Finance Frequently Asked Questions

Applicants conducting film shoots in San Rafael should provide a certificate for their commercial general liability policy (with endorsement naming City of San Rafael as additional insured) in the amount of $1 million per occurrence, $2 million aggregate.

There is a mail drop near the rear doors of City Hall.  Otherwise, payments can be made online at or via U.S. mail.

There are a number of special assessments from the City of San Rafael that might appear on your property tax bill. Common assessments are:

  • Library parcel tax imposed by Measure D to maintain San Rafael Public Library services
  • Paramedic tax imposed by ballot measure to maintain rapid emergency response times
  • Clean stormwater activity fee imposed by city ordinance to maintain public storm drain facilities
  • Code Enforcement inspection fee imposed by city resolution to fund the inspection of apartments and hotels

There is a senior exemption for the San Rafael Public Library parcel tax.  Click for the form.

  1. Hotel guests claiming exemption by reason of a stay exceeding thirty (30) days shall claim exemption on a standard City form, under penalty of perjury.
  2. Transients claiming exemption by reason of employment as an officer or employee of (1) the U.S. federal government or its instruments (such as federal credit unions or the Red Cross) or (2) a foreign government exempt by express provision of federal law or international treaty shall claim exemption on a standard City form, under penalty of perjury.   The officer or employee shall also provide photo identification, proof of his or her governmental employment as an officer or employee, and proof that his or her occupancy is for the official business of his or her governmental employer.


  1. Hotel guests staying more than thirty (30) days.
  2. Officers and employees of the U.S. federal government and its instruments (including federal credit unions and the Red Cross), in the course and scope of their employment.
  3. Officers and employees of foreign governments, where exempted by express provision of federal law or international treaty.


Create an account profile at  By logging into this profile, you can renew, close, or print documents from one or more linked business license accounts.

A business license is a tax for doing business. The San Rafael Municipal Code requires that you obtain a license to conduct business within the city limits of San Rafael, even if your physical office is located outside city limits. A business license is not a permit. It is not evidence that the holder is qualified to operate the business or that the business is being conducted in compliance with applicable legal requirements.

Anyone who conducts business within San Rafael city limits must obtain a business license.

Yes, if you are not paid as an employee, you are considered an independent contractor and are required to have a business license.

Yes. However, the business license tax is waived upon presentation of proof that the business has a non-profit status.

A separate business license is required for each location.

No, each city has its own business license requirements, fees, and taxes. Check with the appropriate city or county for its rules and regulations.

Please provide written notification of a business closure or sale.  Include the date the business was closed or sold and the name of the new owner, if applicable.   For your convenience, you may contact us via email at 

You can close your license online.  You will need your account number and your PIN, both of which can be found at the bottom of your renewal notice or in a reminder email.

No, a business license cannot be transferred. As a new owner, you need to apply for a business license in your name.

Always check with the City’s Planning Division to verify that the new location is zoned properly for the intended use and whether a Use Permit or another type of approval is required.  Please submit a new business license application for the new location.  If you are registered with other government agencies such as the State Board of Equalization, you may need to update your address of record.

The president, treasurer, and other officers of a corporation may be shareholders, but they are not the owners of the business for our purposes.  We consider the corporation itself the owner of the business.  Just send us a follow-up email to with updated contact information.

To save paper, postage, and staff time, we are no longer printing new certificates every time a license is renewed, unless there is a significant change such as a new business name or address. You can view expiration dates in the online business registry.

There are a few things to be sure to do so we can process your business license in a timely fashion:

“Business tax certificate” is simply a more accurate term for what is commonly referred to as a “business license.”  Our Finance Department collects business tax but does not regulate businesses; therefore, we are trying to minimize the use of the term “business license,” which suggests the granting of permission.

Third parties occasionally ask to see your business license.  On the top of our main business license webpage, there is a business registry search feature that third parties can use to see if your San Rafael business license is current.

As of January 1, 2022, the City no longer mails paper renewal notices, but will continue to send renewal notices via email. However, it is your responsibility to renew your business license in a timely manner even if the renewal notice is not received. Penalties are assessed on delinquent accounts, regardless of whether you received a renewal notice. Please verify that your email address on file is current.

