. To keep the line moving as smoothly as possible, ensure that a problem solver is always near the door to deal with these types of issues.

Security Policies

  • Permits, Licenses and Registrations Keep permits, licenses, and registrations up to date and readily available. Posting them in public places is often required by law and makes it very easy for staff to refer to them.
  • Line Queues If you regularly have line queues for entry into your establishment, designating security staff to walk and patrol the line is an effective deterrent against the disruptive and illegal activity.  Line security assesses intoxication, review dress code, ensure line queues are not encroaching on other properties or businesses, monitor smokers, noise and litter, and maintain the minimum 5' or 6' pedestrian zone (depending on location in the City) required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Patrons who fail to meet the dress code, violate the code of conduct, appear intoxicated or have a history of prior incidents should be removed from the line allowing you to avoid problems before they start.
  • VIP Line Queues  VIP lines and special entry privileges can create problems and are discouraged by law enforcement entities.  If you decide to grant VIP entry privileges, it is essential to keep lines moving quickly and to ensure VIPs do not impede the progress of your general admission line queue.  Have a VIP approver readily available at the door to avoid conflict and be sure the ID policy is strictly enforced.
  • Dress Code  If there is a dress code for your club, post it clearly at the entrance  and ensure that it is strictly enforced.  Door staff should be well versed in dress code and be able to articulate requirements if you choose not to post it outside the door.  Patrons who will not be admitted due to dress code violations should be intercepted and informed of the policy as soon as possible before they reach the door.
  • Code of Conduct  Post a Code of Conduct prominently inside and outside your club. Ensure that your staff knows the code and enforces it consistently, without exception.  Patrons who violate the code should be removed immediately.  If patrons resist or situations escalate, security staff should call for SPD assistance immediately. Contacting SPD for assistance will not be held against a club and is encouraged.
  • Re-Entry Policy  Allowing re-entry without strict monitoring can lead to problems such as over-occupancy and over-consumption off premises. For these and other reasons, re-entry is discouraged. If you allow exiting for smoking, consider designating a secured or controlled area for this purpose. If re-entry is allowed, it is critical to require that every patron is re-screened as if entering for the first time. Many incidents could be avoided if patron re-screening is maintained consistently and thoroughly. Remember, you are still responsible for an intoxicated person on your premises, even if they become intoxicated elsewhere. This includes an intoxicated minor on your premises during an all-ages event regardless of where that minor consumed the alcohol.
  • Over-service  Liability for over-service of alcohol rests on you, the business owner. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) standard says any person "apparently under the influence" of alcohol may not be served alcohol. All employees should be trained and aware of WSLCB standards regarding appropriate service of alcohol and recognition of signs of intoxication. Never hesitate to call 9-1-1 to report suspected drunk drivers. If you have a recurring over-service problem, consider new policies like:
    1. Limit the number of drinks an individual can purchase as closing time approaches
    2. Eliminate late-night sales of shots or straight alcohol
    3. Eliminate late-night happy hour discounts
    4. Offer incentives to servers and security staff for identifying over-intoxicated patrons
