The purpose of this article is to discuss the issue of licensing and the handyman. To date, I have not found a single area of the US where a handyman can receive a license. (If you know of an area, please let us know by adding feedback to this article.) So the question becomes: How can I work legally as a handyman and still make a good living?
Here is the problem. 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. So, being unlicensed we look to the exceptions to the licensing requirements! What kind of work can a handyman do without a license?
In most states there is some type of "Minor Work Exemption"…some maximum dollar amount 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 it’s 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 coverage.
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. In California, 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 a handyman can assemble furniture and garage storage cabinets all day long!
So you see…everywhere you go you’ll find different rules and it’s impossible to quote them all here. But they all seem to have one thing in common. They won’t let the unlicensed handyman break the job down into smaller components to make the totals "fit" the rules and it can’t be a part of a bigger job. ……uhh rats!
Obviously the government is trying to protect vulnerable consumers from unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors. And yes…they have the handyman exemptions in their sights! Because of this, we will continue to see the licensing requirements getting tighter. An honest handyman needs to be aware of the laws since contracting without a license is a crime in every state.
So…what does a handyman do? How do you make a living? Well, take a closer look at what you are being allowed to do!
Handymen can do repairs all day long. They can do maintenance, minor jobs like installing trim, power washing and staining a deck, trash hauling, touching up paint, or minor dry rot repairs, furniture and cabinet assembly. They can repair a fence…build a gate, install a screen door. There are lots of jobs that an honest handyman can do. In fact, almost everything you can do, a licensed contractor won’t want to have anything to do with. They’re too small for him to send a worker out on. His overhead is too high! There is a definite niche for a handyman and a great need for honest, reliable handymen! While you’re at it…want to increase your rates? Carry liability insurance and let your customers that they’re protected. It isn’t as expensive as you may think and you can demand a higher wage if you have it. It’s also a requirement in many states, so get yourself a policy.
Don’t let the limitations stop you. Use them to your advantage. Find partners to work with that will refer you the kind of business you can do. Don’t forget that the years spend as a handyman may count toward your experience requirements if you apply for your contractors 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 kind of work you can do in your area without a license.
Nothing I’ve said here should stop you from making a good living as a handyman. Whatever you do, I hope you take away from this discussion one simple idea. As an unlicensed handyman, it’s not your job do bathroom or kitchen remodels or to frame out additions. That is not the kind of work you should be looking for and you can’t legally build a business that way.
The question was asked, “I was reading your site about handyman business and getting started. At this point I do not have a license but wanted to know in the state of Maryland what is the max that I could charge before I needed a license?” Reply: Be aware that it is illegal for an unlicensed contractor/handyman to do any home improvement work for a fee without holding a license through the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. This may affect work that you have completed as a seller or as part of a home inspection addendum in your contract. Ask for a MHIC license number and verify its owner, status and complaint history prior to signing any contracts. Read more at: For Consumers – Home Improvement Commission
Andreas writes: Here in Salt Lake City – Utah, it took me almost a month to get a Handyman license. I am limited to how big of a job I am allowed, and there are other restrictions for me. However should my business increase, I may do a test after mandatory school hours and become a general contractor, there are 70 different contractor licenses here.