Business Permits

Definition: A legal document that offers proof of compliance with certain city or state laws regulating structural appearances and safety as well as the sale of products

Depending on the type of business you own, you may need to obtain some of the following permits to show compliance with local and state laws:

Seller's Permit If you'll be buying merchandise for resale in a state that collects sales tax, you'll need a resale tax number, also called a seller's permit. Suppliers you buy from will want your number for their files; if you sell to dealers, get their numbers for your files. That way you'll have a record for why you haven't collected tax on a sale, which is only collected on sales to the final user in your state. If you sell to someone in another state, you're not required to collect taxes for that state--only the ones in which you maintain offices or stores. If you sell to dealers who don't have a tax number, you'll have to charge them sales tax on their purchases.

Where and how do you get such a permit? Agencies issuing permits vary from state to state; generally the Equalization Board, the State Sales Tax Commission or the Franchise Tax Board has this responsibility. Contact the entity that governs taxes in your state and apply for your resale tax or wholesale permit. You'll have to provide documentation that proves you're a retailer--make sure to ask what's acceptable.

Health Department Permit If you plan to sell food, either directly to customers or as a wholesaler to other retailers, you'll need a county health department permit. The cost for this permit varies depending on the size of the business and the amount and type of equipment you have. The health department will want to inspect your facilities before issuing the permit.

Fire Department Permit You may need to get a permit from your fire department if your business uses any flammable materials or if your premises will be open to the public. In some cities, you have to get this permit before you open for business. Other areas don't require permits but simply schedule periodic inspections of your business to see if you meet fire safety regulations. If you don't, they'll issue a citation. Businesses such as theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, bars, retirement homes, day-care centers and anywhere else where lots of people congregate are subject to especially close and frequent scrutiny by the fire department.

Air And Water Pollution Control Permit Many cities now have departments that work to control air and water pollution. If you burn any materials, discharge anything into the sewers or waterways, or use products that produce gas (such as paint sprayers), you may have to get a special permit from this department in your city or county.

Environmental protection regulations may also require you to get approval before doing any construction or beginning operation. Check with your state's environmental protection agency regarding federal or state regulations that may apply to your business.

Sign Permit Some cities and suburbs have sign ordinances that restrict the size, location and sometimes the lighting and type of sign you can use outside your business. Landlords may also impose their own restrictions--they're likely to be most stringent in a mall. To avoid costly mistakes, check regulations and secure the written approval of your landlord before you go to the expense of having a sign designed and installed.

County Permits County governments often require essentially the same types of permits and licenses as cities. If your business is outside of any city or town's jurisdiction, these permits apply to you. The good news: County regulations are usually not as strict as those of adjoining cities.

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