FAQ: Street Vending Regulations and Laws in D.C.

What is the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act of 2023?

The Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act was introduced by Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau and co-introduced by Chairman Mendelson; it passed unanimously and became law on July 1, 2023. It improves the management and organization of street vending while preserving the vibrant culture and contributions of street vendors in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and diverse neighborhoods throughout the District. Street vendors sell cut fruit, hand-made goods, and other supplies; provide a service, pay taxes, and contribute to supporting their families.

Vending has been a part of the District’s economy since at least 1803. From 2008 – 2011, vendors were a common fixture at Unity Market in Adams Morgan’s Unity Park, including many vendors who now operate their businesses in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant. Previous enforcement action against vendors typically only had the effect of relocating vendors to different areas around the city.

The street vendor law removes the burden from police of enforcing licenses for street vending and provides authority for D.C. Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection, the government body that enforces business licensing laws, to do the same for street vending business licenses. The law streamlines the process for vendors to get the necessary licenses, classifies vending without a license as a civil infraction, and reduces overly punitive fines for license violations.

The law also establishes a path to forgiveness for debt from previous fines – to make it possible for vendors to relaunch their livelihoods and encourage vendors to work within the system, allowing District government to properly regulate it.

The street vending law made no changes to the criminal code prohibiting retail theft (§ 22-3211), the sale of stolen goods (§ 22–3231), alcohol (§ 25-102), or other controlled substances (§ 48-903.01 et seq). These activities have always been illegal and enforceable by the Metropolitan Police Department, and MPD should continue to enforce them.

What are vending zones and how do they work?

The legislation establishes a Columbia Heights-Mount Pleasant Sidewalk Vending Zone, and gives the Mayor the authority to establish new zones. This will improve the street vending experience for consumers, residents, and vendors. The legislation requires the Mayor to issue a request for proposals for a sidewalk vending zone manager to set up and manage the zone.

The Columbia Heights-Mount Pleasant Vending Zone Manager will be required to:

  • Establish a vending site plan indicating where vendors can safely locate, to be approved by DLCP;
  • Ensure vendors meet their licensing and permit requirements, health certifications and any other legally required permits or certificates;
  • Ensure that vendors are knowledgeable of requirements for waste management and the use of public space;
  • Ensure that vendors have a thorough understanding of products and services that are permitted for sale and the restrictions related to vending cart and/or table size;
  • Develop and maintain policies and procedures for vendors to respond to and mediate disputes between vendors in a sidewalk vending zone;
  • Maintain an accurate list of vendors operating within the zone, including contact information and basic information on items being sold by each vendor;
  • Maintain a daily log of supervision activity that includes information on technical assistance provided to vendors, mediations conducted, and corrective actions taken to ensure vendors are in compliance with the law and regulations; and,
  • Serve as a liaison with businesses and residents within and near the vending zone.

What is the status of the Columbia Heights Vending Zone?

The Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection issued the Request for Proposals in early January.

Who can request creation of a street vending zone?

Advisory Neighborhoods Commissions, D.C.-based organizations, citizens associations, and Business Improvement Districts may request that the Mayor establish a sidewalk vending zone. The Mayor will then solicit community input and has discretion to approve or deny the request within 60 days.

How will vending rules be enforced under this legislation?

Once an entity has been selected as a manager, enforcement will be conducted by both DLCP vending licensing enforcement and vending zone managers, who are working day-to-day in the zone. Zone managers maintain a list of registered sidewalk vendors, ensure that they comply with all health laws and regulations, and may revoke registration for a vendor who violates any part of the vending law. DLCP has the authority to issue verbal and written citations, as well as notices of infraction. Enforcement officers have the authority to request reasonable identification from individuals who are being issued a notice and may detain them as long as necessary to verify their identity in order to issue a notice of civil infraction.

How does the law change the criminal status of vending?

The act of street vending is not and was not illegal, but vendors must obtain the right licenses and comply with established rules. This has not changed. The legislation transfers enforcement of that licensing from police to DLCP*, which is responsible for nearly all other business licenses. Failure to have the correct licenses will be treated like other business license violations rather than with an immediate threat of arrest and imprisonment.

*The Department of Health will continue to be responsible for enforcing the health code regarding food preparation and sale. The law now includes a new category of health inspection designed specifically for street vending to facilitate enforcement and allow vendors to operate safely.

Can police still investigate and arrest street vendors for selling stolen goods or other illegal activities?

Yes. MPD can and should enforce laws around resale of stolen goods, pursuant to DC Code 22-3231, and all other laws on the books. The new law only transferred enforcement of vending licensing to another agency; it does not prohibit police from enforcing other laws. Councilmember Nadeau and her team are working with the Mayor and MPD to clarify that officers can comply with the vending licensing changes and still enforce all other laws.

How is the Council addressing shoplifting and resale of stolen goods?

The Secure DC Omnibus bill, authored by Councilmember Pinto and under consideration by the Council in late January 2024, includes provisions from the Mayor’s proposed “ACT Now” Act, which establishes a new offense of “Directing Organized Retail Theft.” Councilmember Nadeau supports this approach for its focus on organizers, not small-time shoplifters. She and her staff are also exploring other approaches to rein in the sale of stolen goods that weren’t considered in the Mayor’s legislation. Councilmember Nadeau recently met with the Mayor to discuss ways to support officers in enforcing laws such as the prohibition against sale of stolen goods, should they suspect they are being violated by a street vendor.

What types of structures are allowed in vending zones?

Vendors may set up temporary tables or carts up to 3 feet by 6 feet, with no motor or open fires, and able to be moved by hand. Carts, tables, and other items cannot be left on sidewalks outside and must be stored elsewhere outside of vending hours.

When can vendors operate?

From 5 am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 5 am to 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights., but not past 10 pm in residential zones any night of the week.

What type of licenses do vendors need and how do they obtain them?

Similar to other businesses, street vendors must secure all relevant licenses. All vendors are required to have a Corporate Registration,Tax Registration and Certificate of Clean Hands from the Office of Tax & Revenue. Merchandising vendors must also get an inspection from DLCP. Food vendors are also required to obtain a Health Inspection Report after inspections by DC Health, Fire and EMS Department, and DLCP. Once vendors have collected these requirements, they can apply for licensure via the DLCP Business Licensing Portal.

The street vending law streamlined this process, lowered some fees, and allows for amnesty on previous fines, allowing vendors to get back on track within the system, which benefits them and the community.


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