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Does a Handyman Need to Have a Contractors License?

There are very few areas where a handyman can get a handyman license, so the question becomes: How can I work legally as a handyman and still make a good living?

It seems that every state in the Union has licensing requirements for all aspects of construction.  You have to be a licensed contractor to do any major work…jobs like rewiring a house or remodeling a bathroom.  If you are an unlicensed handyman you must look to the exceptions to the licensing requirements.  What kind of work can be done without a license?




Most states have some kind of “Minor Work Exemption” rule. There are often maximum dollar amounts for a job or some specific types of work that don’t require a license.  These exemptions are where the handyman makes his or her money!  But guess what?  Every state has different rules!

I’ve found that one state sets the maximum dollar amount for labor and materials at $750, while another is $1,000.  Still another state says that you can do up to $3,000 but you have to show that you have liability insurance.

Some states won’t let you do any plumbing or electrical work and won’t allow you to do any work that requires a permit.  It’s maddening really.  InCalifornia, where I live, the limit is $500 but there is an exception which allows the sale or installation of finished products that don’t become a fixed part of the structure regardless of the dollar amount.  So I can assemble furniture and garage storage cabinets all day long!

Everywhere you go you’ll find different rules and it’s impossible to quote them here.  But they all seem to have one thing in common.  They won’t let the handyman break the job down into smaller components to make the totals “fit” the rules and the job can’t be a part of a bigger job that exceeds the limit.

Obviously the government is trying to protect vulnerable consumers from unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors and they have the minor work exemption rules in their sights as a means of protection.  Because of this, we will continue to see the licensing requirements getting tighter and enforcement becoming stricter.

So what is the handyman to do?  How does a handyman business succeed?  Well, we take a closer look at what we are being allowed to do.

We can do repairs all day long.  We can do maintenance, we can do minor jobs like installing trim, power washing and staining a deck, doing trash hauling, touching up paint, or minor dry rot repairs, furniture and cabinet assembly.  We can repair a fence, build a gate and install a screen door.  There are lots of jobs that we can do.  In fact, almost everything we can do a licensed contractor will not want to do.  The jobs are too small for him to send out a worker. There is a definite niche for a handyman and a great need for honest, reliable handymen and women!

Don’t let the licensing limitations stop you.  Use them to your advantage.  Find partners to work with that will refer you the kind of business you can do.

The years spent as a handyman may count toward your experience requirements if you apply for your contractor’s license.  Call a local contractors testing school to find out what you can do now to prepare for getting your license.  They will also be a great resource for information on what types of work you can do in your area without a license.

Nothing I’ve said here has stopped me from making a good living as a handyman.  Whatever you do, I hope you take away from this question one simple idea.  As an unlicensed handyman it’s not our job do bathroom or kitchen remodels or to frame out additions.  That is not the kind of work we should be looking for and we can’t legally build a business based on large jobs.

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