Do you (or are you planning to) own a small business in Chicago? Are you looking to add onto your Chicago business office with signs, awnings or patios? Did you receive a notice for a disciplinary hearing from the city? If so, you probably need to visit the Chicago Business Website.

(1) What would I use the City of Chicago Business Website for?

The Chicago Business Website actually has quite a lot of useful information, if you can find it. It has information on starting a business, getting zoning permissions, health and fire inspections for your business, building permits, and so on. It also has a lot of online applications for the above requirements. Generally, if you are a business owner, it is a good idea to become familiar with the Chicago Business Website.

You can also use the Chicago Business Website to find listings of other business licenses and owners, visit their news page for recent changes or announcement regarding Chicago businesses, or file a complaint against a business.

(2) How do I figure out what I need to start my business?

The City of Chicago has a hidden gem called “Starting Your Business.” This page breaks down the steps you need to go through to make sure you are following all of the laws and regulations and provides helpful links to various resources.

The first step it recommends is “Business Planning – Before you schedule an appointment with a business consultant.” This provides resources for business education, selecting a location, avoiding common mistakes by new business owners, and information on registering your business.

The second step the website recommends is checking zoning. Zoning needs to review every business license, location expansion, and/or change of location application before a business license is approved. The website offers tools such as finding a zoning district for your business.

The third step the website recommends is getting your business license. You can visit this page to apply online for a business license, if one is required. If you are in Chicago, any business that you start will either be regulated by the State of Illinois or the City of Chicago. For a full list of professions that are run by the IDFPR and do not need licenses from Chicago, you can go to the City of Chicago’s List of Business License Exemptions. However, this means that you do have to get a license from the IDFPR Website. Getting licensed is an incredibly important step, and includes several “sub-steps”, such as getting inspections. If you have any questions about where you need to be licensed, or which application to use, you should speak with an individual at the City of Chicago or an attorney.

The fourth step the website recommends is getting your building permits. This instructs the reader to look into permits for new building construction; renovations; repairs; items that extend on, over, or under sidewalks and streets; Commercial Driveways; loading zones, standing zones, and valet parking; and possibly an on-street bike rack.

The fifth step the website recommends is looking into water, recycling and sanitation. If you are renting your property and water is included in your lease, you probably do not have to worry about water. Under any other circumstances, you can visit this page to see what forms you need to fill out to take control of your water bills. The webpage also provides useful information on recycling programs and sanitation.

As a side note, there are other steps that new business owners should take that are not included in the city’s website or on this particular page, such as organizing or incorporating their business to protect from liability, or getting a tax ID. You may even need to pay city taxes. If you are starting a new business, it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney.

(3) How do I figure out what permits and inspections I need to open a food truck?

The City’s website has a great page on food trucks. This page breaks down all of the steps you need to follow if you would like to become a “Mobile Food Dispenser” or “Mobile Food Preparer”.

Additionally, we have previously posted about the requirements for opening a food truck in Chicago in our blog titled “Food Trucks: How to Become a Licensed Chicago Mobile Food Vendor”. If you are interested in opening a food truck, you can check out our post for a quick breakdown of some of the laws you will need to comply with.

(4) I am ready to apply for my Chicago Business License, where do I go?

Once you have determined that your business is regulated by Chicago, and not Illinois, by looking over the City of Chicago’s List of Business License Exemptions, you can complete a Business Information Sheet (BIS) or Online License Application System. To determine what you need to include in your application, visit the License Application Requirements page for general application requirements, and the Specific Licensing Guide for any other requirements for your particular license. The Specific Licensing Guide will also tell you the fee (to be paid every two years) for your business.

(5) I need to talk to someone at the City to help me figure this all out. How do I contact them?

If you would like to speak with a professional business consultant at the city, you can set up an appointment by phone or online request. The contact information is provided on their “Schedule an Appointment” page. If you find the process to be overwhelming or wish to talk to someone that does not work for the city, you can also contact a local attorney that may be able to help you with setting up your business.

(6) I need to renew my license or update my license information. Where do I go for that?

When it is time to renew your license, the City of Chicago will send you a notification, along with an account number and PIN. You will need to use those numbers to access the online Business License Renewal System. If anything about your account has changed, you may need to contact the City before submitting your renewal. If your address has changed, you will need to apply for a new license. If you have any questions about the process, you can go to the “Renew Your Business License” page for the City’s contact information.

When you need to update your license information, you will need to visit the City’s “Update Your Business License Information” page. This includes changes such as the sale or closure of your business, a change in owners or corporate officers, a name or “Doing Business As” change, an expansion, a change in business activity (addition or cancellation), or addition or removal of a public way use item. If you are changing your business address, you will need to cancel your business license and apply for a new one.

(7) Help! The city says I have violated an ordinance or is threatening to take away my license, and now I have to attend a disciplinary hearing. What do I do?

If you need to attend a disciplinary hearing for an ordinance code violation or a pending license revocation, the Small Business Center handles it. Violation and/or citation notices will tell you if you will have a disciplinary hearing. If you have an upcoming disciplinary hearing, it is a very good idea to speak with an attorney. Unfortunately, there are so many different hearings and departments that handle them, speaking with an attorney is one of the only ways to ensure you are getting the appropriate advice. In the meantime, you can find more information at various departments on the Small Business Center Website.

If it is related to a public health, safety, welfare, morals and quality of life violation accusation, the hearing is probably handled by the Department of Administrative Hearings. You can visit their website for the top five answers to FAQs, the hearing process, hearing facility locations, and court services. Court services include translation services and a legal aid help desk.

If it is related to an accusation of unfair and deceptive practices, violations of consumer protection ordinances, or liquor license violations, the hearing is probably handled by the BACP – Adjudication Division. You can visit various pages on their website for their hearing schedule, for the rules of procedure for hearings, for the “Flagged Businesses List”, to file a consumer complaint, to file a liquor license violation complaint, or for lists of businesses and individuals that have had disciplinary action from the BACP.

If it is to appeal a disciplinary action imposed by the City or the Local Liquor Control Commissioner, the hearing is probably handled by the License Appeal Commission. You can visit their website for recent rulings, rules, hearing schedules, and guidelines for filing appeals of fines, suspensions, and revocations or filing appeals on applicant cases.

If you receive notice that the Building and License Enforcement Division is holding a hearing, there is likely a public safety concern. You can find more information about what this division does on their webpage.