    5. Consider offering 'free cover' coupons to diffuse anger of patrons who are cut-off, and
    6. Instead of announcing the last call, simply stop serving alcohol when the closing time nears
  • Alternative Beverages Develop a selection of quality alternative beverages such as bottled mineral water, tea, coffee, juice drinks for the designated driver or for people wanting to switch from alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages during the evening.
  • Alternative Transportation Establish procedures for arranging alternative transportation and work with a local taxi or ride-share companies to establish a designated location during a closing time where people can wait for a cab. Have a list of transportation phone numbers available.
  • Occupancy Limits Have a clear policy on counting patrons, and be sure to enforce it consistently.  At a minimum, establishments regularly reaching their occupancy capacity should use both in and out clickers.  For example, you must decide how to count smokers who exit and re-enter and be consistent.  The best practice would be a "no re-entry" policy or possibly charging a re-entry fee for patrons who insist on exiting the premises.  It is in the best interest of public safety to keep people inside, patronizing the business, and limiting access to any weapons or contraband that may be kept in vehicles.
  • Outdoor Seating By law, any area where alcohol is being consumed must be staffed, and smoking is prohibited in these areas.  Also, noise restrictions apply to outdoor seating and deck areas. It is your responsibility to monitor noise from patrons outside, as well as noise from music being played inside.  Most outdoor seating areas are required to or should close by 10 pm. 
  • Emergency Plans Be sure all employees are trained and aware of emergency exits and procedures.  Institute a procedure by which to return bankcards, coats, and other personal property to patrons in the event of an evacuation for fire or other emergencies.  If a fire or police incident is occurring in the immediate area of your establishment, either uses alternate exits to protect patrons from dangerous situations or keep patrons inside until you can confirm it is safe for them to exit.  Consult with the Seattle Fire Department, Seattle Police Department, or the Office of Emergency Management if you are unsure how to implement an emergency plan for your establishment.
  • Rolling Close One highly effective way to reduce crowd-related incidents and noise complaints, is to institute a rolling closure policy.  You can do this by reducing the volume, tempo and energy of music, along with gradually raising the lighting level and switching to non-alcoholic drinks as closing time nears. Flash the lights with 15, 10, or 5 minutes to go, and then, turn lights up all the way at the closing time. While all liquor must be removed from customers by 2 am, you can stay open longer to allow for a gradual clearing out of patrons.  Be sure all alcoholic drinks are picked up at 2 am.  Some clubs have experienced better neighborhood relations and fewer public safety incidents by serving water and other non-alcoholic drinks after alcohol service discontinues, and by allowing the crowd to disperse on its own.
  • Conflict Management Clear policies and training on conflict management are imperative to your security plan. Institute an "Ask, Tell, Make," policy:
    • Ask them to correct the behavior;
    • Tell them to correct the behavior;
    • Make them comply
    • Explain it at every step and be sure it is enforced consistently.  If patrons refuse to comply or become combative, staff should immediately call SPD. Calls for SPD assistance made in good faith and for the protection of patrons and neighbors alike, will not be counted against the establishment. Likewise, if you fail to call 911 to report a public safety incident, you may be liable for any injuries or losses that occur.

