By Scot Ferraro
No Cabaret License? Then don’t think about allowing dancing in your New York nightclub — or any business in New York, for that matter, that sells food and drink.
This 1920s-era law is one example of quirky business license requirements from around the country. In Texas, regardless of their training, interior designers need a government license to call themselves one. And, in numerous U.S. jurisdictions, homeowners must jump through licensing hoops to take part in a common spring and summer tradition: garage sales.
The laws might be quirky, but the consequences of not having the right license or permit can be serious. Business owners lose revenue, face closure and even risk jail time when they don’t comply with legal requirements.
Let’s take a look at some quirky license requirements from across the country:
Feeding the homeless? Get a permit
A growing number of cities have laws that require individuals and organizations to secure permits before they share food in parks or other public spaces.
In fact, the National Coalition for the Homeless found that between 2013 and 2014 a dozen cities passed laws that require those distributing food to the homeless to get a permit. And some cities are strictly enforcing those laws. In January, seven people were arrested for serving food to the homeless in Tampa without a permit.
L.A. inspectors might love a pony ride, if it’s permitted
Want to make every kid’s dream come true with a pony ride? If you’re in Los Angeles, you’ll need a special $325 permit — which also applies to riding academies, stables, horse markets and mule markets — before you can make it happen.
We all scream for ice cream — when permitted in New York
Don’t think about selling frozen desserts in New York without a Wholesale Frozen Dessert Manufacturers and Handlers License. The special license is designed for sellers of frozen desserts, which can include, but isn’t limited to, “ice cream, frozen custard, artificially sweetened ice cream, ice milk, freezer made shakes, fruit sherbet, water manufactured dessert mix” and other frozen confections. The seller must file separate applications for each location.
Award-winning cookies from your N.J. kitchen? You can’t sell them
You might have decades of state fair blue ribbons for your chocolate chip cookies, but don’t think about selling them if you make them from your home kitchen in New Jersey. It’s the only state in the country to ban the sale of goods that aren’t made in a commercial kitchen.
Until recently, Wisconsin also outlawed the sale of cookies made in grandma’s home kitchen. In late May, however, a state judge ruled in favor of three women who had challenged the law. The state is considering an appeal.
Add training to tradition for your hair-braiding business
In many families, hair braiding is an art form, passed down over generations and learned by watching and doing. But regardless of how long you’ve been perfecting your craft, most states require a cosmetology license or a special braiding or natural hair license to pursue it as a business.
The licenses typically require hundreds of hours of training and can be costly. In some cases, hair braiders must complete 2,100 hours of instruction at a cosmetology school, which can cost more than $12,000, according to an article in Ebony.
Don’t thread on me — unless you have the right license in Louisiana
Some eyebrow threaders in Louisiana are out of work because they also aren’t licensed estheticians, which requires 750 hours of beauty school and related exams. Eyebrow threaders, however, are fighting back and, with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group that coined the phrase “don’t ‘thread’ on me,” have filed a lawsuit.
Your kid wants a lemonade stand? Not without a permit
Over the years, municipalities across the country have closed down concession stands run by kids who didn’t have a required business license or food permit to serve up a tiny paper cup of lemony refreshment. In some cases, angry neighbors tattled on the kids, complaining about traffic hassles and trash.
So, how can you stay on the right side of the law when starting a business? Here are six tips:
- Do your research. Before the opening date is set, make sure you know what permits and licenses are required and do the work to secure them.
- Don’t try to skirt the law. Government regulators can crack down on unlicensed businesses at any time. What’s more, prying neighbors and cutthroat competitors may be even more likely to target unlicensed businesses if they have an ax to grind. Somebody is almost always watching. Make sure you have your paperwork in order.
- Keep permits and licenses up to date. You may have done the legwork to get the right licenses and permits before you opened shop, but those papers are worthless if you’ve let them expire. Stay on top of required renewals so nothing is left to lapse.
- Be aware of any new laws and requirements. New regulations can pop up at any time. Follow the decisions of your local city officials and state legislators. Membership in a trade association in your industry can help you stay abreast of new rules.
- Investigate whether to incorporate. Some licenses may require your business to be qualified with your secretary of state’s office — that is, you may need to be incorporated. A professional registered agent can help you understand if this is a requirement for your business.
- Consider turning to a trusted advisor to help you stay on top of the paperwork. It can take weeks to secure the right permits to open a business — and keep them up to date. A trusted advisor can help keep the paperwork current and notify you of any updates or changes required so you can focus on running your own business.
As Director of Customer Relationships and Compliance at Wolters Kluwer’s CT Corporation, Scot Ferraro helps law firms and businesses of all sizes stay in regulatory compliance.