How to Find Out Who Owns a Business in California

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In the state of California, there are many ways to gain information about businesses. The public has access to a variety of online search tools through the Secretary of State that can be queried with various combinations of a company’s name or entity number, which is provided when they register with the state. If you are hoping to file a DBA or gain information about existing DBA names, you may also do so through the state’s business search capabilities. Also, it is possible to search with the Department of Consumer Affairs to find the license information for an individual or a business. Easy accessibility of information goes a long way toward protecting the interests of the public.

Business Entity Search

In the state of California, copies of business entity documents are available for free on the Secretary of State's business search website. To conduct a search of businesses in the state of California, you may use the Secretary of State’s search function. Available via the internet, this tool allows you to enter various combinations of information that you may have to identify whether a business is registered or licensed with the state.

If you have the entity number for the business, you may use it to search on the Secretary of State’s business entity site. The entity number is the identification number issued to the business when it was formed or registered in California. When using an entity number to search, you will need to know whether the company is a corporation, limited liability company or limited partnership because you will need to enter a “C” preceding the entity number if the company is a corporation. Corporations have seven-digit entity numbers. If the business is a limited liability company or limited partnership, use just their 12-digit entity number in your search. No letter need precede this entity number.

If you have the entity name of a business, you may also use that on the California Secretary of State’s site to search for more information about the company. You do not need to have the exact name to find the business, and the search is not case-sensitive. It's helpful to use keywords in your inquiry, which the search considers being any words you believe are a part of the entity name.

The search function will remove the following punctuation from anything you type: commas, periods, single and double quotes, backward and forward slashes and parentheses. If you include any of these, any letters or numbers appearing before and after the punctuation will be grouped together without any spaces. That said, the spacing is not ignored by the search, so you should not remove any spaces that are part of an entity name or add spaces that are not part of the name. The search will remove common words, symbols and abbreviations that you enter in the query box including ampersands and hyphens, and the following words:

  • and
  • California
  • corp.
  • corporation
  • inc.
  • incorporated
  • limited
  • ltd.
  • of
  • partnership
  • the

You should use unique keywords as much as possible, which will be found in fewer search results. For instance, if you believe the business name is “Hinckley’s Fine Chocolate,” searching “Hinckley” will return better results than searching the word “Chocolate,” which is likely to appear in more results. If you choose to search for multiple keywords at a time, note that the results will include only entities that include all of the keywords you have searched. When you’re not sure of the exact entity name, using a single keyword may be a good strategy. Though it will return many more search results, you will be less likely to miss the correct entity than if you guess at several, possibly incorrect, keywords. Note that any keyword over 12 characters in length will be truncated, and the additional letters will be ignored by the search.

If you know the exact name of a California business entity, it is possible to search it in its entirety. If you choose to do so, you’ll need to enter its exact name, including spaces and punctuation. If you inadvertently leave out or add spaces or punctuation, the search will not return the correct entity. If you know how the entity’s name begins, but not its full title, you may enter just the beginning portion of the name. The search will then return any companies that have that string of keywords in their name.

Business License Check California

The state of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs has a license search website that allows anyone to query the license of a business or individual within certain categories. To use the search, you first need to select the category of work that the individual or business falls under. Then, you can enter defining information like their name, city or county.

The work categories that the Department of Consumer Affairs oversees include the following:

  • accountants
  • acupuncturists
  • architects
  • athletic commissioners
  • automotive professionals
  • barbers
  • cosmetologists
  • behavioral scientists
  • those involved in the sale of cannabis
  • funeral homes and cemeteries
  • chiropractors
  • contractors
  • court reporters
  • dentists and dental hygienists
  • electricians
  • appliance repair professionals
  • engineers
  • hearing aid salespeople
  • furniture salespeople
  • landscape architects
  • doctors and other medical professionals
  • occupational therapists
  • optometrists
  • pharmacists
  • physical therapists
  • private schools
  • financial advisors
  • psychologists
  • real estate agents
  • respiratory therapists
  • security guards
  • investigators
  • pest control technicians
  • veterinarians.

