All businesses operating in DC are required to be registered or licensed by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).This department also issues permits and recognizes business ownership types. The Business and Professional Licensing Administration of the department is for obtaining business licenses and the Permit Center is for occupation and construction permits in the District of Columbia.
Both centers provide technical assistance and the option to complete the process on-site. If you would like to operate in the District of Columbia as a for-profit corporation, non-profit corporation, Limited Liability Company or partnership (limited partnership or limited liability partnership), you must register with Corporations Division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
To register as a domestic company, you must file for articles of incorporation (for-profit or non-profit corporations), articles of organization for Limited Liability Company or statement of qualification for partnership.
To register as a foreign company (if your business is already registered outside the District of Columbia), you must file for certificate of authority (for-profit or non-profit corporations) or certificate of registration for Limited Liability Company.
The following requirements apply to all business license applicants:
- Certificate of Occupancy (CRA-5)
- Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
- DC Business Tax Identification Number
- Certificate of Registration
- Clean Hands Certificate
- Basic Business License
- Business Trade Name
- Other Licenses and Permits
STEP-BY-STEP EXPLANATION OF THE LICENSING PROCESS
Certificate of Occupancy (CRA–5)
A Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit is required to show that your business is operating in a building that meets correct building and zoning code requirements for its intended use. However, you may not need one if you are leasing space in a building that already holds a Certificate of Occupancy for your intended business use. For instance, a law firm can operate under the umbrella of an office building’s Certificate of Occupancy as long as the firm operates in a manner that conforms to office use.
Certain businesses, mostly Basic Business License applicants, need to obtain a separate certificate if the property owner’s Certificate of Occupancy does not cover their business. It’s important, therefore, to ask the owner, property manager or agent about the Certificate of Occupancy when entering into a lease agreement.
To file for a Certificate of Occupancy for your business, you must either have a commercially zoned business location or operate your business from your home. Applications are available from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs or online.
Once completed, you will need to submit the application in person to the Permit Service Center, 1100 4th Street, SW, Second Floor,Washington, DC, 20024. For more information, please call 202-442-4400 or click through the links available on this page.
For Commercial Properties
Most commercially zoned properties will already have a Certificate of Occupancy. You should be able to get a copy of the certificate from the building owner or management company. If there is no Certificate of Occupancy, you will need to apply for one.
For Home-Based Businesses
If you own your home, pursuant to the DCMR Title 11 Zoning Regulations Chapter 2 Section 203, you may be able to use your home for the business on the application form for the Home Occupation Permit (HOP).
You must live in the home to obtain a HOP. Please note that you are only allowed to use 25% of any given room for your business operation. It is wise to check zoning regulations regarding all home-based businesses. If you are renting or leasing your residence and want to use it as your business location, you will need to obtain the permission of your landlord to operate your business out of your home. You must include this authorization with the application for the Certificate of Occupancy.
Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), also known as Tax Identification Number (TIN)
A FEIN is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS. The IRS uses the number to identify business taxpayers who are required to file various tax returns. FEINs are used by employers, sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations, non-profit organizations, trusts, states of decedents, government agencies, certain individuals and other business entities.
Generally, you will need a FEIN if you answer “Yes” to any of the following questions:
- Do you have employees?
- Do you operate your business as a corporation LLC or a partnership?
- Do you file any of these tax returns: Employment, Excise, or Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?
- Do you withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a nonresident alien?
- Do you have a Keogh plan (a tax-deferred pension account)?
- Are you involved with any of the following types of organizations:
- Trusts (except certain grantor-owned revocable trusts)?
- Exempt Organizations?
- Real Estate Mortgage?
- Investment Conduits?
- Non-profit Organizations?
- Farmer’s Cooperatives?
- Plan Administrators?
For more specific information about whether or not you are required to obtain a FEIN, you should refer to IRS Publication 1635.You can obtain a copy of IRS Pub.1635 online at www.irs.gov.
The quickest and easiest way to apply for your FEIN is on the Internet at www.brc.dc.gov (select “Start a Business”). You may also fill out a copy of IRS Form SS-4 (Application for Federal Employer Identification Number) and apply by phone, fax or mail. This form is available at the IRS and Social Security Administration offices, or you can request one by calling 1.800.829.4933.
