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Handyman Licenses and Laws – How To Avoid Getting Stung

When I was stung by the contractors board, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Here I was going out to quote a small painting job and the next thing I know this guy is handing me a ticket for contracting without a license!

What did I do wrong?

Legally I was allowed to do small painting jobs and I didn’t even quote the job. In fact, I told the guy right away that he’d need a licensed painting contractor because of the job size. Here I am thinking I’m doing the right thing and getting fined anyway!

“Why are you giving me a ticket, I didn’t even quote the job?” I asked.

“Because you can’t advertise services that require a specific trade license. I have your craigslist ad right here.” He then goes on to list all of the services I was advertising that weren’t allowed (pretty much ALL of my services).

“So, you’re telling me that I can offer these services as long as they are for jobs under $1,000, but I can’t actually advertise them?” I asked in a mocking tone.

“That’s right.” The investigator responded.

After it was all said and done, I walked away devastated and confused with a ticket in my hand. I had just started my business a few months prior to this happening so I didn’t have the confidence I do now. I thought I was going to have to pack up shop and get another job.

Luckily for me, though, one of my customers was a high end attorney that had a soft spot for helping the common man. He offered to help me out for a very reasonable price. Long story short, I ended up winning the case and went on to run a very profitable handyman business.

This worked out in the end, but it was a pain in the ass and I would’ve preferred to avoid it. So, in this article I’m going to share some tips on making sure your business is operating within it’s legal limits – one of the first steps to starting a successful handyman business.

Know The Laws

Before you start offering services as a professional handyman, it’s important to understand the laws that apply to contractors in your state. You’ll want to find out if you need a handyman license, and what you can and can’t do. Every state is different when it comes to contracting laws, so you’ll have to do some research for yourself in your specific state. I’ll go over how below.

Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney, and this is NOT legal advice. This is just what I would do if I was going to start a handyman business and wanted to avoid any run-ins with the law. Seek a qualified attorney for legal advice.

As a handyman, or any contractor for that matter, you are likely to have limitations on what you can do. However, you will be asked by many customers to perform jobs outside of your legal limits. Even my return customers are always asking me to do plumbing and electrical jobs, but I turn them down.


Other than to avoid a legal headache, it’s important to protect your customers. From what I understand, if your customer’s house burns down, floods, or gets damaged because of work performed by you, and you are not licensed to perform that work, their insurance won’t cover the damage. Not cool.

I know this isn’t that likely to happen, but it’s not something I want lingering in the back of my mind while I’m trying to fall asleep at night. Maintaining peace of mind is a critical part of actually enjoying your business.

With that being said, here are the steps you should take to stay out of trouble.

#1 – Visit Your State’s Contractor’s Board Website

Like I mentioned above, every state is different. So, simply search the term “your state contractor’s board” and your local contractors board website should pop right up.

Once your on the website, read about the laws that govern handyman activity in detail. Usually there is some sort of a handyman exemption that states what you can and can’t do without an actual contractor’s license. In most states, you don’t need a license for small repairs, but in California, and possibly other states, they actually require a license (even for jobs under $500).

#2 – Talk to An Investigator

You might find some vague laws during your research. This “gray area” is tough to mitigate because it’s interpretation is subjective. That’s why when you talk to a lawyer, they are only giving their legal opinion. Nobody knows for sure until it goes to court.

So, if you want to be ultra clear, I would recommend contacting the contractor’s board and asking to speak with an actual investigator. Ask them to clear up any specific questions you might have to see how they interpret the laws. After all, they are the ones enforcing them.

#3 – Contact other handyman businesses

Most likely, the investigator you talked to hasn’t thought through all the laws in detail. When I called one in my city, it was clear almost immediately that he only had basic knowledge of the statutes. This was frustrating because I wanted to know exactly what I could do.  I know I can’t do major electrical and plumbing, but can I swap a light fixture or even change a shower head? I’m still not totally clear on this.

If this happens to you, consider talking to other established handyman businesses in your area. Not only is it smart to connect with your competitors to form partnerships and help each other, but it’s great to get some inside perspective on what has been enforced in the past.

#4 – Pay Attention to Your Marketing

As you may have already learned from my story, your marketing is often what can get you in trouble so be sure that you are abiding by all of the laws regarding advertising for home repairs.

As I was getting cited in the story above, I took the opportunity to ask the investigator some questions. One thing he told me is the best place to find unlicensed contractors is to look on grocery store bulletin boards and on craigslist. This makes sense because those are the easiest places to advertise. Not very effective, but easy, which is attractive to those who are just trying to make a quick buck.

#5 – Talk To an Attorney

This step kind of goes without saying.

