How to Start a Business in Los Angeles
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To start a business in Los Angeles, you need to fulfill registration requirements with both the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County. Getting a business off the ground in LA will require at least four steps:
- Register Any Fictitious Business Names in LA County
- Meet the LA County Publication Requirement (if needed)
- Get an LA Business Tax Registration Certificate
- Apply for Any Special Permits in LA
Defining “Los Angeles”
Angelenos know that when someone says, “I’m from LA,” they don’t necessarily mean the City of Los Angeles (though they might). They could also be referring to one of the 87 other incorporated cities in LA County, like Pasadena, Santa Monica, Long Beach or Monrovia. They could also mean they hail from one of the 2,683 square miles of unincorporated areas within LA County, like Valencia or Marina del Ray or a poppy-blanketed canyon without any name at all. Our point? Where your business is located will dictate the licensing and registration requirements you’ll have to meet.
This guide is focused on starting a business within the City of Los Angeles. But for everyone else:
- Businesses in unincorporated areas of LA County (or in Malibu, Santa Clarita, or Westlake Village) that may affect public health and safety need to apply for an LA County Business License.
- Businesses in incorporated cities in LA County need to check with local city government for licensing requirements.
- Businesses located in LA County doing business under a fictitious business name need to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement with LA County and complete the publication requirement.
The purpose of registering a fictitious business name (FBN) – sometimes called a DBA (Doing Business As) or Trade Name – is to make sure the public can easily figure out who owns a business. Fictitious Business Names are most commonly used by sole proprietorships or general partnerships, although in some cases, LLCs and corporations may use a fictitious name for a niche product line or to target a specific market.
The following business types need to register a Fictitious Business Name with LA County:
- A sole proprietorship or general partnership with a business name that excludes the owner’s last name
The sole proprietorship “Sam Lowery Flowers” does not need to register an FBN because the name uses the owner’s last name. Using the names “Fresh Flowers by Sam” or “Sunshine Flowers” would require registering an FBN, because the names don’t include Sam’s last name.
A general partnership called “Joanna Gomez & Associates” would need to register an FBN because the name does not name the other owners. “Joanna Gomez & Lily Smith Consulting” would not need to register an FBN because the last names of all partners are listed in the name.
- An LLC, corporation, or limited partnership using a different business name than the one listed on their Articles of Incorporation or Organization or foreign registration forms.
“Cactus Jim’s Landscaping LLC” is registered with the California SOS and usually focuses on residential clients, but wants to target luxury apartments in LA. In an effort to reach that niche audience, an offshoot of the business will use the name “Desert Gardens by James.” Because this business name is different than the one listed in his Articles of Organization, Jim/James will need to register an FBN in Los Angeles County.
The freelance writing business “Nerdy Girl Content LLC” was formed in Oregon but wants to expand into California. However, another business in California is using the name “Nerdy Girl Content.” When applying for a Certificate of Authority in California, Nerdy Girl Content LLC lists an alternative business name: “Jenna’s Marketing Solutions LLC.” Does Jenna need to register an FBN in LA County, too? No. Listing an alternate name on the Application to Register a Foreign LLC will suffice.
How do I register a Fictitious Business Name in LA?
To register a fictitious business name in LA, you’ll need to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement with the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office either by mail or in person. The form costs $26 to file. If you file by mail, you’ll need to include a notarized Affidavit of Identity form. If you file in person, you can complete the Affidavit of Identity form at the office, as long as you bring identification.
Note: Your business name must be unique in LA County (use the LA Fictitious Business Name Search to be sure).
Mailed applications must be sent to the Norwalk office, but walk-ins can be done in Van Nuys, Lancaster, or the LAX Courthouse.
What does the Los Angeles FBN Statement require?
The LA Fictitious Business Name Statement requires:
- The California business address you listed on your Articles of Incorporation or Formation
Hint: when you hire us to form your LLC or corporation, we provide a physical business address at no extra charge. You can use our address on this document, too.
- A Certificate of Status from the California Secretary of State (LLCs and Corporations only)
Note: To obtain a Certificate of Status, you’ll have to mail or deliver a Business Entities Records – Order Form to the California Secretary of State. It will cost you $5. If you choose to drop off your request in person in Sacramento, you’ll be charged an additional $10 for priority over mailed requests.
- The names and addresses of all owners
- A signature from an owner, officer, manager, or member
If you had to register a Fictitious Business Name, next you’ll have to publish it in a local newspaper.
Once a week for a month, you’ll need to publish a statement that includes your FBN in a Los Angeles County newspaper. Once you’ve completed the publication requirement, you’ll also have to file Proof of Publication with the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office. Many newspapers will file that document for you.
