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Is it okay to use a contractor without a license?

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May 29 2009 - US
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Answers (31)

people aren't going to like Gary Gooding's answer but it's true.  I think people need to use common sense.  I recently did some home renovations and used an unlicensed guy who came HIGHLY recommended.  His prices were incredibly reasonable and I know a big part of that is because he didn't have the overhead and red tape.  And as far as paying into the system goes, the way I see it, this guy is taking his money and providing for his family so the money is working it's way back into our economy far better than how the govt spends it!!!!!

I will also say that I was new to the area and not working (we moved for my fiancee's job) so I was around every day to oversee everything which helped make me feel a lot better about it.  Lord knows there are plenty of bad unlicensed contractors out there but there are also plenty of lousy licensed contractors.
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April 21
I was a California licensed contractor and now I am not.  I have many years experience but always worked for a company that had a contractor licence and did not need one myself working for them.  The company owners did not know how to do any of the work, only the unlicensed workers did. The company had to have huge markups to cover huge overhead.  After getting my licence I noticed that it was a waste of money to renew.  Yes you can get bonded and insured without a licence without any problem.  You can get a local business licence without a contractor licence. You can belong to the BBB without a contractor licence.  And you can pay taxes without a unlicensed license.  My work comes from referrals of my work.  If a customer wants to complain or check me out the BBB is much better venue than any Government entity. If a customer wants a permit, they pull the permit, if a customer wants an inspection of the work they can arrange that also with the permit.  They can pay direct to the city or pay more through a licensed contractor. 
The State has no budget to enforce, respond, investigate any claims from home owners. My clients are protected by insurance and I am protected by an industry secret.  
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April 21
Profile picture for user828273
I'm sorry folks but the Registrar of Contractors is designed to make money for their state, period. The test to become a licensed contractor does not ask you one question about the aspect of contracting you wish to perform. Laying carpet, setting tile, painting, framing, it doesn't matter, you do not have to know anything in order to pass a licensing exam. The test is comprised of questions about taxes, fees, workmans comp, OSHA and items regarding your financial responsibilities to the government. It is the Registrar of Contractors who wishes to convince an innocent public there is some kind of security in hiring a licensed contractor above another in order to justify their existence, not to protect you. Some of the best work I have ever had done was by a small one man outfit with a business license but not a contractors license and some of the worst experiences I have had have been with licensed contractors.
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March 31
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June 28 2013
It is never "okay" to use an un-licensed contractor. If the contractor is not licensed, they will be unable to get insured and put you, the homeowner, at risk. If they are the lowest in cost, you have to understand why. Any reputable contractor should be able to produce both license and insurance, and offer a No Money Down program to make the project risk free for you.
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December 14 2012
No. No. Never. You must only hire contractors that a license and carry workers compensation. If they are uninsured and should have an accident on your property YOU will be responsible and could end up with significant medical expenses.
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December 14 2012
Profile picture for pgpeaches
so many contractors get cuts from other handymen that do the work under their license, but they don't do the job themselves.
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December 11 2012
Profile picture for pgpeaches
only those who's jobs are in jeopardy or the lawyers have something to say detrimental to the group described.
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December 11 2012
If you're having a big job done and someone comes in and tells you they are competent to do it but don't have a license, you kind have to ask why they don't have a license.   I've seen a lot of real estate transactions collapse because of shoddy work that the home inspector discovers and that the prospective buyers don't want to deal with repairing.   How did that shoddy work get by the building inspector when it was done, you ask?  Easy -- the building inspector never saw it because no permits were pulled, because the contractor didn't have a license and couldn't pull the permits.   State laws vary, but there's a reason for the licensing requirements.  The bond issue people have mentioned is also an important protection.  Whatever you do, pull the permits and have the work inspected by your building inspector.   They may seem like a PIA but they can protect you from problems later. 
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February 25 2012
Profile picture for user84464

It is unbeliveable that "contractor" can do work without liscence and get away with it.If some one is practicing without a laywers liscence or a driver is operating with a liscence or a day care, any thing that requires a liscence, the police can be called and they will take care of it, but a unliscence contractor can go on the rampage and they know that once they are able to get off that job before they are caught then the homeowner is responsible. So they have no reason to get liscenced. We need to stop that. I have started a petition to have that be stopped. Please let us stop these people. please go to change.org and type in "shoddy contractors" in the search box and sign my petiton. We bought a house frrom a contractor and found out after that nothing was inspected. Now we are the ones being harrased by the city. 

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February 16 2012
Profile picture for sunnyview
The biggest benefit that you get hiring a contractor with a license is a Bond and an independent agency/board to complain to if thing go south. Not everyone with a license is qualified, but you have to start somewhere when you hire work out.
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October 31 2011
And you waited two years to post this nugget of wisdom?