Once you have selected the vocational category for the person or entity you plan to search, you will be taken to the website for the board or organization overseeing its licensure. From there, you can enter the first and last name of an individual or the name of a business to search. In some instances, you may also use a license number to complete this step.

California DBA Search

A DBA, standing for “doing business as,” is a name used by companies or individuals for their vocational efforts. A DBA must be filed with the state or county and is employed in an official capacity. For instance, Jane Doe might work as an electrician under the DBA, Better Home Electric. In many cases, a sole proprietor will use a DBA to give their business a polished and professional appearance, even if it’s just them working behind the scenes. Note, however, that sole proprietorships are not registered with the Secretary of State in California, but rather with the city, county or other local government.

In California, it is possible to conduct a DBA search online at no cost. This is helpful if you are hoping to adopt a DBA for your own business, as it will enable you to determine whether the DBA you have in mind is still available. Certain rules exist regarding the adoption of a DBA, depending on the classification of your business entity.

If you run a corporation, limited liability corporation or limited partnership, your DBA name may be adopted as long as it isn’t the same as or too similar to an existing name in the records of the California Secretary of State within the same category or business. For instance, if you want to file the DBA, Certified Home Inspectors, for your corporation, you will only be approved if there isn’t already a corporation whose name is too similar to or the same as the one you have selected. If there is a similarly named limited liability corporation or limited partnership, but not a similarly named corporation, your corporation’s DBA request will most likely be approved.

The California Secretary of State does not check DBA requests against trademarked terms. It is up to the business entity to verify for itself that the name they have proposed doesn’t violate any trademarks. Also, it is up to the business owner to verify that another company isn't holding the DBA they have requested. The state permits the reservation of a name for up to 60 days. If you submit a DBA request for a name that is already in reserve, your request will most likely be denied.

To reserve a DBA for up to 60 days, you may complete a Name Reservation Request form. There is a fee accompanying this form. If your 60 days pass before you determine the name, it is possible to renew it. However, according to California state law, the same party is not permitted to reserve the name for consecutive periods. If you frequently reserve names, it is possible to set up a prepaid account so that you can call in your reservations by phone. Reserving a name does not guarantee that you will receive it. The state of California must still review the DBA to ensure complete compliance.

To search for a DBA that already exists, members of the public may use the California Secretary of State’s business search function as outlined above. The state notes that this should be used only as a preliminary search, however, rather than as a formal name availability search.

Businesses may send a completed Name Availability Inquiry Letter to the California Secretary of State to check name availability. Unfortunately, it is not possible to submit this sort of inquiry via email or online. The form is free to file, however. If you find that your company is frequently checking for name availability, it is possible to set up a prepaid account so that you can check name availability by phone. The state notes that looking into a name’s availability does nothing to set the DBA aside.

Obtaining Corporate Documents in California

In California, it is possible to make written requests for certificates, copies and status reports relevant to corporations through the Secretary of State’s Sacramento office. You may request certificates related to the current status of an entity such as active, suspended or canceled or that states all of the business documents on file with the state such as formation, merger or termination documents. If there are no records available for a particular business entity, it is also possible to get a certificate of "no record," which states just that.

The public may request copies of documents that have been filed with the Secretary of State including registrations, amendments or terminations. It’s also possible to obtain a report on the status of a given corporation. Personal information regarding owners, bankruptcy details, operating agreements, company bylaws, shareholder information and business license information are also common requests.

Processing times for obtaining corporate documents or information vary and are based on the type of request you have submitted, how you’ve submitted your inquiry and when it is received. If you are able to visit in the Secretary of State’s Sacramento office in person and are not requesting copies of any documents, you may find that you will receive a Certificate of Status within just 24 hours of your inquiry. Otherwise, you can check an online list of processing times that is furnished by the Secretary of State and updated frequently.

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About the Author

Danielle Smyth, MS, is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She has been writing on business-related topics for nearly 10 years. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com), and she works with a number of small businesses to develop B2B content for their websites, social media accounts, and marketing materials. In addition to this content, she has written business-related articles for sites like Sweet Frivolity, Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, Bloom Co, and Spent.