Watchdog Report – January 8, 2024


‘Tis the Season…for business licenses at least.  Most cities in South Carolina require a business license to conduct business in their city.  Nearly all of them impose a business license tax as well.  The tax is not insignificant.  In fact, most cities receive a substantial portion of their revenue, sometimes as high as 30%, from business license taxes.

Pelzer is the latest municipality in the Western Upstate to enact a business license ordinance.

Some counties require a business license as well, but only eight impose a business license tax—none in the Western Upstate.  Counties that require a business license do so they can revoke it if a business is misbehaving, not to raise revenue.

What the law says (and how it helps Realtors)

Business licenses and taxes are allowed under state law, but local ordinances also must comply with state law.  That law was updated in 2022, legislation that your REALTORS® Association supported.  The legislation simplified business licenses Realtors, and potentially reduced the amount due.

Beginning January 1, 2022, the business license tax for a real estate brokerage is paid only by the broker, not the broker’s agents.  In addition, the broker pays the tax only on the revenue they keep, not the total revenue of the brokerage.  Therefore, if a broker collects and passes through revenue to another business, that revenue belongs to the other business and is not subject to tax.

There are two more important points to know about business license taxes:

  1. If your business is located where business license taxes are not collected, you may still be required to pay business license taxes in a city or county that collects the tax if you do business there.  However, you will only be taxed on the revenue you receive doing business in that city. 
  2. If you do business where business license taxes are collected, you may be required by that city to pay the business license tax on the full revenue of your business.  However, if a portion of your business’ revenue was taxed by another city, you can exempt that revenue from the tax you pay where your business is located.  In other words, two cities can’t tax the same revenue.

Both points demonstrate the importance of keeping detailed records of your business’ revenue if you are doing business in multiple cities.

It’s also important to note that if you are doing business in a city that requires a business license, you should get a business license and pay any relevant taxes.  If you don’t, you should expect to receive a demand letter from the city.  Posting a real estate sign is visible evidence that you are doing business in a city.

Your Association is Advocating for You

The business license law that took effect in 2022 is not without its detractors.  The City of Mauldin has filed a legal challenge to the law.  The SC Association of REALTORS® has successfully petitioned the court to intervene as a defendant in that lawsuit, which means they will be defending the 2022 business license law on behalf of Realtors statewide. 

How you can help

If real estate is your profession, politics is your business.  It’s as inescapable as business license taxes. 

Realtors are currently paying your association dues for 2024.  Your association has included a voluntary $25 contribution to RPAC for Realtors, and $100 for brokers.  RPAC is an important tool your association has created to support our advocacy efforts like defending the new business license law. 

You can support those advocacy efforts by including that voluntary contribution in your dues payment in 2024.

Michael Dey, Director of Government Affairs