You can also obtain a copy of IRS Form SS-4 online at www.irs.gov or complete the application and mail it to the service center for the District of Columbia at the following address:
ATTN: FEIN Operations
Holtsville, New York 11742
DC Business Tax Identification Number
The FR-500 is a DC Combined Business Tax Registration document used to provide information on ownership, location and type of business, which is needed to make a determination of an employing unit’s liability to pay unemployment taxes.
Once you complete and turn it in to the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), you will be provided with a notice of business tax registration, which will indicate your tax obligations and filing frequency. It will also be the basis for your unemployment tax registration with the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES).
Tax forms can be accessed online at www.cfo.dc.gov/otr. For more information call the Office of Tax and Revenue at 202.727.4829.
If you are an employer with one or more employees performing services within the District of Columbia, you are liable for unemployment taxes under the District of Columbia Unemployment Compensation Act. This includes services performed on a part-time or temporary basis. Employers of household help are also liable if they pay at least $500 in aggregate wages in any calendar quarter for such help.
Persons considered household employees include chauffeurs, cooks, gardeners, nurses, maids and baby-sitters who are at least 18 years of age. Employers with one or more employees performing services within the District of Columbia, as described in the preceding paragraph, must complete part VI of the Combined Registration Application (FR-500).
If the form is completed online at the Office of Tax and Revenue’s website www.cfo.dc.gov/otr, part IV will automatically be forwarded to the DC Department of Employment Services. You will be contacted by the DOES if necessary and provided with a determination of tax liability. If FR-500 is not completed online, part IV should be submitted to the DOES, Office of Unemployment Compensation, Tax Division, 609 H Street, NE, 3rd floor,Washington, DC 20002.
The withholding and submission of employer withholding tax is optional for household employees. If you chose to withhold, you should complete the Combined Registration Application (FR-500), as mentioned above.
Certificate of Registration
You will receive a Certificate of Registration from the Office of Tax and Revenue once you file your FR-500.
Clean Hands Certificate
The Clean Hands Certificate is an affidavit stating that you do not owe more than $100 to the District Government. If you owe more than $100 to the District Government, you will need to resolve the outstanding debt before you can proceed.
A Clean Hands Certificate is required to be submitted with any application for a license or permit in the District of Columbia, including a Basic Business License. The form is included in the Basic Business License application packet.
Basic Business License (BBL)
The Basic Business License (BBL) is a new, streamlined process which replaces many different licenses issued by the city. This is not an additional license. It simply is a new format for paperwork already required by the District Government for businesses and some non-profit organizations.
The BBL makes licensing more convenient than ever before. Licenses held by businesses and non-profits have been consolidated into one Basic Business License, renewed every two years.This new license carries an endorsement for each activity that requires city oversight.
A business needs a BBL if a business or non-profit requires city approvals, inspections or investigations. These rules apply if you transact business in the District, even if your business is not located in the city.
Be sure to check the license categories to learn more about your specific license requirements.
Trade Name Registration
The District of Columbia enacted legislation establishing a registration program for trade names. This new law benefits the business community in several ways by:
- Allowing businesses to use fictitious names (created words and names) in conducting business, including transacting business with vendors and financial institutions;
- Providing an official record of all owners associated to a fictitious name;
- Allowing businesses with fictitious names to undertake legal action under that name.
- You can easily register your trade name online at www.dcra.dc.gov as an individual or organization, under “Corporate Registration”.You may opt to obtain a trade name at any step in the process.
You are required by law to obtain a permit for construction in the District of Columbia if you are going to be constructing or altering your building, home or leased premises. You may apply for permits in the Permit Service Center of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
Please note that other agencies, such as the DC Department of Health, the DC Department of Transportation and the Water and Sewer Authority, have their own respective approval requirements. If you need further assistance, or have multiple permits, contact the DCRA, Building Permit Customer Service Section at 202.442.4589.
You need a permit for:
- New construction and foundations
- Additions, alterations, or repair of existing buildings
- Razes (demolition)
- Erection of a sign and awning
- Layout of interior space for tenants in new or existing commercial buildings
- Please see DC Municipal Regulations (DCMR) Title 12 Chapter 1 for the entire list of required permits.
