Do I need a licensed contractor for minor fix-it jobs?

View comments

If you grew up watching Eb on Green Acres, Schneider on One Day at a Time or Tim Taylor on Home Improvement, you might wonder what happened to the everyday handyman who could fix your leaky window or rusty doorknob. Our 21st century materials and techniques require education and expertise, and when you’re dealing with your home, you don’t want to leave repairs to chance. And neither does your state. Though the exact requirements vary from state to state, laws exist to make sure you’re hiring a qualified repair person who, in many cases, needs to be licensed. You’ll still want to do your own checking, but these requirements provide a baseline for comparing credentials.

Even the lingo has changed. Yesterday’s "handymen" are today’s contractors, men and women both, who are often specialized and must be knowledgeable about a variety of regulatory, environmental and financial issues. Your state spells out who must register and be licensed as a contractor, often determined by the scope of their services and if they’re making a living from the work.

Here are just a few state specifics:

  • In Connecticut, someone who works on residential property and charges more than $1,000 for all home improvement contracts with customers during any 12 consecutive months must register as a home improvement contractor.
  • In California, a handyman who charges $500 or more for any single home job, whether a reno or a repair, must be licensed; people doing small jobs, such as minor repairs, can be considered unlicensed handymen, but are not allowed to advertise their services.
  • In Florida, an unlicensed handyman can only do miscellaneous non-structural repair work like fixing a window or small appliance or installing an awning, paneling or tile. Replacing a window or a wall, doing any roofing work and changing walls are just some of the jobs that are considered structural; you must be a licensed contractor to do them.

Beyond what your state mandates is what you want for any work being done in your home: expertise supported by recommendations from satisfied customers.