Security Plan

It is imperative that all security personnel be thoroughly trained by a qualified organization.  We encourage you to send your staff through SPD's updated security training program.  It is day-long training that is inexpensive and will provide your staff with valuable information. Equally, as imperative is your detailed security plan and ensuring every employee is aware of the security policies.  Develop a detailed security plan and consult with police, fire, and other appropriate agencies to assure it meets their needs and then practice and do drills.  Such a plan could include, but not be limited to:

  • Security Staffing  In addition to entry security personnel (ID checks, weapon checks, re-entry and occupancy monitoring, line queues, etc.) it is crucial to have sufficient security staff monitoring your patrons at all times.  For high volume nightclubs, consider a ratio of 1 security per 50 patrons as a starting point, but there is no magic number.  Assure an appropriate number of trained security staff to meet the needs of the crowd size, the age of customers, type of entertainment, and length of entertainment.  As with all your employees, it's important to know who you hire; perform your background and reference checks on employees, particularly those in charge of securing your premises.
  • Incident Response  Document a hierarchy of procedures when an incident occurs that may create a risk to the safety of customers, staff, or surrounding community, including when to call police and emergency services, what to do until they arrive and procedures for working with them when they are on the scene
  • Staff Uniforms Whether it is a shirt, jacket, name tag, or another requirement, consistency in attire for club employees, security, and door staff is imperative to customer service and crowd control.  Ensure that your staff is aware of each position's responsibilities, and provide clear and concise job descriptions. Particularly, security staff should be easily identifiable in "Security" marked shirts or jackets.  If you choose to employ plain-clothes security, they should not take action unless identifiable security staff is present, or if it is a dire emergency.  In such instances, they should identify themselves as security before engaging patrons or physically touching them.
  • Floor Roamers  Assign dedicated employees to roam the club, bathrooms, VIP areas, etc.  Experienced, well-trained security staff will mediate and diffuse situations before they escalate.
  • Incident Log  Establish procedures for recording all relevant incidents in and around your establishment and the methods taken to manage them. Increasingly, establishments are relying upon video recording for this purpose.
  • Lessons Learned/Loss Prevention  When there is a major incident, immediately review the incident in a meeting with all staff involved, and if warranted, invite the police to debrief and review what was done correctly and what improvements could be made. Then document the results of the meeting in the incident log.
  • Weapons/Contraband Screening Post "Weapons and Firearms Prohibited" signs. Whether you decide to use wands, pat-downs, purse checks, or another form of screening, be sure there is no confusion about your policy.  Maintaining clear, consistent enforcement is imperative.  Weapons have no place in your business, and all firearms are prohibited by law inside all liquor establishments in the State of Washington.  Liquor establishments must call 911 when weapons are discovered, in case of injuries and medical emergencies, or when any criminal activity is discovered.  You may be liable for any criminal activity that occurs as a result of failure to report.  Whether or not these instances are reported to police, an internal record should be kept.
  • SPD Trespass Agreement  You can request that SPD remove any problem offenders from your premises if you maintain a signed Trespass Agreement with the Seattle Police Department.  This allows criminal charges to be filed if they return and are reported by you.
  • Major Events  Invest in your patrons' safety- hire additional outside security when you plan major events involving larger than normal crowds.  Also, report large-scale events to SPD ahead of time and/or request more frequent patrols if you anticipate the need for increased crowd control outside your establishment.
  • SPD Relations  Meet with SPD precinct representatives as often as necessary to discuss operational issues, solutions to common problems, neighborhood trends, security concerns, etc.  Invite periodic walk-through by Community Police Team (CPT) Officers and cooperate with other government enforcement and regulatory agencies. 
  • Patron Removal Records  Also called a "Bad Actors" List.  When at all possible, keep a record of patrons who are removed from your establishment, with photographs and a record of other identifying information.
  • Communication Develop and regularly update a nightlife establishment call list to provide notification about customers creating a disturbance or who have been refused entry into your establishment.
  • Security Staff Equipment Special consideration should be given to the equipment your security staff will use.  Maintain strict policies on use of force in restraint and ensure your security staff is trained properly to reduce the potential for harm:  
    • Firearms Only licensed, private, outside security personnel are allowed to carry firearms, and never inside your premises. 
    • Flashlights  Security staff should carry relatively small light-weight high-powered flashlights instead of the Mag-Light style which are heavier and might become a dangerous weapon or be turned against security personnel.
    • Handcuffs / Restraints  When properly used, handcuffs may be the safer option for restraining patrons until SPD assistance arrives.
    • Pepper Spray (OC)  If you choose to outfit security staff with pepper spray, you must make it clear that under no circumstances should anyone discharge pepper spray inside your premises. Widespread panic and injury are inevitable as a result of indoor pepper spray use.  If security determines pepper spray is warranted, it should only be discharged outdoors and away from exits or ventilation ducts. Certain types of pepper spray are prohibited, so consult with SPD before you authorize use by security personnel. And the use of tasers is discouraged.  

Post-Incident Law Enforcement Interaction

  • Crime Scene Evidence  Safeguard any evidence that may be connected to criminal activity, and maintain the integrity of any crime scene.  It is a crime to destroy evidence or to interfere with the investigation of a crime.  
  • Court/Detective Contact  Cooperate fully with any investigations taking place in or relative to your establishment.  When incidents occur, be sure your staff is instructed to cooperate with investigations.  It is a condition of your WSLCB Liquor License that you cooperate with any law enforcement investigatory request. 
  • Security Video  Audio, video or photos of any unlawful conduct should be identified and provided to law enforcement when requested.

