Find Out Whether Your Home Remodeling Contractors are Properly Licensed

Sure, unlicensed contractors cost less, but look at the risks before you hire one to work on your house.

You’re remodeling your home. The remodeling may be modest in scope – you want to replace your old, tired kitchen cabinets – or as complex as adding a new wing to your house, with new plumbing, electrical wiring, security systems and landscaping, or even building a new house altogether. Whether you want to be your own general contractor, or hire someone to serve as your general contractor, most of the professionals who will work on your remodeling project need to be properly licensed.

Licenses are authorizations, usually issued by a state, to engage generally in a particular profession or craft, like electrical work or plumbing repairs. They almost always require a minimum amount of supervised training, the posting of a bond, and continuing education. Many states also require that home improvement contractors be licensed as such.

Permits, on the other hand, are authorizations for specific projects or work. As a practical matter, whoever will do work on your home that requires a permit needs to be licensed. Here’s a list of licenses your contractors should have, and how to check to make sure they have them.

Why Hiring Licensed Home Contractors Is Critical

Although the hourly charges for unlicensed work may be appealingly low, the long-term cost of having work done by unlicensed contractors may be very high. In most states, it is illegal to hire an unlicensed contractor.

When the contractor is licensed, any injury to the contractor or to any subcontractors is the responsibility of the contractor. But, if the contractor is not licensed, the contractor and any subcontractors become employees of the homeowner, who is responsible for on-site injuries to them. Medical bills can be extremely high.

In addition, your home insurer may not be willing to reimburse you for damage caused by the negligent work of an unlicensed contractor.

What Licenses Home Contractors Should Have If You Act as General Contractor

A large remodeling project may require the planning skills of an architect or an engineer. Tearing out old walls, ceilings, flooring, cabinets, appliances, and other hardware will call for contractors who are specially licensed as, for example, asbestos removal professionals, removers of air conditioners, television or electronic monitors or other appliances that contain hazardous materials, or lead paint inspectors.

Installation may require electricians (or gas utility installers) or plumbers, alarm system installers, and security system installers. Even outside work, like landscaping or tree removal, may call for licensed professionals.

What Licenses Subcontractors Should Have If You Hire a General Contractor

Your general contractor (who will need to be licensed, too!) will be responsible for ensuring that every one of the subcontractors who is working on your property is properly licensed. It costs nothing to spend a few minutes talking to the general contractor about assurances that all of the subcontractors are properly licensed.

Who Issues Those Licenses?

Licenses are issued by many different state agencies or offices. For example, in Massachusetts, the licenses mentioned in this article are issued by the Division of Professional Licensure, the Division of Occupational Safety, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the Department of Public Utilities, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Environmental Management.

Fortunately, most states maintain easily accessible websites listing housing and home improvement licenses, whether a particular individual or company has such a license, the state office that issues that license and, if needed, where and how to file a complaint. You can use these sites to check on the licensing status of your contractors whether you’re serving as your own general contractor or letting a general contractor supervise the work.

It’s prudent to assure yourself that your contractors are properly licensed. It only takes a few minutes online to check.

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