If you’re a natural with home improvement jobs and enjoy variation in your day-to-day work, becoming a professional handyman can be lucrative and rewarding. But before you start taking on clients in a professional capacity, you’ll need to answer one, important question: Does a handyman need a license?
The answer isn’t so cut-and-dry. Licensure depends on a number of factors, including your state, locality, how much you charge per job, and the types of jobs you’re performing. In this guide, we’ll help you better understand handyman licensing laws so you can ensure your handyman business operates aboveboard. Let’s get to it.
How to determine if you need a handyman license
Handyman licensing laws vary a ton from state to state and city to city. Some states don’t require a handyman license whatsoever, but there may be laws and regulations regarding licensing at a city level. Many other states only require a handyman license if the work you’re performing is valued at or above a certain ceiling. Others only require licenses for certain types of jobs.
For a better understanding of how licensing works on a state level, here are a few examples:
- In California, you need a handyman license if you work on jobs worth more than $500. (Even if you only do a part of the work, it’s the job’s value that matters—not your takeaway.)
- In Florida, you may not need a license for minor repairs and carpentry, but you do need one if you’re performing structural work.
- Minnesota requires a Residential Remodeler License for handymen who work on existing structures, and make more than $15,000 a year. Otherwise, handymen who work on small repairs don’t need a license.
Also, keep in mind that some states may not have a license requirement, but you may still need to register with your state’s contractors board or another organization to do business legally. For example, handymen in Nebraska don’t need a state license to operate, but they still need to register their business with the Nebraska Department of Labor.
And always check your county and city laws regarding handyman licensing, whether or not your state requires one. New York, for instance, doesn’t issue state licenses for handymen; but handymen working in New York City need to apply for a Home Improvement Contractor License.
Next, we’ll take a closer look at how you can get a license should you need one in your location.
How to get a handyman license
Generally, handymen licenses are available if you’re over 18 and legally allowed to work in the U.S. Beyond that, licensing requirements and materials differ depending on where you live. In some cases, you may need to show that you have a certain amount of training under your belt before you can apply for a license.
In some states, you’ll also need to pass a handyman exam. As you can probably guess, each state or city has their own curriculum, but exam topics may include:
- The types of jobs you can and can’t legally perform as a handyman
- How to create bids, execute contracts, and stick to a budget
- How to create contracts for a client
- Best practices for ensuring employee and third-party safety when you’re on the job
Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to pay both an exam fee (if applicable) and a license fee.
You’ll need to submit certain materials to obtain your handyman license, too—but, here again, exactly what you need to submit depends on where you live. Let’s use the example of a Home Improvement Contractor License in New York City.1
To obtain this license, applicants need to provide the following:
- Basic business license application
- Sales tax ID number or application confirmation number
- Proof of business address
- Proof of home address
- Proof of Workers’ Compensation Insurance
- Proof of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certification relating to safe lead practices or signed affirmation
- DCA Trust Fund Enrollment or copy of $20,000 Surety Bond (or Third Party Bond)
- Contractual Compliance Agreement
- Home improvement exam and fee
- Fingerprints and processing fee
- Granting Authority to Act Affirmation, if someone other than the applicant is preparing the application
- License fee
This is just an example of what a hopeful handyman needs to submit in New York City, remember. You’ll need to check in with your own local licensing board (which you’ll find with a quick Google search) to determine what you need to prepare to get your license.
General liability insurance for handymen: Why you need it, & how to get it
There are so many reasons why handymen need general liability insurance.
First off, you might need to show a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in order to receive a handyman license. But even if you don’t need a handyman license, or if you don’t specifically need to provide a COI to get yours, you might still need to provide proof of insurance to register your business with your state.
Regardless of the legalities, it’s just a good idea to purchase insurance in your line of work. As you know, it’s an inherently risky field—whether it’s working on drywall or using specialized tools, something could always go wrong. Without insurance, everything you’ve worked to build might bow and crack after just a single costly insurance claim.
General liability insurance for handymen can help cover the costs of:
3rd-party bodily injury
As a handyman, you repair rickety surfaces. Should a newly reinforced staircase buckle under a client’s weight, you could be held liable for their bodily injury.
3rd-party property damage
You’re always working on third-party property—a.k.a., your customers’ homes. Should a piece of falling drywall damage your client’s property, for example, you could be held liable.
Investigation and Defense
If a client sues you for negligence that results in damaging their property, your insurance would take care of investigating what happened in that scenario. Your insurer would also defend you in court if the case went to trial.
At Thimble, our goal to demystify insurance so small business owners can focus on actually running their businesses. So if you need a COI for your license—or any other, myriad reasons to get insurance—consider purchasing Handyman Insurance via Thimble. It takes less than 60 seconds.
To get started, download the Thimble mobile app or click “Get a Quote.” Enter your ZIP code, your crew size, and your desired policy limits, and you’ll receive an instant quote. If it looks good, purchase with a click, and you’ll receive your policy and any necessary COIs right away.
Let’s recap: Does a handyman need a license?
Handyman work requires specialized tools, skills, and an awareness of worksite safety. That’s why many states and/or municipalities regulate this work through licensure.
Note the “and/or” in that sentence. As you now know, licensing laws depend on your state and local governance. Start by checking whether your state requires that handymen have a license, or if they require a license only for handymen who do jobs valued at or above a certain ceiling, or for certain types of jobs. Then, check your county and city laws, even if your state does not require you to get a license.
All that due diligence may not be what you signed up for when you decided to become a professional handyman, but that’s par for the course of being your own boss. And by creating a solid foundation now, you can work confidently toward building a strong, sustainable business—so it’s worth the few hours or days it takes to do your research.