Give me a call the next time you have your next electrical box fire.
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October 30 2011
Profile picture for ksknite
i doubt anyone commenting here has actually taken an R.O.C test before. and if you did,..shame on you because you know damn well that w/the exception of the electricians license, those tests have almost NOTHING to do w/their respective trades. 90% of the test questions are related to how and when to pay the government and o.s.h.a regulations. Also, there is certainly NOTHING in any of the tests about how to run a business SO if you say that a license somehow guarantees a minimum of ANYTHING then you are ignorant or lying. Bottom line,..don't rely on any gov't agency to protect you from anything.
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October 30 2011
Profile picture for FlooredAgain
Are you kidding? Who will pull the permits and if the dude damages anything in your house, you pay, brother.
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August 08 2009
Profile picture for DanaEv
I agree with everyone here.  We hired a contractor to oversee all the work we had done on the house before we moved in.  He was essential in that he was here at the house when we weren't, overseeing the work, and making the workers fix problems that they 'forgot' to do or some such nonsense. We called him if something didn't come out right, and he immediately had the workers back out fixing it. He was worth every penny.  He also is bonded, licensed and has a huge liability policy.  No way would we want the headache of having someone fall off a ladder and sue us!

Now, to me, there are some instances where you don't need a licensed contractor.  If you're talking more like a handyman type of job, one that is a job that is easy to do but you can't or don't have the time to do, I would do it.  But having a handyman fix small things around your house and hiring a contractor to oversee a larger project are two different animals as far as I'm concerned.  If you need something painted, perhaps a licensed person isn't needed.  If you need electrical work, or plumbing, or a wall pulled down, I wouldn't even consider it.
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July 12 2009
Is a person without a license really a contractor ?
Contractors are Contractors because they have a license to do a job that they are qualified for.
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July 08 2009
Perhaps the most important information that is needed is what project are you doing, and what state are you in.

  Most of the responses here are ignorant, and only a few are good. Keep in mind where those posting here have gained their perspective. My experience comes from three generations in construction.    In response to the person saying there should be a general contractor, he is wrong. Only in certain situations should you use a general contractor. This should only be done in a suituation where you are dealing with multiple trades and arent that good dealing with contractors(if you are a bleeding heart when the contractor says he needs an advance because his family is starving...it happens all the time) or have a problem forcing a contractor to complete the work in a timely manner. If you are good with contracts and doing good research on the sub, do it yourself.As far as the license, there are many who are much better qualified that do not have a license. Also, there are unqualified people that do have a license. I have seen some of the best skilled workers take years to get their license due to bureaucracy. I have also see many who are completely unqualified get their license. (our government is the licensing authority, and what they hell have they gotten right?)

  Now, regardless of skill, there are other things to consider. An unlicensed contractor will be unlikely to carry workers comp or liability, and if you have an issue with him, you cant go to the state to make a complaint, you have to sue in civil court. But the license doesnt mean that he carries insurance. You have to check to see if he has it. Most small companies dont carry it.

  Bottom line-get referrals for whoever you hire, licensed or unlicensed, and the smaller the job, the less risk hiring an unlicensed contractor. Never let payments get ahead of work completed(with the exception of the retainer-approx 10% or $1000), and before making final payment, do a walk through to ensure cleanlyness and job completion per contract, and get a release signed by all who worked on the job, and material suppliers, as if they dont get paid, you will have a lein on your house, licensed or not.
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June 11 2009
BEFORE  you choose or use anyone:

1. Interview several, get bids, explore their vision of your goal.
2. Inspect their work by visiting their referrals.
3. Verify their insurance / bond, or lack thereof.
4. Weigh the risks and take your best choice.
5. Pay only for results, never pay in advance.

Just by going with #5, you will weed out 90% of the ones who can hurt you the worst. Any contractor not liquid enough to work this way should send up red flags in your thinking. Some projects may require an up front materials cost but you can control payment and possession. Be careful, there are professional crooks out there, who will rip you sideways given half a chance, at every turn.
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June 11 2009
Allowing an unlicensed person to perform work on your home opens you up to a liability claim if the worker gets injured.  Not a good idea.
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June 10 2009
Well where we come from....

Are you also planning to do the job with no contract? No written scope of work? No time frame. No proof that the "contractor" agreed to do the work?
 
