How to Get a Small Business License in New York

Take a look at which licenses, permits, and registrations your small business might need in New York.

By , Attorney
Updated by Amanda Hayes, Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law

The Empire State is home to many businesses, big and small. When you start your New York business, you must follow the proper legal rules and procedures, including obtaining the necessary licenses and permits.

Let's look at the licenses, permits, and registrations your small business needs to open in New York.

Which Business Licenses Do You Need for Your Small Business?

When starting a business in New York, you must:

The types of licenses and permits your business must apply for depends on your business structure, industry, and location. The main types of business licenses, permits, and registrations are:

(For more general guidance, see our article on the legal requirements for starting a small business.)

General Business License in New York

New York doesn't issue a general business license at the state level. Additionally, many cities in New York don't require businesses to obtain a general license. Typically, your industry and the kinds of goods and services you provide will determine whether you need a license to operate. You could need to get licenses from your state, county, and city.

You can use New York Business Express's Business Wizard to figure out which licenses, permits, and registrations are required for your specific business. Just enter details about your specific business and automatically generate a list of the licenses and permits you'll need.

You might also need to get business licenses at the local level. For example, New York City (NYC) has its own Business Wizard website. Like New York State's website, the NYC site allows you to enter information about your business and then provides a list of required local licenses. It's always a good idea to check the website for the city and county where your business is located for possible additional licensing requirements.

Professional and Occupational Licenses for Businesses and Individuals in New York

Many professions and occupations require special licensing or certification. If you're a member of one of these professions or occupations, you'll need to make sure you apply for and obtain the proper authorizations before you start practicing in your chosen area. Depending on your practice area, you could be required to get a license for yourself and for your business.

You can get information on licensing for most professions from the Office of the Professions (OP), a division within the New York State Education Department (NYSED). The OP's website has a list of many of the state's licensed professions including links to webpages with detailed information and services such as:

  • license renewal
  • license requirements
  • application instructions and forms
  • laws, rules, and regulations
  • continuing education
  • board meetings
  • license status and verification
  • frequently asked questions, and
  • other resources.

(Doctors and lawyers, among other professions, aren't included in the OP list.)

The New York Department of Labor (DOL) has a dashboard where you can search for licensing information related to your occupation. By choosing your occupation from a dropdown menu, you can get a snapshot that includes the occupation's:

  • description
  • licensing/certifying authority
  • license requirements (including education, certification, and type of exam)
  • licensing/certification statistics, and
  • license fees.

Some of the listed items, such as "architect," overlap with the OP's listing of professions. The section also lists the state agency that regulates each listed occupation and, like the OP site, has links to more detailed information.

The licensing section of the DOS website also provides individual webpages for a large number of occupations and professions, such as notary publics, security guards, real estate brokers, and cosmetologists. These webpages provide detailed instructions for that occupation, including how to apply for and maintain your license or certification.

New York Sales Tax Certificate of Authority

If your business will sell taxable goods or services, you must register with the DTF and obtain a certificate of authority to collect and pay sales tax in New York. You must register your business at least 20 days before you begin operations.

You can apply for a certificate of authority using New York Business Express. Once you receive your certificate, you must display it at your place of business. You should keep a copy of both with your business records.

You can find more information on the DTF's how to register for a New York State sales tax webpage.

Local Zoning and Building Permits

In some instances—for example, if you'll be constructing or renovating a space—you'll need to get special zoning and building permits. Oftentimes, cities will require you to get a certificate of occupancy (CO) or a similar document before you can start using your business space. These certificates verify that your business is up to code—and specifically that your business has passed the necessary inspections and obtained the required permits.

For example, NYC requires new buildings to have a CO and existing buildings to have a current or amended CO when you've changed your use of the space. If you've only made minor renovations, then you might only need a letter of completion from the city. (For more, visit the certificate of occupancy section of the NYC website.

You should check with your city or town for the legal requirements for your location.

Zoning laws. If your type of business isn't in line with the zoning code, you can find another space or potentially apply for a special use permit. A special permit can provide your business with an exception to the current use laws.

Building code. You can work with local departments and agencies to apply for building and construction permits. You'll likely need to have inspections related to your space's structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing features.

If you'll be leasing a commercial space, be sure to have a clause or paragraph in the commercial lease that ensures the building and your use of the space are in line with the zoning laws.

Filing a Certificate of Assumed Name in New York

Many sole proprietorships and general partnerships don't do business under the names of their owners. Instead, they operate under a trade name. For example, George Constanza might open a shop called "Vandelay Industries" to repair and sell used computers. In addition, some companies, such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), might originally register with the DOS under one name, but later choose to operate under another name (a trade name).

In New York, a trade name is referred to as an "assumed name." But other jurisdictions might refer to it as a "fictitious name" or "DBA."

New York corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships using an assumed name must file a Certificate of Assumed Name with the DOS. You must list every county where you plan to do business. As of 2023, the filing fee is $25 for LLCs and limited partnerships. For corporations, the filing fee is $25 plus the fee for each county you plan to do business. (N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 130 (2023).)

Other business entities that use an assumed name—such as sole proprietorships and general partnerships—must file certificate of assumed name with the county clerk in each county where the entity conducts business. (N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 130 (2023).)

For more information, contact your county clerk's office in your borough.

Other Licenses and Permits Your Business Might Need

Apart from the licenses and permits discussed above, you might be required to comply with other laws and regulations. For example, your business might need to obtain special licensing or follow special rules related to:

  • safety
  • health, and
  • the environment.

Sometimes these areas are encompassed within other licenses, permits, and registrations. Other times, these licenses and permits will require a separate process. You should check with your federal, state, and local governments for more information.

Additional Help and Resources for New York Businesses

You can find answers to many New York small business questions by going to the following state-run organizations and programs:

  • Empire State Development: This organization provides an extensive array of resources to small businesses. The organization's website links to Starting a Business in New York State, a useful guide that provides information on the different phases of business startup, including licenses and permits.
  • NY Small Business First: This program provides a central space for small businesses to find business applications and permits and to work with city officials to complete the permitting process.
  • the New York Small Business Development Center: This partnership program with the SBA offers regulatory guidance to small businesses, including information on permits, licenses, taxes, and environmental issues.

You can find many other helpful guides through the federal, state, and local government, as well as through third parties. You can learn more about how to start and run your small business in the small business section of our website.

If you're looking to dive in further, you can also find expanded information in many Nolo books, such as Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold, and The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo.

Getting a license or permit can be a long, confusing process. You'll need to follow rules and procedures along the way, such as going through the proper inspections and submitting the appropriate forms. It can be easy to miss a step. Many business owners benefit from working with a business lawyer as they start the application process. A New York business attorney who has experience working with businesses like yours can give you personalized legal advice, talk to city officials on your behalf, and make sure your business is complying with the applicable laws.

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