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All freelance writers in San Diego should read this

September 14, 2009 - 4:40 pm

I’ve known for some time that freelance writers in San Diego were being targeted for business fees and back-penalties. The cash-strapped city was looking for any way to increase revenue, and it began cross referencing state tax records with its business registry. It seemed unfair to me that writers were being punished for not knowing they were required to register as a small businesses—freelance reporters, most of whom make very little money, don’t think of themselves as business owners. I appealed, on behalf of CityBeat‘s writers, to the city’s Office of Small Business and the Mayor’s office—to no avail. And then I dropped it.

But take a look at this and read the whole way through. (The link comes courtesy of Nathan Gibbs through the power of Twitter). This blogger does a good job of arguing his case and has uncovered an exception that might help some writers.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Randy Dotinga permalink
    September 14, 2009 - 8:55 pm 8:55 pm

    Yeah, but if you’re a full-time freelancer, you’re screwed. No way to get out of it. (and that business about not knowing the law won’t fly.)

  2. David Rolland permalink*
    September 14, 2009 - 9:24 pm 9:24 pm

    Certainly, it’s not a good legal argument. It’s really a matter of fairness. The city should have sent notices to these people saying they’re out of compliance. It would have been the neighborly thing to do. Did you know you were a small business in the eyes of the city?

  3. Randy Dotinga permalink
    September 14, 2009 - 9:26 pm 9:26 pm

    I had a vague idea that I might need a business license, but I never looked into it. The fairest thing to do would be to have had me pay the fee going forward once they discovered I was a business. But, of course, that wasn’t going to happen. Hello, retroactivity!

  4. Dryw Keltz permalink
    September 15, 2009 - 9:52 pm 9:52 pm

    I got nabbed with this a couple years ago. I had to pay around $330 if I remember correctly. I am a double-whammy in this scenario since along with the freelance writing I do, I also work for a restaurant delivery service which hires all their drivers as independent contractors. So basically I run my own delivery service which couldn’t be farther from the truth, and every cab driver runs his own cab company, and every courier owns his own courier service. Independent contractors often get gouged financially in situations like this since their employers can hire and fire them with little discretion and often do little to ensure they are making decent money on a daily basis: see every cab driver in San Diego. For San Diego to come in and gouge these people for more money is pretty much pathetic. Also I don’t know any freelance writers in San Diego who are swimming in money, so trying to milk an extra $200 out of that pool is lame as well. I went down and plead my case to some sort of independent council brought in to hear these sorts of complaints. When I mentioned that I knew the City was in trouble financially but that trying to collect these non-payment fees for a business license I had no idea I was required to obtain was a bad way to go about that one of the guys on the pannel laughed out loud. He thought that was so far fetched. Why else would San Diego be doing this? Of course they want the money-they want any money they can get. This is an easy group to go after because most independent contractors in these scenarios don’t make a ton of money, so paying the moderate fee makes more sense than tripling that number trying to fight it in court. If San Diego, actually if the United States, really wanted to correct this issue, they would fix the definition of “independent contractor.”

  5. Just Ignored It permalink
    September 16, 2009 - 10:53 am 10:53 am

    I am a freelance technical editor and have earned money by editing manuscripts. I don’t always work out of my living room, but often take my manuscripts with me while vacationing around the world.
    When I got the notice to pay $330, I just decided to ignore it. There were demands for payment for a few months, but eventually the letters and phone calls ceased. A bit of effort (City Treasurer worker time) was expended on the collection attempts. I wonder how the investment in collection staff hours invested penciled out as far as returns collected in payments.
    Just yesterday I found that the amount due (~$330) was reported on my otherwise perfect credit record to Experian, the credit company. The other two credit companies did not receive the complaint of nonpayment. In the Experian notes on the “uncollected debt,” the nonpayment was declared by the City to be “charged off,” so I couldn’t pay them now even if I decided to. The reporting to Experian appears to be just revenge, not an attempt to get me to pay to clear my record. I would NEVER pay this ripoff City a dime, just for my revenge! City, take note: I do all of my freelance work outside the County. I just live here, that’s all.

  6. September 16, 2009 - 11:11 am 11:11 am

    I wrote the post linked above. (Thanks!)

    My two cents on some of the comments:

    Never ignore a letter from the government. Ever. You have to either pay the fee or fight it. What “Just Ignored It” did was profoundly stupid. S/he didn’t get any revenge — s/he got bad credit. San Diego can survive without the $330.

    As for my legal argument, it’s perfectly valid, if you read the Supreme Court decision I cited. That said, I was making it in an angry letter, not in court. I’m sure the City knows that I’m not going to sue the city over $250. Again, that said, what they did was profoundly unethical.

    And as others have pointed out, I got off the hook because of the amount of time I freelanced. That’s the issue.

    The lesson here is that you need to fight the fuckers. Do not simply roll over.

  7. Just Ignored It permalink
    September 16, 2009 - 1:01 pm 1:01 pm

    I talked to my Chase account specialist and she dismissed this “unpaid debt” totally. It has had no effect on any of my actions since undertaken. However, I have 40 years of extraordinary credit, and this chump change is just at the level of a silly unenforceable dispute, which I countered in writing, to Experian. But if you, for example, have little or no credit history, then it might be foolish (but probably not profoundly stupid) to risk having a penny ante debt on your record. For me, it means nothing. So no, it wasn’t profoundly stupid for me to ignore the City. But thanks for the carefully weighed accusations.

  8. September 16, 2009 - 2:14 pm 2:14 pm

    You’re welcome. It was carefully weighed accusation. Ignoring the City out of spite and arrogance doesn’t really get you anywhere except where you are, which is asking credit agencies to ignore an actual debt simply because you don’t like it. I’d love to see how Experian responds.

  9. Just Ignored It permalink
    September 16, 2009 - 2:36 pm 2:36 pm

    Thank you for your carefully weighed accusations, again. My decision wasn’t based on spite and arrogance. It was based on efficiency, after consulting with my advisors. Why waste time fighting the morons at the City when ignoring them has no consequences?
    Not sure what you think Experian is….Experian doesn’t respond. They don’t care a whit. They just make money being a record-keeper. They don’t lend or make credit decisions.

  10. November 2, 2012 - 1:17 pm 1:17 pm

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate but I fail to see how you could not be aware that you had to register as a small business. When I decided to start freelancing, I did a ton of research to find out what I needed to do to protect myself legally and financially. Several other freelancing friends, writers or not, have done the same. Did you guys really think you could earn money anywhere in this country and not have to let the government know?? I found a great city resource in the small business bureau, sent them an email and, within a week, received a response that my best bet was registering as a sole proprietor. I also contacted an accountant immediately to find out how to pay taxes as a sole proprietor. This all seems like common sense to me and none of this info was hard to find if you have access to Google. Sorry you guys got burned but as working adults, we all need to be responsible for our actions and our decisions. Pleading ignorance is not the solution to fixing our city or our country. I have paid my annual fees every year and it’s only fair you are responsible for doing the same. It’s really not that expensive.

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