The purpose of this guide is to help you become a licensed contractor, so we've assembled the different licenses and registration requirements for each state, as well as links to the governing agency to start your license application process.
Holding a valid and current license shows your prospects that you are a professional contractor, operating a legally compliant and properly registered contracting, remodeling, or service provider business. Many don't realize that unlicensed contractors (in most states) have no mechanic lien rights should a customer choose not to pay your invoices.
Why You Need a Contractor's License
Contrary to what you might have heard or thought, most states don't require licensing to collect another annual fee from you. Instead, licensing is one way for the state to determine that you are a capable and responsible contractor. Should you prove otherwise, they can enforce penalties, fines, or revoke your license.
Most states require a minimum amount of trade experience, plus you must pass a trade, law, or combo test to pass. Most applicants do well on the trade portion, but if you haven't worked in a contractor's office before, the law portion can seem a bit overwhelming. If that sounds like you, you can do a Google search for "contractor license schools in (insert state)." A license school is an additional cost, but it may help you pass the exam on the first try.
(Should we partner with any licensing schools, we can insert a contractor's school page link here.)
In addition to keeping track of their active contractors, most states utilize some form of licensing or registration to provide four distinct benefits for a contractor's customers.
There's much more to being a contractor than some trade experience or expertise. Each state has a municipal code that affects specific aspects of your contracting business, such as contracts, timelines, collecting down payments, invoicing requirements, and even sales tax. Therefore, the best way to ensure that a contractor is running a fair and ethical business is to test their knowledge of contractors' state laws and requirements.
A licensing system allows states to easily track contractors and enforce the state's requirements for liability, property damage, and workers comp insurance. Some states and city/county agencies can also require a bid, payment, and performance bond, providing additional recourse options for unhappy customers. Since these regulations are a part of the licensing process, states can ensure that new and existing contractors operate from a level playing field. And, since the contractor must renew the license regularly, states can catch any non-compliant contractors easily.
Building and Personal Safety
Since contractors are responsible for the spaces where we live and work, the state needs some assurance that:
A carpenter is framing the walls of your house correctly.
The electrician knows how to appropriately wire or upgrade an electrical panel.
Your plumber installs your waste lines with a slope for proper drainage.
Testing and licensing provides a baseline of the contractor's expertise and knowledge against state requirements. An unlicensed contractor may be just as knowledgeable as a licensed one, but until they pass the test, there is no proof one way or the other for the state or the customer.
Your Lien Rights
Perhaps the most critical part of the licensing process involves your lien rights. Unfortunately, most states with a licensing system don't allow unlicensed contractors to file a mechanics lien for non-payment issues.
Let's think about this for a moment, you perform a contract worth $5,000.00 and provide extraordinary service and attention to detail. And for whatever reason, the customer doesn't pay his bill. However, you still must pay for the materials from the supply house and your installer's wages, so what do you do?
With a license in your back pocket, you file a mechanics lien and wait to collect.
Without a license, you cover the job costs out of your pocket and walk away from any potential profit.
Types of Contractor Licenses
As we mentioned earlier, each state determines its testing, licensing, and insurance requirements for contractors. Some are incredibly stringent, while others are ridiculously lax. For example, Connecticut only requires specific sub-trades to be licensed, while California requires every contractor (GCs and all sub trades) to obtain a state license.
As a rule, most states require that MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) contractors obtain a license through a state agency or regulatory board. So, yes, we've included those links in each state listing below.
And here is the last variable to watch out for; in some states, all contractor licensing occurs locally through a county or city office. So, in this scenario, you may need several different contractor licenses to work across several counties or metropolitan areas.
OK, let's look at these different contractor license options now.
General contractors can perform most types of construction work. In addition, they can hire subcontractors in multiple specialties. Once your license is active, you can advertise, bid, and perform various types of construction work. For example, GCs can improve real property and remodel, repair, demolish, or construct buildings and roads.
GCs can also hire and supervise subcontractors, but they cannot perform MEP work, install elevators, or provide asbestos/mold remediation unless they obtain the additional specialty licenses.
