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Terms and Definitions



Accessory Use

Accessory use means using a building or piece of land in a way that is different than its primary designation (See Primary Use). A musical rehearsal studio or massage therapy office located inside your house is an example of an accessory use. A "use" in city planning refers to the way a building or piece of land is designated to be used. For example, a piece of land may be designated as residential, meaning it can only be "used" as a home.

Accounts Receivable

Money that is owed by customers for goods or services that have not yet paid for.

Application Fee

A one-time fee paid at the time the application is submitted. Be aware that for some permits, you may have to pay for both the application and the permit. Application fees are usually not refundable and paying one does not guarantee you will receive the permit you applied for.


Assets are property that your business owns. This includes anything that has value, such as cash, accounts receivables, inventory, supplies, equipment, etc.


The identity for your product or service that differentiates it from competition.

Brick & Mortar

Brick and mortar refers to businesses that have physical (rather than virtual or online) presences - in other words, stores that you can physically enter to purchase merchandise. When the term came about, most buildings were made of brick and mortar. Though we use all kinds of building materials today, the term is still common.

Building Envelope

The maximum square footage and number of floors/building height allowed on a property by the City's zoning restrictions.

Building permit

Allows for new construction or construction activities within an existing building. Building permits are issued after the City has ensured that the proposed activity conforms with all city guidelines and regulations.

Business Entity

A business entity is established as separate from its owners to maximize tax strategies, create liability protection, and ensure asset protection. Corporations, limited liability companies, and sole proprietorships are types of common business entities.

Business Improvement District

A business improvement district is a geographically defined area within the City of Los Angeles, in which services, activities and programs are paid for through a special assessment which is charged to all members within the district.

Business Personal Property

Any tangible property owned and used for your business. This includes all machinery, fixtures, office furniture and equipment is considered Business Personal Property. In general, business personal property is all property owned or leased by a business except licensed vehicles, business inventory, intangible assets or application software.


Business Plan

A business plan is an essential roadmap for business success. This living document generally projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the route a company intends to take to grow revenues.

Business Tax Registration Certificate

A certificate that verifies you have paid your Los Angeles Business Taxes and is required if you have physically conducted business in the City of Los Angeles for seven or more days per year.

BusinessSource Center

City-funded resource that offers free services to current and prospective business owners.

Cash Flow

A business's cash flow is the measurement of cash flowing into and out of the business within a set amount of time. For example, you might bring in $100 in sales, but spend $50 in supplies within a given month

Certificate of Occupancy

A document issued by the Department of Building and Safety, which verifies that a building complies with codes, laws and zoning and is thus approved for occupancy.

Change of Use

Any construction or remodeling that changes a facility into a different type of facility, for instance, if a print shop is changed into a restaurant. A change of use may trigger different zoning and permit approvals.

Conditional Use Permit (CUP)

Required approval for certain types of land uses and business activities, regardless of whether or not they conform to zoning requirements.


A method of raising capital in small amounts from a large group of people using the Internet and social media.


A statistical view of a population, generally including age, gender, income, schooling, occupation and so on. Analyzing demographics of your customer base is very important in determining branding and marketing.

Doing Business As (DBA)

A DBA is a name a business operates under that is different from the legal name of the business. For example, the legal name for a home painting service might be Johnson Enterprises LLC, but the DBA might be Johnson's Home Painting Services.


E-commerce is the act of selling products or services over the internet. When you have an online presence through which you try to make a profit, you are involved in e-commerce.


Approval or permission by the City to use or develop land. Entitlements are required unless your building and all of your proposed business activities are permitted under the city's zoning regulations.


Organization established as a separate existence for the purposes of taxes. Corporations, limited liability companies, and sole proprietorships are types of common business entities.


The process of identifying and starting a new business venture, sourcing and organizing the required resources, while taking both the risks and rewards associated with the venture.

Express Permit / E-Permit

A building permit that can be obtained without going through the regular plan check process. E-Permits can be obtained online at or at the Department of Building and Safety's Express Counter […].

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are the costs that do not change in relation how much you sell. Paying rent or salaries are examples of fixed costs. They do not change if your sales or income increase or decrease.

Food Service Establishment (FSE)

A facility or business that provides food to the the public. Examples of FSEs include restaurants, commercial kitchens, markets, food processing plants, caterers, hotels, schools, and hospitals. An Existing FSE is a technical term that indicates that facility has valid permits and/or a Certificate of Occupancy established prior to 8/1/01 that has been operating continuously by the same owner.

Form 1099

A 1099 is an IRS form for the purpose of declaring income from non-salaried sources. Independent contractors should receive a 1099 by January 1 of each year from anyone they perform more than $600 of work for. Income reported to the IRS on a 1099 is taxable by the City of Los Angeles if it does not qualify for a tax exemption.



Items in which you owe money and/or debts. If the debt can be repaid in less than five years, it's considered a short-term liability; debts that are to be paid in more than five years are a long-term liability.

Major Project

For the purposes of permits with the Department of Building and safety, a Major Project is one that consists of: 30 new residential units or more, new non-residential floor area of 30,000 sf or more, valuation of $5 million or more, or creates more than 50 new jobs.


A source of financial services for entrepreneurs and small businesses lacking access to banking and related services.

Net profit

Revenue minus your costs AND tax.

Plan Check

A process where the Department of Building and Safety reviews and approves building-related proposals to ensure they comply with existing City laws, restrictions, and codes.

  • Counter Plan Check - Same-day plan checks for common, straightforward projects.
  • Regular Plan Check - A more detailed plan check for complicated projects.


Preliminary Plan Check Service

A service that gives those applying for a building permit the chance to meet with City engineers to learn more about the necessary requirements prior to official plan check submittal.



The money made from the sale of your product or service.


If a proposed development does not comply with the city's existing zoning code, you may apply to change the zoning into one that will allow your development. This is typically a lengthy process that requires Planning Commission or City Council approval.

Special Project

For the purposes of permits with the Department of Building and Safety, a Special Project is one that consists of: affordable housing of 20 units or more, 20 units of senior housing or more, adaptive reuse, is city bond funded, is a charter school, or is a green business/uses clean technology.

Variable Costs

Variable costs are costs that change in proportion to the number of units produced. For example, if you own a dog grooming business, dog shampoo is a variable cost. You only incur the cost based on the number of dogs you wash. Variable costs aren't as risky as fixed costs because you only incur them when you sell your product or service.


A waiver of zoning requirements. Variances apply only to building restrictions (e.g., height, size), and not to allowable land uses.


The IRS form for reporting employee income.

WorkSource Center

City-funded resource that offers free workforce development services for employers and employees.

YouthSource Center

City-funded resource that offers workforce development services to 16-24 year-olds.


Allowable land use and building restrictions for particular geographic areas, as defined by the City's General Plan. If your project is not permitted by the zoning regulations, you will need to be apply for approval with the City.