Pennsylvania Contractor Licenses

Think you need a license as a construction contractor in the state? No state-regulations require it, but the rules aren’t that simple. Whether you’re a homeowner or contractor, read on to get a better understanding of the rules.

Pennsylvanian contractor license policies are extremely complicated, and at times might not even make sense. On one hand, building construction contractors are not regulated by the state. But on the other hand, a renovation of any kind worth above $5,000 dictates that the contractor in charge should be licensed. This article is intended to help you navigate the different licensing regulations in Pennsylvania, and maybe even convince you to get that license for your contracting business!

Getting a contractor’s license in the State

Getting a license should be on the top of a burgeoning contractor’s to-do list. Licenses bestow upon its holder a distinctive and government-recognized accreditation that validates an individual’s skills and abilities. In Pennsylvania, most specialty licenses such as those for electricians and plumbers are regulated at the local level. Nonetheless, an important license that is regulated by the state government is the home improvement contractors’ license. This license is geared towards professionals who seek renovation works of substantial value. While this will be discussed in-depth later in this article, let’s first focus our attention on the general advantages of getting yourself a license.

Why you should get a contractors license?

Contractors, especially those who want to differentiate themselves from the competition, are highly encouraged to obtain a license from either the state or local governments. As with other states, contractors in Pennsylvania are afforded certain benefits once they secure a license. Want a preview? Well, here are three benefits that will certainly to catch your attention and make you want to go to your local government office to get that license immediately!

1. Licenses convince potential customers of your abilities

As mentioned previously, contractors licenses are regulated by the government, which undoubtedly gives credence to your qualifications in terms of both your knowledge and experience in your specialty field. While having a portfolio of all your projects with you seems impressive, the license speaks for itself. Nothing beats a rigorous and holistic evaluation of your skills and abilities complemented by that license!

2. Licenses are the most high-yielding investments

Getting a license might prove to be tiresome, and at times, even expensive. But as a contracting professional, all you have to think is that a license is an investment that will appreciate in value over time. Getting a license is synonymous to looking towards the future. For one, a license will enable you to work on projects of higher value such as mansion renovations or apartment-block improvements. Without a license, you are confined to the status of a minor contractor, where your contracting activities are limited to those below $5,000. You probably belong to the vast majority of Pennsylvanian contractors who would benefit from investing in a license.

3. Licenses are the key to becoming a household name in your area

As a contractor, one of your objectives is to be recognized in your area as an experienced, qualified, and appealing contractor. One of the means to achieve that kind of standing in a short period of time is getting your licenses. Imagine this, at first a customer considers hiring you because of your license. After which, you can finally be able to display your mastery of your craft. Your customer is impressed and in no time starts recommending you to her family, friends, and associates. And just like that, you’ve become a popular contractor in your area. Basically, the road to your success starts with that first license. Since you passed that laborious evaluation, you should not doubt your ability to provide quality services to your customers and to finish excellent project. Remember, everything starts with a first step – for contractors, that first step is your license!

What kind of license should I get?

The main considerations that a contractor should take into account are:

1. The need for a specific license

This aspect mainly deals with two things, first is a contractor’s priorities, and second is his need to comply with state or local licensing requirements. As to a contractor’s priorities, this largely depends on what vision he has for his professional and business career. Do you want to be a local contractor mogul? Or are you simply content with having a few contracting engagements every once in a while? If you want to build a business bigger and faster, then you probably should get that license. As to compliance with requirements, this oftentimes makes getting a license an urgent matter. If you’re planning on repairing a circuit board in Pittsburgh or installing a pool anywhere in Pennsylvania, then you really MUST get a license first. Otherwise, whatever project you’re doing is completely illegal, and you can be prosecuted and have all that data on your records forever!

2. Skills and Interests corresponding to a specific license

Another important aspect is ensuring that your skills and interests are a fit for the license you want to get. Am I already qualified to get that license? Do I have all the skills and experience necessary to meet the requirements for the license? Will I really enjoy fixing other peoples plumbing? Am I made to build a career in prefabricated housing? Or is being an elevator mechanic my forte? These are just some of the existential questions you might be asking yourself, and if not, then these might help you decide before settling on your license.

Again, most specialty licenses in Pennsylvania are regulated at the local level, so there would be a separate portion in this article dedicated to these license classifications.

The best choice for your renovation project is a licensed contractor

As a homeowner, your prime considerations for your home improvement project is probably cost-efficiency and convenience. If these 2Cs are combined, basically, you’re looking for the hassle-free solution to your contracting needs. You’ll probably have to pay more, and to look at more references and portfolios, but here are the reasons why your extra effort is definitely worth it.