Legal jargon can be difficult to understand so once you’ve thoroughly read through the laws, consider scheduling an hour with an attorney to get their opinion.  A few hundred bucks is nothing when you consider the long term success of your business. Be sure to do your own research prior so you can ask good questions.

Don’t Get Discouraged!

I remember back when I was first learning the contracting laws in my state, it was extremely discouraging. I was very doubtful I’d even be able to run a profitable business with all of the rules and regulations. I mean, not being able to do any plumbing, electrical, HVAC, or jobs over $1,000 seemed like a business killer.

But, I decided to challenge that assumption and get started anyway. I focused on offering services that I could do (which turns out is a lot), and not what I couldn’t do. Soon after, I uncovered several very profitable services that have allowed me my business and enjoy the freedom of being my own boss.

So, don’t get discouraged by all this! Anything worth having will require you to overcome some challenges. This is only part of the journey, the part where the competition quits and you pull ahead. Keep going, your freedom is worth it.

What state do you live in and what are your limitations? Please share in the comments below!

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  • Daniel June 24, 2015

    I live in Ohio where the laws for unlicensed work are relatively lenient, sometimes surprisingly so. There are some things that handymen still need to be aware of though. Like not taking jobs that are too large. That becomes a red flag even if the job doesn’t technically require a special license. It may tell an inspector that you are doing other jobs that you are technically unqualified to do. If you advertise these jobs even more so.

    Here the trades that you need a license for are ,electrical,plumbing,HVAC,and carpentry. None for painting or Tile which works well for me but I try to keep my jobs within a certain size range anyway. Absolutely DO NOT USE the word contractor in your advertising. I state right away that I am a handyman to my customers even if I do specialize in certain fields ( which I do).

    When I worked for a large bank as their in house handyman in Ohio it gave me a really good idea of what I could and couldn’t do if I struck out on my own. For anyone in Ohio reading this I hope this helps. Follows Big Ds advice and search your states contractors board for more info.
    Thanks for all of this awesome content Big D !

    • Dan Perry June 24, 2015

      Awesome, thanks for sharing that! I’m sure it will help several people down the road.

    • randy June 4, 2016

      this is a reply to daniel about what ohio requires. in my search for ohio all I can find is they require licenses for the following, Electrical, HVAC, Hydronics, Plumbing, and Refrigeration. you included carpentry which is NOT required. btw, ohio has some strict requirements to get a license. it’s more like a job application than starting your own business. http://www.com.ohio.gov/dico/ocilb/LicenseQualificationProcess.aspx

      • Brian Conrad August 9, 2016

        I’m looking to start my own handyman business here in Columbus Ohio, any of you local Ohio handyman guys run into city regulations? Or is it only governed by the state? I can’t find out if we need insurance or not (looking to get it anyway) and bonded.

  • Al davis June 24, 2015

    I have a c-33 painting license, do I still need a handyman license.

    • Dan Perry June 24, 2015

      Hi Al,

      That would depend on the state you live in and whether or not you provide services other than painting.

  • Richard June 25, 2015

    I’ve gotten around some issues by using the home owner as the contractor and selling my service as a sub contractor. Face it, a contractor is going to hire someone at minimum wage to do the job anyway.

    • Dan Perry June 25, 2015

      That’s a smart way to do it! Unfortunately, in Nevada, I can’t operate as a subcontractor. But, I’m sure there are several states where this would be a great solution. Thanks for sharing, Richard.

  • Thomas Hood June 25, 2015

    I do have to say, finding out specific information is impossible. If I wanted to be a teacher, or a lawyer, I can find step by step of what I need to do and what paperwork I would need…..Handyman? Good luck.

    I don’t think they are setting us up for failure, but it is frustrating even when I do call, I get different answers from different people. In Connecticut, even the state websites do not even list “Handyman” as a Licensed Occupation…..

    It seems that the only way to find out if we are doing wrong, is when we have a citation in our hands. I guess this is just a “expense” some of us will have to deal with. Luckily for me, I have not had a run in, but to be honest, this article has given me some paranoia lol. Now that I’m getting Craigslist responses, I approach carefully 🙂

    Maybe as a whole, we can petition or rally together to find out EXACT laws…but I have a feeling that being a “Handyman” is one of those occupations that gets overlooked by the Government easy.

    • Dan Perry June 25, 2015

      Yes, it seems there are bigger problems for the government than worrying about handyman peace of mind.

      If the laws aren’t specific now, it’s going to take court rulings to set the precedent for what is and isn’t acceptable. The best you can do on your own is fight for your rights if you do get ticketed. It worked for me and now I can advertise any trade service I can legally do!

  • Sam Mortimer June 26, 2015

    Texas here. Do not advertise plumbing. electrical or hvac. Anything else is fine.
    I got turned in by a plumbing company for advertising lite plumbing in an advertisement that had run for 3 years.

