The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) licenses, educates, regulates and empowers Chicago businesses to grow and succeed as well as receives and processes consumer complaints. BACP provides bi-weekly and monthly informative sessions to help businesses act responsibly and create economic vitality and vibrant communities for the people in Chicago. BACP also educates small businesses and consumers to ensure the public is protected against fraudulent practices, and investigates for business compliance in areas such as: sales practices, fuel, natural gas, electricity, durable and non durable merchandise and services. Additionally, BACP enforces rules and regulations relating to liquor establishments, weights and measures, public chauffeurs, public passenger vehicles, ambulances, and transportation network providers. Also check out our neighborhood chambers of commerce.
Public Way Use
If your business has a sign, canopy, awning, bench, or anything that extends over, under or is on the public way, it requires a Public Way Use Permit issued by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) – Public Way Use (PWU) Unit. The process to obtain the permit requires City Council approval. There are many different types of public way uses including Sidewalk Cafés.
Payments can now be made online on the City’s Payment Portal at pay.cityofchicago.org. You will need your business account number and permit number found on your payment coupon to process. The City of Chicago still accepts payment methods through the mail with a Personal Check, Money Order, Cashier’s Check or Certified Check. Please include your payment coupon with your payment. Please do not send cash payments through the mail. Cash and other payments may be made in person at City Hall – 121 N. LaSalle Street, Room #800.
In addition to a public way use permit, all business identifiers such as signs, awnings, canopies and banners are required to have a Department of Buildings sign construction permit. Only a licensed sign contractor may apply to obtain a sign construction permit. Please see the list of approved contractors.
You may apply for both permits at the same time at BACP.
You can apply in person at the BACP Small Business Center (SBC) located in City Hall, 121 North LaSalle Street, Room 800. Office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can request an appointment with an SBC Business Consultant here. Application forms are available and listed under the “Public Way Use Applications / Documents” section below.
For temporary use of the public way due to construction, applicants must obtain a Construction Canopy Permit from the Chicago Department of Transportation. Information about this permitting process is available here.
What Is a Sign?
A sign is any name, identification, description, display, illustration, or character which: (1) is affixed to, or represented directly or indirectly (including projected) upon, a building, structure, or piece of land; and (2) directs attention to an object, product, place, activity, person, institution, organization, or business.
There are two categories of signs, on-premise signs and off-premise signs.
An on-premise sign (also known as a business identification sign) is a sign that directs attention to a business, commodity, service, or entertainment conducted, sold, or offered on the premise where the sign is located. For instance, a sign reading Acme Realtors on the premises occupied by the business Acme Realtors.
An off-premise sign (also known as an advertising sign) is a sign that directs attention to a business, commodity, service, or entertainment that is not conducted, sold, or offered on the premise where the sign is located. For instance, a sign reading Acme Realtors on a building or lot that is not occupied by the business Acme Realtors.
When Is a Sign Permit Required?
A sign permit is always required for an off-premise sign (13-20-550(a)).
A sign permit is required for an on-premise sign (13-20-550(a)) with the following limited exceptions:
- A temporary on-premise sign constructed wholly from paper, fabric, vinyl, or similar materials and attached to a window for no more than 60 days, provided that the total area of all signage in a single window does not exceed 25% of the glazing area of that window (13-20-550(d)).
- An on-premise sign painted directly onto the window or made of plastic film or similar material and fully adhered to the window by means of adhesive or static cling for any duration, provided that the total area of all signage in a single window does not exceed 25% of the glazing area of that window (13-20-550(d)).
- Lettering that is painted directly onto the glass of a window and less than 2 inches in height will not be counted in the calculation of the 25% if it is an on-premise sign.
A sign permit is not required for an incidental sign such as an address sign, entrance/exit sign, open/closed sign, days/hours of operation sign or restroom sign provided that the sign contains no commercial or business name or commercial business logo (17-17-0271).
A sign permit is not required for an official sign, public notice sign or warning sign required or authorized by a federal, state or municipal law, such as a no smoking sign, no firearms sign, a high voltage sign or a consumer rights notice sign (17-17-0501).
Businesses are strongly advised to consult the Municipal Code and obtain a permit PRIOR to ordering or purchasing a sign as not all signs are allowed under the building, zoning and public way provisions of the Municipal Code.
For your reference, the majority of requirements relating to signs can be found online at www.amlegal.com/Chicago/ in the follow chapters of the Municipal Code:
- Chapter 10-24: Signs Extending Over and Upon the Public Way
- Chapter 13-20, Article XIII: Signs and Related Structures
- Chapter 13-96, Articles I and II: Outdoor Signs and Electric Signs
- Section 14E-6-600: Electric Signs and Outline Lighting
- Chapter 17-12: Signs
The Zoning district for an address can be found by typing in the address in at the following: https://gisapps.cityofchicago.org/zoning/