1. A valid insurance for each licensed contractor

Before obtaining a license, every contractor is required to present proof of insurance to the regulatory agency. For the state-wide Home Improvement Contractor license regulated by the Office of the Attorney-General, applicants must provide evidence of possession of a general liability insurance of at least $50,000 insurable value that provides indemnities for destruction of property or personal injury. Most, if not all local government regulations also require an insurance before any professional is afforded the contractors license. As the homeowner, you won’t have to worry about unnecessary spending brought about by emergency situations. A part of your roof collapsed in the process of a total home refurbishment? Your licensed contractor’s insurance can surely address all the expenses!

2. No need to stress over permits and regulations

One of the most stressful aspects of getting a renovation done on your property is the hassle of having to go to your local contractor regulatory agency and getting those permits yourselves. In fact, many homeowners like you actually delay making changes to their property – sometimes, even in urgent problems – just to avoid the difficulty of going through lines and numbers. I bet at some point in your life, you’ve actually done this as well, right? Well, with a licensed contractor you don’t have to worry about all that hassle! Your licensed contractor will handle all matters pertaining to the acquisition of permits and the compliance with all regulations. You also won’t have to worry about all the minute details of your renovation because your licensed contractor is an expert with that as well. After adding a minimal fee for a licensed contractor, all this convenience is absolutely worth it, especially for the working man or woman out there.

3. Want quality work? Guaranteed with a licensed contractor!

Convenience also entails doing away with repetitive calls to your contractor because of defects in their work. With a licensed contractor, chances are greater that you won’t have to make those calls anymore! Getting a license is both difficult and troublesome. If he went through all that trouble to get that license, he’s surely qualified and extremely dedicated to his job. Moreover, licensed contractors simply don’t have any incentive to produce shabby work. They’re already earning more than their licensed counterparts and the state regulatory agency can sanction them anytime if they commit unprofessional acts; they simply won’t risk their license!

State-Level vs City-Level Regulations

As mentioned earlier, the home improvement contractor license is the only certification granted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for contractors in the state. As a result, most licenses are regulated by local governments, and in turn, there are wide variations on the minimum standards that are involved. The stipulations for the specialty classification licenses of the major cities and municipalities in Pennsylvania will be discussed later in this article. If your city or municipality is not included in our listing, please contact your local contractor regulatory agency to find out more about their requirements for applicants.

Verifying your Contractors’ License

Due to the variety and multitude of licenses at the local level in Pennsylvania, there also exists a number of database and verification channels. This section of the article will enumerate all pertinent websites in this regard.

Pennsylvania Attorney-General’s Home Improvement Consumer Information Database

Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspection Contractors Database

Pittsburgh Licensing Office Contractors Database

List of Licensed Contractors in Erie, PA (updated 2018)

It’s important to have as many details as you can about your potential contractor. The following information are usually needed to be able to verify a license:

  • Name of the contractor
  • Name of the contracting business/agency
  • Address of the contractor or contracting business/agency
  • Date of original license release
  • License number

If your city isn’t listed here, they might not have an electronic database of all contractors. You can proceed to contact them through phone or email at the addresses specified in the latter part of this article.

Classification of Licenses

Office of the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Since most contracting businesses are regulated at the local level, there is also no state-wide contractors licensing or regulatory agency. Nonetheless, the Office of the Attorney-General serves as the de facto state-wide contractors’ regulatory body due to its role as the repository and registry of all information relating to the home improvement contractors license. By virtue of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, the Office of the Attorney General is also empowered to make investigations, and if necessary, spearhead criminal action against all individuals or businesses it has seen as violating laws in the Commonwealth.

The following are among the acts forbidden by Commonwealth Law. While some of these are actually common knowledge for contractors, it would still be best for you to get a better understanding of these laws by reading them.

  • Issue completion of home renovation certification despite the fact that a project has not been completed, or make other misleading claims to one’s client.
  • Prepare and submit quotes for home renovation to the home owner which severely misrepresents the actual costs a project entails.
  • Abandon any home renovation project without any concurrence from the home owner, and without valid explanation for doing so.
  • Make any change to the prescribed specifications by the home owner without his expressed consent.
  • Request or receive payments or “advances” even before a home renovation contract is signed between the contractor and home owner.

Of course, as the case is in other states, regulations can often change rapidly. For more information on the policies and regulations of the Attorney-General, you can contact them via their consumer hotline at 1-888-520-6680, or via email at [email protected]. They also have an online query form which is helpful for more general consumer issues which you can access here. Also, you can personally visit their office at General Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA 17120.

Asbestos License Lookup and List

Contractors working with asbestos, such as, asbestos siding are required to obtain the certification provided by the Department of Labor & Industry in the state. We’re often asked where you can go and lookup these certificates to ensure their validity and the answer is that there’s a list provided by the department that you can access. Simply press this link.

Lead Abatement

Doing lead abatement work also requires that you get the necessary certification, and homeowners can go here to lookup and verify the validity of the certification provided by contractors through that list.

