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SECTION II. - BUSINESS LICENSES

In this section, you will find resources and information pertaining to the Washington State Business License, City of Seattle Business License, and other City, County or State Licenses, Registrations and Permits that may potentially apply to your business.  Familiarize yourself with each type before you begin operating to avoid problems down the line. 

WA State Business License

Every Washington State based business entity must apply for and maintain a Washington State Master Business License.  There is a $15 processing fee for the Master Business Application. 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, see the License Fee Sheet attached as Appendix E, or view it online at http://www.dol.wa.gov/forms/700031.pdf .

Applications, explanations of fees and process instructions are available from the State Department of Licensing (“DOL”) online at www.dol.wa.gov/business.  The DOL website provides information such as business name lookup, online address change, types of business structures, and links to other resources.  Check out one of these quick reference resources, the Washington State UBI Resource Guide “Operating a Business in Washington State,” attached as Appendix F, or online at http://www.dol.wa.gov/business/operate.pdf .

Your Washington State Business License must be renewed annually.  It is your responsibility to renew on time whether a renewal form is received from the Master License Service or not.

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.  The Seattle business license costs $90, is issued for one calendar year, and must be renewed every year by December 31st.  Applications are processed through the Department of Executive Administration (“DEA”) via the Revenue and Consumer Affairs Division (“RCA”).  

To apply for a new business license, contact the City of Seattle RCA by calling (206) 684-8484, by sending an email to: rca.bizlictx@seattle.gov, or by visiting their website at www.seattle.gov/rca/licenses/Licmain.  

City of Seattle Business License holders may also be subject to a number of 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.  DEA 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 5.55.230Unlawful 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.

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 the Seattle DPD. 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 separate certificates.  If you make any significant improvements to your establishment before you open or during the course of business, you must consult with DPD to find out if those changes will affect your occupant load.  Changes in occupancy classification are not generally permitted until a DPD official has issued a new C of O. 

PLEASE NOTE: Before DPD will issue your final C of O, the Seattle Fire Marshal must 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 Seattle DPD to confirm your establishment has a current C of O on file.  If not, you must start the C of O process with DPD 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 DPD’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 the DPD Client Assistance Memo on obtaining a C of O, attached as Appendix G. 

Seattle Fire Department

The Seattle Fire Department (“SFD”) administers fire and life safety regulations for all properties within the Seattle city limits.  An Assembly Permit from SFD is required for all establishments with an occupant load of 100 or more.  Permits must also be obtained from the Fire Department for special events, public assembly, outdoor heaters, barbeques, changes in entrances/exits, use of outdoor tents, and a wide variety of other activities where a fire or life safety hazard may exist.  An inspection of your premise may also be required, and these permits must be renewed annually.  For a complete listing of SFD Permits and Fees, visit their website at http://www2.seattle.gov/fire/FMO/permits/permitSearch/SearchbyAllPermit.asp, or direct any permit related questions to (206) 386-1450.

Temporary Assembly Permits
Let’s say you want to have an event with more people than your current permit allows.  Temporary assembly permits are required “when conducting an event in which alterations are made to the existing exit configuration, character or use of the facility.”  SFD administers these permits.  The Special Events Section of the Seattle Fire Marshal's Office issues temporary permits and establishes conditions to ensure public safety at large public gatherings.  These permits are issued on a one-time basis, so you must re-apply for each event in question.  Each business is allowed a limited number of temporary permits per calendar year, so be sure to track them closely.   Applications received less than 10 business days prior to the event will be assessed a late fee of an additional 50% of the original permit fee.  Visit the Fire Marshal’s website at www.seattle.gov/fire/FMO/permits/permits.htm  for more information, and to download application forms.

Enforcement – Occupant Load
The Seattle Fire Department enforces the occupant load for your establishment.  In addition to yearly inspections, SFD may conduct random assembly inspections of your premise to ensure you are observing occupant load restrictions.  If SFD visits your establishment and determines you have exceeded the occupant load, they will require you to reduce your occupant load to the maximum number allowed and may issue a notice of violation. You will be required to maintain the occupant load at or below the maximum allowed going forward.