Subcontractors include specialty trades, MEPs, and anyone not working as a general contractor. Subcontractors can only perform work within their licensed specialty unless they obtain additional licensing. For example, a GC can paint a building and repair a project's roof. But a painter can't repair roofs, and a roofer isn't licensed to paint. Although subcontractors cannot construct a building, they can build/improve specific assemblies and systems.
Classes A – B - C refers to the licensing structure used by some states, such as California, where every contractor must be licensed.
(A) General Engineering Contractor
(B) General Building Contractor
(B-2) Residential Remodeling Contractor
(C) Specialty Contractor (subcontractor)
Plan to work as a home remodeling contractor or handyman service? You may be subject to specific legal requirements around contract language, insurance, and collecting down payments from homeowners.
Reciprocal licenses allow a licensed contractor to perform work in another state. Usually, the visiting contractor won't have to take the written exam, but they may be required to secure additional bonding or insurance coverage. Each state creates and enforces its policies around reciprocal licenses.
Additional Contractor License Requirements
Contrary to most people's thinking, license, registration, and certification does not mean the same thing. They're pretty different from one another, so let's look at those terms in closer detail.
Certifications typically mean that you have been trained and tested to sell/install a specific manufacturer's product line. A certification looks good on advertising materials, but it does not allow you to bid or contract projects for customers. Specific certifications may be a licensing requirement if your trade deals with health, environmental, or mold/asbestos abatement.
Registration is typically a requirement when states don't have a licensing procedure in place. You register your new company per their requirements, and you can begin to advertise and bid work.
License (business) most states require you also to maintain an active business license, in addition to your contractor's license. From the pizza joint to the bank, every other business in town must have one prominently displayed at their location. In addition, some states require a contractor to have a local business license for each job location.
Below you'll find the links for obtaining a state contractor's license listed alphabetically.
Alabama Licensing Board for General Contractors - https://genconbd.alabama.gov/default.aspx
Alaska - Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing - https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/cbpl/ProfessionalLicensing/ConstructionContractors.aspx
Arizona - Registrar of Contractors - https://roc.az.gov
California - https://www.cslb.ca.gov
Colorado (all GC contractor licensing is done at the local municipal level, check with local city hall for requirements) All contractors must register with the state- https://dora.colorado.gov
Connecticut (does not require a GC license) but subcontractors must be licensed - https://portal.ct.gov/DCP/Occupational-and-Professional-Division/Occupational--Profess/What-Other-License-or-Registration-Does-My-Contractor-Need
Delaware - does not issue GC licenses, but specialty trades must be licensed - https://dpr.delaware.gov
Florida - http://www.myfloridalicense.com/DBPR/
Idaho – No GC license, but some sub-trades must be licensed - https://dbs.idaho.gov/licensing-continuing-education/
Illinois – most licensing occurs at the local municipal level, check with city hall or the building department.
Indiana – Only plumbers must obtain a state contractor license (https://www.in.gov/pla/professions/indiana-plumbing-commission/ ). All GC and other licenses occur at the municipal level.
Iowa – Requires all contractors who perform more than $2000 annually register with the Division of Labor - https://www.iowadivisionoflabor.gov
HVAC, plumbing, mechanical, hydronic systems, and sheet metal licensed through - https://idph.iowa.gov/pmsb/licensure/contractor
Electricians are licensed here - https://iowaelectrical.gov
Kansas – no formal licensing system except for asbestos abatement and well drilling companies here - https://iowaelectrical.gov
All other contractors contact local city or county authorities for requirements.
Kentucky – Only HVAC, electrical, and plumbing contractors require a state contractor’s license here: https://dhbc.ky.gov
Generals, subs, and specialty contractors licensed at the local (city/county) level.
Louisiana – https://lslbc.louisiana.gov
Maine – Plumbers must be licensed https://licensing.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/licensing/begin.pl?board_number=4460 and Electricians get a license here: https://licensing.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/licensing/begin.pl?board_number=4220
General and subcontractors get regulated on the city/county level.
