Dealing with Illegal Businesses in Retail Centers

Illegal businesses hurt our communities in many ways. Public health and safety officials have a big job when it comes to identifying and responding to these businesses.

As a law firm that works extensively with property owners, city officials, and concerned citizens to address distressed and abandoned properties, we have seen, up-close, the problems that are caused by illegal businesses. 

What makes a business illegal? 

Businesses can be deemed illegal for quite a few reasons. The key determining factor for whether or not a business is operating illegally is pretty straightforward: is the business operating according to local laws or not? 

These are some of the things that can help identify illegal enterprises:

Does the business sell/provide a good or service that is legal in the city, state, or country? 

If the good or service is illegal, then the business itself should be categorized as illegal. Straightforward example: a marijuana dispensary in a state where marijuana is still illegal is clearly an illegal business.

Does the business have the proper permits to occupy the space where it is doing business?

A person can’t just open a business in any building. Business owners must get the proper permits and licenses for their specific type of business and location. For example, you can’t run a restaurant out of a commercial warehouse, and you can’t just open a beauty salon in an office building. 

Is the business following local, state, and federal laws regarding commerce? 

Sometimes, the product or service is perfectly legal, but the business owners have not gone through the proper channels to be in business. A great example would be a baker who is operating in their home without going through proper inspections and acquiring the necessary permits. It’s not that baked goods are illegal, but some individuals may try to sell them illegally. 

What kinds of illegal businesses tend to pop up in retail centers?

Unfortunately, retail centers are often ideal sites for illegal businesses. 

Health inspectors, city health officials, and zoning officials need to be aware of some of the more common types of illegal trade and commerce in order to address the concerns and keep the community safe. 

Illegal Massage Parlors

Officials in Sacramento are calling attention to the growing issues of illegal massage parlors within the city and state. And in Anaheim, Police Sgt. Juan Reveles recently stated that there were over 200 illegally operating massage parlors within the Orange County limits. 

These parlors are associated with illegal sex work and even human trafficking, but they can be hard for the average person to identify. 

Experts say that to differentiate between legitimate massage centers and illegal parlors, look for these clues:

  • Blocked, tinted, or shaded windows
  • A lack of clearly posted prices and services
  • Odd hours of operation that are outside of normal business hours

These businesses may also operate within an otherwise distressed property, such as an abandoned strip mall or a struggling property that has not been able to be sold by the owners. 

Illegal Card Rooms & Gambling Set-ups

Illegal, unregistered casinos are often hidden at properties that advertise as something else. For example, in San Diego, there was a bustling tailor’s shop in a run-down strip mall that wasn’t actually doing any alterations: they were a cover for an illegal casino. 

The FBI says that illicit casinos lead to increased crime, drug use, and other illegal behaviors. Gambling is a highly regulated activity for a lot of reasons, including the protection of people who choose to gamble. 

Illegal Cannabis Dispensaries

After recreational cannabis was made legal in California starting on January 1, 2018, dispensaries saw a lot of changes. To avoid increased prices and taxes, some individuals started running illegal dispensaries, outside of state and local regulations. 

These facilities can be a health risk to their customers, and they are also a drain on the local economy. 

How do these illegal businesses affect our communities? 

These businesses are a big concern for both citizens and city officials because they create major problems for the community as a whole. Here is a list of the problems that arise when distressed properties become home to illegal enterprises: 

  • Illegal behavior can lead to other illegal activities, so there is often a noticeable rise in crime in the areas surrounding these businesses. 
  • Employees of these businesses don’t have the protection of our legal system, because their employers aren’t abiding by required safety standards and employment laws.
  • If the company is selling a legal product or service “off the books,” local municipalities are being robbed of tax revenue. 
  • Property values decrease in these areas. 

Do you need help addressing an illegal business in your area? 

We can help. At Griswold Law, we are experts in distressed properties, abandoned properties, and the complexities that come along with commercial property law. Contact us today to talk about the distressed or abandoned retail properties in your area that you worry have been targeted by illegal businesses. 

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