Illegal Business

See also: Home Business Rules, New Businesses, Street Food Carts or Trucks

What Is It?

A brown woman wondering what type of business she can have in her building.A business is illegal if it violates the uses established by our Land Use Code — such as a restaurant that operates in a space designated for a retail store — or doesn't follow our rules for noise, outdoor storage, hours of operation, and other rules.

What It Isn’t

An illegal business is not a home business, street food cart or truck, or marijuana store, grower, or producer. We allow these businesses if they follow our rules. Rules enforced by other agencies or law enforcement may also affect the ability of a business to operate legally.

An illegal business is not one operating without a business license. For businesses suspected of operating without a license, contact the Department of Finance and Administrative Services which issues business licenses.

Rules to Follow

To operate your business legally and comply with our Land Use Code and other rules, you should:

Operate your business in a building where we allow that type of business. Our Land Use Code divides the city into residential, commercial, industrial, and other zones; we allow only certain types of business in some zones and restrict the operations of business in many zones.

Get a permit to establish the use. If you open a business on a site where a different kind of business had operated (for example, a restaurant opening in a former retail store), you need to get a construction permit – establishing use in addition to construction, electrical, and other permits that we may also require.

If your business has been open for a long time in the same building and its use was legal at the time it began, we may consider your business to be legal as a nonconforming use even if our Land Use Code would now no longer allow it. If we consider your business a nonconforming use, you do not need to get a permit to establish use. However, if we get a complaint about your building’s physical condition, structural integrity, or ability to hold the number of customers your business attracts, we will require you to get a permit to establish use.

Conduct your business in accordance with our rules about noise, storage, hours of operation, fire, and other rules. For example, we require a buffer from nearby properties if your business is in a residential area. We require noisy business activities to be conducted only inside your building. We also limit the operation of home businesses in residential zones to reduce their impact on surrounding homes. If customers visit your business, you may need a certificate of occupancy establishing the assembly load for the location.

Read the Code


If you receive a notice of a code violation and you don't fix the problem in a timely manner, you could be charged penalties of $150 to $500 a day. We will also charge for inspections.

Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.