Plats of Survey
Plats of survey, showing the location of all property lines, are required as the basis for all additions and new buildings. A set of two plats can be obtained in the District Office of the Surveyor, 941 North Capitol Street, NE, Room 2100. You are encouraged to place your order a minimum of seven days in advance. Plats show lot lines and site plans show topography lines utility. Plats are required for the following types of work:
- New buildings or additions
- Retaining walls or fences
- Sheds or garages
Site plans are required for:
- New buildings, additions, interior and exterior alterations
- Retaining walls, sheds or garages
- Excavation for foundations
Public Space Permits
A Public Space Permit is required to use or install structures on public space,which is the area between the building or property line and the curb (restaurants with outdoor seating on the sidewalk will need to apply for the Sidewalk Café Permit). You are required to complete an application for
Public Space Permits in order to:
- Construct sidewalks, alleys, flagpoles, fountains, planter boxes, retaining walls, fences and any other improvements in public spaces
- Excavate in public space to construct foundations
- Occupy public space temporarily for construction equipment
Water or Sewer Excavation Permits
You must complete an application for Water or Sewer Permits in order to:
- Install water or sewer pipes
- Make connections to existing water and sewer mains in the street
- Excavate for water meters and meter vaults in public space
Supplemental Systems Installation Permits
Licensed contractors are required to complete an application for Supplemental Systems Permits in order to install:
- Air conditioning and refrigeration
- Plumbing fixtures
- Electrical fixtures
Floor plans, elevations, cross-sections and detailed drawings are required in various combinations for all proposed construction, except for razes.
You will need a building permit before submitting supplemental plan permits. Permits for simple projects can be issued over the counter in about half an hour, while more complex projects may require from 14 to 30 days for completion of reviews.
Alcoholic Beverage Control Licensing
The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) issues licenses to qualified applicants to serve or sell alcoholic beverages, monitors compliance with the law and regulations and takes appropriate enforcement action when a business violates DC alcoholic beverage law.The ABRA implements new laws regulating the manufacturing, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages in the District.
The ABRA operates under the authority of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) that sets parameters for the agency.The ABRA is an independent DC government agency. There are several classes of ABC licenses.You can obtain copies of ABC license applications and information about the ABC licensing process at their website www.abra.dc.gov or call them for more information at 202.442.4423.
Requirements for licensure vary greatly according to the type of establishment planned. We recommend that you consult with an ABRA representative to first determine the type of license application needed, as determined by the activities of the establishment. Additionally, we recommend that you discuss your proposed location with an ABRA representative to ensure that a license for your location is not prohibited by an existing ABC license moratorium.
Once your license is approved, your establishment and/or location are considered Board approved.
Applicants may select from the following license categories:
- Manufacturer (A) or (B)
- Wholesaler (A) or (B)
- Retailer (A) (B) (C) or (D)
- The retailer (C) and (D) categories are broken down into classes by type of establishment:
- H: Hotel — A Board-approved place offering food, alcoholic beverages and sleeping accommodations. Hotels may serve alcoholic beverages in dining rooms, lounges, banquet halls, and in the rooms of registered guests as long as 45% of their gross annual receipts from the sale of food.
- N: Nightclub — A Board-approved place where food and alcoholic beverages are served, which may offer music and dancing for patrons and entertainers (allowance of nude performances).
- R: Restaurant — A Board-approved place that has either (1) 45% of gross sales are from the sale of food, or (2) a gross food requirement of $1500 or $2000 per occupant (as determined by the establishment’s Board approved certificate of occupancy) depending on license class.
- T: Tavern — A Board-approved place where food and alcoholic beverages are served, which may offer entertainment and dancing for its patrons only (meaning no nude performances).The size of the dance floor may not exceed 140 square feet.
- X—A club,multipurpose facility such as a university,museum, art gallery, theater, the Washington Convention Center, or passenger- carrying vessel serving food or a club car or dining car on a train.
To file for an ABC License
Call the ABRA at 202.442.4423 to schedule an appointment to submit the application.
File for a DC business tax number at the Tax Registration Counter in the One Stop Business Center of the Office of Tax and Revenue; Submit required application(s); Await a 60-day placard period.
Additionally, the Board is authorized to conduct a background investigation including a criminal history record check on the applicant. A routine application, with no protests, will take approximately 12 weeks for approval, which includes the 60-day placard period and final inspections.