Should SFD determine that you need to calculate and post your occupant load (POL) in order to satisfy the requirements for your assembly permit, you should consult with the Technical Assistance Office at 206.684.8504 or Rachel.white@seattle.gov , to be sure you make accurate calculations to comply with this requirement. 

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 Services section of SFD’s public education resources at http://www.seattle.gov/fire/pubEd/business/businessServices.htm.  Should you need further assistance or have questions regarding the information presented online, contact the Public Education Office via email at fireinfo@seattle.gov.

King County Public Health

Any establishment serving food or beverages must maintain a King County Public Health permit,   AND every establishment in the City of Seattle serving hard liquor must also sell food. All food service within Seattle City limits is regulated by the King County Public Health Department (“KCPHD”).   A new application for a health permit must be submitted to KCPHD for all new businesses and for any change of ownership, and must be renewed annually.  A site plan review is required for all new permits and permits inactive for over six months.  To prepare for your first health inspection, use the ‘Plan Guide for Service Plan Review’ check list (see Appendix D), or download it from the web at http://www.metrokc.gov/health/foodsfty/documents/plan-guide-PERMANENT.pdf. For more information on obtaining KCPHD permits, contact the Food & Facilities Program Section of the Environmental Health Division at (206) 296-4632 or visit their website at http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/Food/food.htm.

Special Use Licenses & Permits

Keep in mind, there may be additional requirements for your unique business that are not covered in this section.  For clarification of your individual circumstances, consult the appropriate departments, your legal advisor or both.

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.

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 State Liquor Board.  For more information on these licenses and how to obtain them, contact the WSLCB at (360) 664-1600 or online at http://www.dol.wa.gov/business/tobaccoretailer.html.

Amusement Device License
An Amusement Device is any machine or device which provides recreation or entertainment for which a charge is made for 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

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 pursuant to RCW Chapter 9.46.  Information can be found online at www.wsgc.wa.gov, or by calling (800) 345-2529.

In addition, a nightlife establishment intending to conduct any amusement games, bingo and raffles, punch boards and pull tabs, and social card games or any other gambling activities must register for gambling activity with Seattle DEA, Revenue and Consumer Affairs Division prior to commencement of such activity pursuant to SMC 5.52.   Details can be found online at http://www.seattle.gov/rca/taxes/GamblingTax.htm.

Sidewalk Café
A sidewalk café is an open-air, non-permanent fenced seating area on a public sidewalk used by patrons of eating and drinking establishments, where items consumed by patrons are provided by an eating/drinking establishment on the adjoining property.  New sidewalk cafés require a DPD land use permit and a street use permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).  DPD processes and collects all initial fees related to Sidewalk Café permits.  Annual review is conducted and invoiced by SDOT.  Review the DPD Client Assistance Memo on applications for sidewalk cafés on the web at http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/news/20070131c.asp, or attached as Appendix H.

Generally, the process for obtaining a Sidewalk Café permit goes like this:

  • Step 1 – Visit DPD and SDOT to discuss project specifics and possible issues.
  • Step 2 – Obtain a project number by submitting a preliminary application to DPD.
  • Step 3 – Submit a Sidewalk Café application to SDOT when you receive your DPD project number. SDOT may contact you during this time to work out any issues.
  • Step 4 – SDOT Plan review and comments will then be forwarded to you and to DPD. DPD then contacts you to schedule a Land Use Intake appointment.
  • Step 5 – Land use intake meeting will take place with SDOT, followed by a two-week public-notice period, which can be extended two additional weeks by public request.
  • Step 6 – The DPD decision will be issued and you will be contacted by a DPD representative to remit final fees and discuss details of issuance.

PLEASE NOTE: You must also contact your local WSLCB enforcement officer to obtain approval for alcohol service in sidewalk cafés.

Street Vendors
Street vendors, including hot dog carts or other food vendors, must obtain a street use permit which requires the permission of abutting property owners and businesses.  These permits are issued and regulated by SDOT.  Certain types of street vending are also allowed in the vicinity of Safeco Field and the Seahawks Stadium during events. All other vending is illegal, except on private property. Contact the Street Use Annual Permits department at the Seattle DOT, 206-684-5267.

PLEASE NOTE: Street vendors serving food must also maintain a valid permit from the Public Health Department.


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