    I changed my website and ad wording then sent a groveling reply letter with my liability and commercial van insurance attached and they ended up giving me a warning and dropped the case. WHEW.

    • Andy May 22, 2016

      Hey Sam, call me 2813006900

    • Marcus Talamantez July 14, 2016

      Did you find any specific sites with guidelines. Im having my van wrapped and want to know what I can and can’t put without getting in trouble.

  • Nathan Smock July 15, 2015

    Just found the site. I’m currently a handyman for a property management company in Iowa, but would like to go solo. This site has been tremendously helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

    • Dan Perry July 16, 2015

      Awesome, thanks!

  • Nick July 30, 2015

    Thanks for the help and guidance with your website Dan. Im from Cleveland and have been thinking about venturing from nursing home maintenance director to a handyman. Couple of questions. One, do you feel that in your field there is enough money to support a family, and two, what if a customer cant pay with cash or check. Do you accept CC payments? If so, how do you get into that?


    • Dan Perry August 2, 2015

      Your welcome, Nick! That’s what I’m here for.

      There is definitely enough money in this business to support a family, but of course your results will depend on you among other factors.

      I take credit cards through a service called Square. It takes about 5 minutes to setup and you are instantly taking credit cards. It’s really easy and no setup fee. Then you are only charged a percentage of each sale. Paypal also has a similar service available.

      Hope that helps, Nick.

  • Daniel September 11, 2015


    I have heard recently about this rule of not being able to advertise in NV as a handyman, but I’m looking for some clarification. Can I advertise if I use nothing more than the general term “handyman services”, and not be specific to what services I provide, being it may fall under a contractors classification?

    • Dan Perry September 19, 2015

      Hey Daniel. I’m not an attorney and therefore cannot provide legal advice. There are more details you will need to consider when advertising so I would definitely talk to an attorney if something is unclear.

      Personally, I advertise any services that I can offer legally because I won the case.

  • Arthur February 16, 2016

    Going to start up my own handyman looking at all of your great advise been doing this for a long time under some else have a lot of tools and skills thank you for this great site to make it finally going to do this myself and score all the money. Not by the hour anymore going to read all of this so I have a great peace of mind in my journey of helping out people and there homes myself

  • Bruno Mendoza March 22, 2016

    Hi Mr. Perry at this point just wanted to thank you for your sharing your experience and helping others I’m starting the process ofy handyman business which I been doing some time now but decided to turn it onto official busines, now I know there is somebody with the experience who I can go to .

    • Dan Perry March 22, 2016

      Your welcome Bruno!

  • michael white May 16, 2016

    hi im a father of 7 and have no collage or training outside my work experience and i have started to make decent money in the past few weeks i have decided to break away from the realtor whom i have been working for, for the past five years. i live in California and have in the past two weeks made cards put an add on craigslist and boom. i am dead set on doing what ever it takes to make this business work. what are some steps to take so that i may not except job i shouldent and how do i tax my money i make and how do i make it ligament. i have too much to loose and hope im not in over my head.

  • michael white May 16, 2016

    what do you know of California laws.

  • William May 20, 2016

    Is my first time and I really need help, do u know if I can get my license for handyman on Spanish , because is a little hard for me on English
    Thank you for ur help

  • Colin June 8, 2016

    I held a couple Journeyman Electrician Licences in Texas (before they went to a state licence) but accidentally let my licence expire while piloting research submersibles in Hawaii…it’s a long story. Anyway, I am moving back to Texas and was going to start up a handyman bit so I can start working as soon as I hit the ground and then get my licence issues worked out. I am having trouble finding information regarding handyman regulations. Here in Hawaii you are limited to $1000 per job. Clearly it is time to pick up the phone but any insight here would be great!

  • Irma Bonoite September 20, 2016

    Does anyone knows the laws in michigan?

    • Kathy October 10, 2016

      Irma – http://is0.gaslightmedia.com/cheboygancounty/_ORIGINAL_/fs77-1457708217-14666.pdf
      Right now projects are limited to $600 under which you don’t need a license. But the state House just passed a bill raising that limit to $4,000. The Michigan legislature only meets a few more times this year, though, so no idea if the Senate will take up the bill.

      If they do, and they pass it, the Governor would probably sign it.

  • John Tucker October 21, 2016

    Hi everyone! I’m new to southern California and am interested in starting my own handy man business also. Grew up in this business, with my father operating a painting, repairs of rental homes(exclusively) in Phoenix. Wishing to start similar business. Question is that I was always under the impression that my father was working under the property management’s license and if this is still possible. He had jobs ranging from small to $ 7500. Was never an issue in AZ. Thanks for any advice. JT

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