As indicated on the renewal notice, your renewal must be physically received by the City by the due date. We do not accept postmarks.

Annual renewals are due January 1 (unless you operate a financial institution, an insurance company, or a non-profit on a July – June renewal cycle). There is a 45-day grace period, after which penalties are assessed. If your payment was received after February 15, you were actually more than 45 days late.

Commercial locations are periodically visited by Fire Inspectors for compliance with life safety regulations. This fee covers the cost of these inspections. If you have additional questions about this fee, please contact the Fire Prevention Bureau.

Most businesses engaged in the sale of tangible goods require a California Seller’s Permit in addition to obtaining a business license. To apply, contact the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
50 D Street, Room 230
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 890-6267

Every business must abide by the City’s zoning requirements. Before signing any lease or rental agreement, please contact the City’s Planning Division to make sure your business activity is appropriate for the area’s current zoning designation and that it will not require a public hearing or special parking considerations.

Yes, we typically allow people to make payments.  However, depending on the amount due and the number of installments, we may require you to sign a promissory note and to pay interest and a processing fee.  Please contact the Business Tax Division at (415) 485-3051 for details.

If selling or preparing food is a part of your business, you must apply for a health permit from the County of Marin Food Program in addition to obtaining a business license.

Environmental Health Services 
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903 
(415) 473-6907

Check with the City’s Planning Division Sign Requirements before using or installing any type of sign, flag, or banner, even balloons. Permanent and temporary signs require review and approval prior to issuance of permits and installations.

Check with the Marin County Clerk to see if you need a Fictitious Business Name in Marin.

Marin County Clerk
3501 Civic Center Drive #234
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6772

In the downtown area, there is a Business Improvement District (BID), which is comprised of standard and premium zones. If you are thinking of starting up a business downtown, you might want to review the map below to see if your address falls within either of the zones. If so, you may be charged a BID assessment on your business license renewal. For more information regarding the BID program check out their website using the link: Downtown San Rafael – Business Improvement District

Business Improvement District Map


No, you can’t distribute any commercial handbill or advertising at any homes without having permission of the owner or occupant.

Only certain information is available to the public – for example, business and owner names, physical and mailing addresses, and business types. This information is printed on your business license certificate. We do not disclose phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or financial information to the public, except as required by law.

Per Business and Professions Code Section 16000.1(a)(2), you may protect your residential business address by substituting an appropriate alternative address such as a post office box or private mail box that accepts service of process.  Please provide an appropriate substitute address in writing if you do not want your residential address on your business tax certificate.

Business License Tax payments can be made online, whether it is a balance due payment or renewal. You can also pay in-person on the 3rd Floor of San Rafael City Hall.

If you would like to register your new business, you should first check with our Planning Division to make sure your business location is zoned properly for the business you want to do.  Once a location has been secured you will need to complete a Business License Application online, within 45 days of operation.

You can quickly renew your license or close it online. You will need your account number and a PIN, both of which can be found at the bottom of your renewal notice or in a reminder email.
We have gone paperless! For annual licenses, we will email your courtesy renewal reminder around 3 weeks before your expiration date to the email address on file. For quarterly licenses, we will email your courtesy renewal reminder at the beginning of every quarter your account is eligible to renew.

If you have moved, changed ownership, or have any questions about your renewal, please contact us at or (415) 485-3051 before renewing.

A business license is a tax required of most businesses that conduct business within the city limits of San Rafael, even if your physical office is located outside city limits. Business license taxes help to pay for street maintenance, police and fire protection, and other services that benefit businesses and the general public.

You need a business license if your business is physically located within San Rafael or you conduct business within the San Rafael city limits. You should apply for a business license within 45 days of the start of the business.

There are four types of business licenses:

  • In Town (for retailers, professionals, home-based businesses, and most other physical locations within city limits)
  • Out of Town (for businesses such as contractors and gardeners from outside city limits as well as pumpkin patch/Christmas tree lot operators without a physical office in San Rafael)
  • Apartments (for apartments or certain other residential rental properties)
  • Film Shoot (for filming on public or private property)

You can apply for a business license online.

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