Maryland – Commercial and subcontractor licenses handled on the city/county level.
Home Improvement: https://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/mhiclicreq.shtml
Massachusetts – GC licenses covered here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/when-is-a-construction-supervisor-license-required
Michigan – all GC and subcontractor licenses here: https://www.michigan.gov/lara/
Minnesota - https://www.dli.mn.gov/business/construction-contractor-registration Electrical and plumbing contractors must obtain separate licenses from the DLI.
Mississippi – All GC and subcontractor licenses get issued by the: https://www.msboc.us
Miss state board of contractors. Licenses fall into one of eight different classifications, which may require classes and testing requirements.
Missouri – does not have a statewide licensing program or system in place. Therefore, all licensing occurs at the city/county level.
Montana – Any required licensing is handled by: https://boards.bsd.dli.mt.gov
Nebraska – All contractors must REGISTER with the state here: https://dol.nebraska.gov/conreg/
Electrical licenses: https://electrical.nebraska.gov/electrical-contractor
Licensing occurs at the city/county level.
Nevada – all contractors must be licensed.
Nevada State Contractors Board: http://www.nvcontractorsboard.com
New Hampshire - https://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/ No GC license requirement, check with city/county offices for requirements.
Plumbing and HVAC: https://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/
New Jersey – No GC license requirement in place.
Home improvement contractors register here: https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/hic/Pages/default.aspx
Homebuilding contractors: https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/codes/publications/registered_builders.html
New Mexico – All contractors must be licensed through the state: https://www.rld.nm.gov
New York – State licenses required for asbestos abatement and crane operators, all other licensing falls to local city/county jurisdictions.
North Carolina – all contractors get licensed here: https://nclbgc.org
Plumbing, heating, and fire: https://www.nclicensing.org
North Dakota – General contractors licensed by SOS: https://sos.nd.gov/business/contractors/how-become-licensed-contractor
Ohio – Only commercial electrical, HVAC, hydronic, and plumbing require a state license: https://www.com.ohio.gov/dico/ocilb/
GC and other subs handled at the local city/county level.
Oklahoma – Only electrical, roofing, mechanical, and electrical contractors licensed by the state: https://cib.ok.gov
GC and subs licensed at county/city level.
Oregon – All GC and subcontractors licensed through state: https://www.oregon.gov/ccb/Pages/index.aspx
Pennsylvania – State issued licenses for asbestos and lead removal: https://www.dli.pa.gov/Individuals/Labor-Management-Relations/bois/Pages/Asbestos-Occupations.aspx
GC and subs licensed on city/county level.
Rhode Island – All contractors must register with the state: http://www.crb.ri.gov/contractorregistration/index.php
South Carolina – All contractors are licensed through the state: https://llr.sc.gov/clb/clb_general.aspx
South Dakota – All contractors must register with the DOR to pay excise taxes: https://dor.sd.gov/businesses/taxes/contractor-s-excise-tax/
Electrical and plumbing: https://dlr.sd.gov
GC and subs licensed at city/county level.
Tennessee – all GC and subs licensed here, based on contract dollar amounts: https://www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/contractor.html
Texas – Electricians, plumbers, and HVAC licenses: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/licenses.htm
GC and subcontractors licensed at city or county level.
Utah – All contractors must have a state license: https://dopl.utah.gov/contractor/index.html
Vermont – Plumbing and electrical state license: https://firesafety.vermont.gov
GC and subs licensed through city or county.
Virginia – All contractors must be licensed through the state: https://www.dpor.virginia.gov/Boards/Contractors/
Washington – all contractors must register with Labor and Industries: https://www.lni.wa.gov/licensing-permits/contractors/register-as-a-contractor/
West Virginia – requires all contractors to carry a state-issued license: https://labor.wv.gov/Licensing/Contractor_License/Pages/default.aspx
Wisconsin – all contractors must have a state license: https://dsps.wi.gov/pages/home.aspx
Wyoming – electrical contractor license: https://wsfm.wyo.gov
All GC and subs licensed through city/county offices.