How long do I have to publish an FBN in LA?
You must begin publishing within 30 days of filing your FBN Statement with LA County.
How much does it cost to publish my FBN In LA?
It depends where you choose to publish. Most papers charge between $45 and $100, though the LA Times will cost you $491! You can choose from a list of LA County newspapers here.
Hint! These are newspapers with the lowest publication prices that we can find:
- British Weekly ($30)
- American Eagle News ($30)
- The Canyon News ($29)
- La Metropolitan Gazette ($25)
The next step in starting a business in LA is applying for a Business Tax Registration Certificate (BTRC). You’ll need a BTRC number to pay your annual taxes to the City of Los Angeles. Every year that you’re in business, you’ll need to renew your BTRC. If you close your business, you’ll have to cancel your BTRC.
Business taxes in LA are calculated based on your gross receipts from the previous year. Unless you can see into the future, you won’t be able to calculate your business tax until the year ends. This means you don’t have to pay the full business tax when you first register for a BTRC. Instead, you’ll pay your minimum tax up front and wait until you renew your BTRC to pay the back tax.
Who needs to obtain a BTRC in LA?
All businesses within LA city limits need to apply for a BTRC. Your BTRC number is used to pay your annual taxes, and you’re also required to display your BTRC at your place of business. If your business is located outside of the City of Los Angeles, you’ll register your business with the county instead.
Not sure if your business is in LA city limits? This map might help.
How do I apply for a BTRC in LA?
The fastest way is to apply for a BTRC online. However, you can only apply for a BTRC online if:
- you are opening a single business location at the time of registration
- this is your first time registering a business with the City of LA
Otherwise, you’ll have to fill out the Business Tax Application and email it or deliver it to the City of Los Angeles, Office of Finance.
What information do I need to apply for a BTRC in LA?
If you apply online, you’ll need to provide the following information:
- your FEIN (unless your business is a sole proprietorship)
- a brief description of your business activity
- your business name
- your business start date
- your business entity type (LLC, corporation, etc)
- a California business address and mailing addresses
- contact information for your business
- your Sales Tax Number (only if you have a seller’s permit in California)
Some business types will have to make a payment when registering. If you apply online, you’ll be immediately issued a temporary BTRC to display at your workplace. You can replace it with your permanent BTRC when it arrives in the mail, probably within a month.
Depending on your business type, you may need to apply for several other permits or licenses. In fact, the list of possible permits a business in LA might need to apply for is very, very long. Below, we’ve outlined some of the common regulations and permits LA business owners ask about.
Working from home (also called Home Occupation) can save a lot of money. Fortunately, unlike some California cities, Los Angeles does not require a Home Occupation permit. However, you do need to follow a few rules.
- Business signs may not be displayed
- Only one employee who doesn’t live at your house allowed
- Two deliveries and pickups per day
- No commercial vehicles parked on site
- Only one client visit per hour between 8 AM and 8 PM
- No mechanized equipment you wouldn’t normally use in a home
Learn more about LA’s zoning regulations for home businesses here.
Police Alarm Permits
Any business within the City of Los Angeles that has an alarm must obtain a Police Alarm Permit from the Office of Finance. You’ll need to apply for the permit online before you have your alarm installed. The initial permit costs $43, and annual renewals cost $26. Installing an alarm without a permit is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a $1,000 fine.
Tobacco Retailers Permit
If your business is going to sell tobacco, you’ll need to obtain a Tobacco Retailers Permit from the Tobacco Enforcement Program and Office of Finance. The permit currently costs $437, but that price is adjusted annually. You can only send in your application by mail.
Certain businesses in the City of Los Angeles will need a fire permit from the Office of Finance. The list of business types is long and the fire permit rates differ by business type. You’ll have to pay the Office of Finance, but the Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau will inspect your business to be sure you’re in compliance.
Public Health Operating Permit
Thinking about starting a food truck in Los Angeles? You’ll need a Public Health Permit from LA County. Food trucks (also called Mobile Food Facilities or MFFs) in LA are heavily regulated, so make sure you’re current on all the rules. For instance, you’ll only be allowed to serve food from the sidewalk side of your truck and some kinds of food prep (like thawing and slicing) must be done in a commissary kitchen, not in your food truck. Once you do your research, you can fill out your Mobile Food Facility / Commissary Application for a Public Health License.
As you can see, starting a business in Los Angeles is no small task. We can take some of the bureaucratic work off your plate and free you up to focus on getting your business where you want it to be. We can form your California LLC, help you incorporate in California, or serve as your California Registered Agent.