Think about what you are asking.....
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June 09 2009
Profile picture for Frasertime
After reading the last three responses, this question requires a little more thought. Are you really asking the question, "is it okay to use a contractor without any formal qualifications"? What kind of question is that? Is it okay to use a doctor without a license? Is it okay to let people drive big trucks without a license? Of course not! Why? Because our society has evolved to a point where people do not want to take either risk or responsibility. If you want to take responsibility for your actions, hire anybody that you want. If you did your screening properly, managed the description of work properly, and had the knowledge or the Associates that could confirm that each of the phases of work were done properly, and that you were allowed to make the payments only as you confirm that the work was good... you would be a winner. Most people did not want to take that kind of responsibility, and over the years, have asked the government to step in and provide some assurance that things will go well. That is why we have licenses. Licenses, as I see them, have two objectives: They provide at least a minimum level of competence. They provide a formal relationship between the contractor and the state. In this formal relationship a contractor is required to maintain a current license, general liability insurance, Worker's Compensation insurance, all of the technical requirements the contractors state license board, good business practices, and financial stability Now, let's look at it from the other side. If you wanted to be a successful contractor, do a good job at a reasonable profit, continue your business as a profession for your entire working career, why would you not be licensed? The license gives you the authority and the recognition to conduct your business in compliance with all of the rules of your community. This takes the back to the beginning of this discussion. We must use a licensed contractor because, as a society, we have instituted rules to help us decide who is qualified to do a particular job. To not use a licensed contractor, would be to say that we should violate the very rules we put in place to give us some confidence that we won't have the problems that occurred before we instituted the rules. In summary, using a licensed contractor gives you the greatest overall probability of success. To use an unlicensed contractor reduces the overall probability of success and reduces the market for the licensed contractors.
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June 07 2009
Profile picture for onstar37
Lets face it, even if they are licensed you can't really hold them anymore responsible then if they weren't.  As long as they have good references, are insured, and it isn't illegal to do so, go ahead and hire them.  I have taken several general and speciallty license exams in many states and let me tell you,  taking the test doesn't mean you know what you are doing.  All it really means is that you took a test and gave somebody some money for a piece of paper with a number on it.
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June 06 2009
yes, unless you are selling the property in less less than 1 year in most Calif. counties... anything that would require a 'permit' and that can be painting your fence (stupid right!)  be smart about what you do to your property ... maintain your value... I have used contractors without license who do beautiful work and ones that have license and kicked them off the property for shoddy work... get referrals and pay attention to the work! don't be blind... pay in installments, hold back enough $$ to get the final proformance you are looking for .... you are paying for it!
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June 06 2009
It's a cost benefit decision that all home owners have to make.  In the state of Oregon, if an individual works on your home and is not licensed then they are your employee.  When they cut off their finger, or fall off the ladder or electocute themselves then you are responsible to pay for their medical care as their employer.  
In addition the contractor is required to carry a performance bond.  If they don't do the work that they said they would the bond provides the funds to pay for another contractor to do the work.  

If you hire a guy to paint your bedroom it will probably be okay.  But unexpected things happen.  Like today I was painting a kitchen and the homeowners placed an mini-oven in the living room under some papers plugged in.  I bumped it and it was on for about twenty minutes before I caught it and unplugged it.  My insurance would have covered the portion that their homeowners wouldn't have in the event of catastrophe.  Would your craigslister's $300.00 bank account cover it?
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June 04 2009
As a homeowner, you take incredible risks by not contracting a licensed and insured General Contractor. A licensed and insured General Contractor not only assures you, the client, that you're dealing with a knowledgeable professional that has "X amount" of years in the construction industry prior to becoming a General Contractor, but it also assures you that the General Contractor hired will be liable for any faulty labor done in the course of your project. Not only that, but in some states (Florida for example), the homeowner can get some money from the state government for a contractor that never finished/abandoned the project, not to mention that the licensed contractor is always surely required to have a minimum amount of insurance coverage for any project they accept to do.
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June 02 2009
NO! don't do it unless it's "handy man work" like hauling away grbage or general clean-up...
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June 01 2009
Profile picture for Frasertime
Many states have laws against using unlicensed contractors for good reasons. The most common are lack of knowledge, lack of money and inability to hold them responsible for faulty work.
A licensed contractor has to meet minimum requirements of experience in the trade, have minimum levels of financial resources and be easily found in case of disputes or faulty work.

In many states, if you use an unlicensed contractor, then you are considered to be the official contractor for the purposes of liability( someone is injured on the job or injured on the way to the job).

All in all, you are putting yourself and your home at risk which generally is not worth the (apparent) savings from using an unlicensed contractor.
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June 01 2009
Many customers will overlook the license issue if there is substantial difference on the bottom line. They are taking a risk that the contractor will not be there to finish the job or for warranty issues etc.
It takes effort and money to maintain proper licenses and insurance, it also gives the customer some protections.
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May 30 2009
You wouldn't be the first..or the last, doesn't make it .O.K.! Here's the tricky part though. Lots of licensed contractors use unlicensed subcontractors and the latter does literally all the work. But hey it's legal.
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May 29 2009
Profile picture for wetdawgs
It is risky to use a contractor without a license.  Why do they chose to have no license?   Do they have proper insurance?    Are they getting permits etc as required by law for your area?
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May 29 2009
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