Security Practices

  • Two-way Radios  Internal radio usage is up to the establishment, and highly recommended, particularly if crowds consistently top occupancy limits.  Security staff and management should be in constant contact, ready to resolve problems before they escalate.  Also, be in contact with other neighboring clubs to let them know when an unruly patron has been removed from your premises. 
  • CCTV  While there are no requirements for security camera monitoring, taking this measure protects you as much as it protects your patrons and assists law enforcement.  Establishing a pattern of good practice is key.  Consider cameras to monitor entrances, exits, and any other sensitive or problem areas like nearby parking lots.  CCTV systems should have at least one week to a month of footage before they over-write, and any footage that exists should be immediately given over to law enforcement if requested for incident investigation. 
  • Lighting  If you have crowd control issues, bring up the lighting levels inside your establishment.  Consider raising levels on the dance floor, in lounge areas, restrooms, and entryways.  Assure proper lighting at your entrance(s) and areas you control to provide easy observation of all activity; if needed, ask your landlord to install additional lighting around the building's perimeter.
  • Theft  Theft is one of the most reported incidents by patrons to nightlife establishments.  A well-secured and staffed coat check for coats and bags can be helpful.  Ensure that control and order are maintained in the coat check area at all times, especially at closing.  Keep records of reported thefts occurring in your club for your protection as well as the protection of your patrons.
  • Outdoor Monitoring  If your outdoor areas are a problem or you deal with repeated incidents outside your establishment, you might consider installing outdoor monitoring systems, extra lighting, and posted signs clearly stating that patrons are being monitored in those areas.
  • Parking Lots  If you have a parking lot, you are liable for this space, and it is considered part of your premises.  Your parking lot should be monitored by personnel or by CCTV at all times when your patrons may be present.  Be sure sufficient lighting is in place to assist security in monitoring these areas.  In particular, it is essential to monitor parking areas to prevent patrons from drinking in or around vehicles before entry or re-entry.

Resource Directory

City Clerk's Office

600 4th Avenue, Floor 3
Seattle, Washington 98124-4728
Web: City Clerk's Office
Phone: 206-684-8344 

Contact for: 

  • City codes

Customer Service Bureau (CSB)

600 4th Ave, First Floor
Seattle, WA 98104
Web: Customer Service Bureau
Phone: 206-684-2489

Contact for:

  • City information and complaints

Finance and Administrative Services (FAS)

700 5th Ave, Suite 4250
Seattle, Washington 98104
Web: FAS
Phone: 206-684-8484

Contact for:

  • City business licenses
  • Taxes

Office of Economic Development

700 Fifth Avenue,
Suite 5752 Seattle, WA 98124-4708
Web: Office of Economic Development
Phone: 206-684-8090

Contact for:

  • Business assistance

Office of Film + Music (OFM)

Nightlife Business Advocate 
700 5th Ave., Suite 5752 
Seattle, WA 98124-4708 
Web: Office of Film and Music
Phone: 206-256-5152

Contact for:

  • Film
  • Music
  • Nightlife
  • Special Events

Fire Department (SFD)

301 2nd Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104
Web: Seattle Fire Department 
Phone: 206-386-1400

Contact for:

  • Annual inspections by stations

Fire Marshall (FMO)

220 3rd Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104
Web: Fire Marshall 
Phone: 206-386-1450

Contact for:

  • Fire Prevention Division of SFD
  • Permits
  • Special inspections

Department of Neighborhoods (DON)

700 5th Avenue, Suite 1700
Seattle, WA 98104
Web: Dept of Neighborhoods 
Phone: 206-684-0464

Contact for:

  • Neighborhood groups

Department of Construction and Inspections

700 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98124-4019
Web: Dept of Construction and Inspections 
Phone: 206-684-8850

Contact for:

  • Land use and other permits
  • Certificates of occupancy

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)

Commercial Services
810 3rd Avenue, Suite 2777 
Seattle, WA 98104 
Web: Seattle Public Utilities 
Phone: 206-684-5800

Contact for:

  • Water and sprinkler service

Seattle Police Department (SPD)

610 Fifth Ave.
P.O. Box 34986 
Seattle, WA 98124-4986
Web: SPD 
Phone: 206-625-5011

Department of Transportation (SDOT)

Seattle, WA 98124-4996
Web: SDOT
Phone: 206-684-5267

Contact for: 

  • Public space permits

Seattle-King County Department of Public Health (DPH)

401 5th Ave., Suite 1300
Seattle, WA 98104
Web: DPH 
Phone: 206-296-4600