Specialty Licenses in Pennsylvania

If you’re an electrician, plumber, or hold qualifications in other specialty classifications, you can’t obtain a license from the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Rather, you have to go to your city of municipality office to get details about their requirements. If you live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Center City, Allentown, or Erie, keep on scrolling because this article includes the specific licensing requirements for these localities.

General Contractors License

While there are no licensing regulations for both home construction and commercial general contractors, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does regulate contractors of home improvement projects. Generally, businesses or individuals who are in the field of renovation projects are required to obtain this license, except for small contractors with less than $5,000 worth of projects per year, or large-scale contractors with a net worth of at least $50 million.

Projects that fall into the home improvement category include, but are not limited to, private residential works, demolition, installation of swimming facilities and heating machines, among others. To obtain the home improvement contractors license, an applicant must have complied with requirements and have the competencies enumerated below:

  • Submit the standard application form containing the applicant’s contact number, information on partners and offices (if applicable), previous home improvement businesses where the applicant was an operator or proprietor, information on other licenses held by the applicant, and a disclosure of all convictions, pleas, and periods of financial insolvency.
  • Possession of an insurance policy with coverage for property loss or destruction and a separate coverage for personal injury liability, each worth at least $50,000.
  • Payment of $50, serving as the application fee.

If applicants are able to meet these qualifications and submit all their requirements, then they are permitted to commit to home renovation projects for at least a year, subject to renewal and any possible additional requirements that the Office of the Attorney-General might impose.

Biggest cities

Philadelphia

Department of Licenses and Inspections

This institution is an agency attached to the Office of Business Services of Philadelphia. It serves as the primary body in charge of implementing zoning regulations, dispensing building permits, and most importantly, issuing contractors license and handling any disputes or complaints in the field of contracting in the city.

Requests for licenses are entertained from 8:00am to 3:30pm, Mondays-Fridays, except on the last Wednesday of the month, when office hours are 8:00am – 12nn. For more information about the services that they provide, you can visit them at the 11th floor of the Municipal Services Building, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19102. You can also contact them at (215) 686-2400.

General Contractors License

Aside from having a state-wide home improvement contractors license from the Attorney-General’s office, contractors who do not need to have a specialty license and who also wish to practice legally in Philadelphia must obtain a different license from the Office of Business Services of Philadelphia. The requirements are as follows:

  • Possession of a duly-certified Tax ID
  • Possession of a Commercial Activity License
  • Proof of General Liability Insurance Plan
  • Payment of $20 as application fee, to be charged against a $100 license fee.

The first two requirements are also regulated and released by the Department of Licenses and Inspection of Philadelphia City. License is subject to annual renewal, and the contractor must show proof of payment of city taxes, and pay a renewal fee of $100.

Electrical Contractors License

Individuals or business establishments who wish to work on projects related to low voltage wiring and the installation of electrical apparatus related to such must first obtain a license from the Department of Licenses and Inspection. In order to be considered for the license, an applicant must be in possession of the following:

  • Possession of a Commercial Activity License
  • Possession of a duly-certified Tax ID
  • Proof of General Liability Insurance Plan
  • Payment of $60 initial application fee for the evaluation of the credentials of the applicant.

If an applicant has the following requirements, he can generally avail of the electrical contractors license if he has was able to meet the following requirements:

  • Work experience of at least four years for any business or institution licensed by any state or local authority.
  • Educational experience related to electricity of at least two years. (NOTE: this may also serve as a substitute for work experience; 2 years’ education = 1-year work experience.)
  • Attendance in Continuing Education courses of at least eight (8) hours related to the NFPA 70, and taken within twelve months of applying for the electrical license.

The license is subject to renewal annually, with a renewal fee of $160.

Plumbing Contractors’ License

If you want to work on projects related to plumbing work such as installation of water pipes, repair and refurbishment of drainage systems, waste vents, and septic systems, then you must first obtain a plumber’s license from the Department of Licenses and Inspection. Generally, applicants with the following requirements may be considered for the license:

  • Possession of a Commercial Activity License
  • Possession of a duly-certified Tax ID
  • Proof of General Liability Insurance Plan
  • Payment of $150 initial application fee for the evaluation of the credentials of the applicant.

If the aforementioned requirements are met, the applicant can obtain the plumbing license after being able to pass the trade examination overseen by the International Code Council. Additionally, the applicant must also have at least four (4) years of experience as an apprentice plumber, and one (1) year as a Journeyman plumber.

Renewal is subject to good conduct and regular submission of requirements by the contractor such as regular and punctual payment of taxes imposed by the city. Annual renewal costs $200.

Pittsburgh

Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections

The PLI is the main license and building regulatory agency of Pittsburgh. They are dedicated to ensuring the safety, convenience, and well-being of all residents of the city by ensuring the highest standards of homes, buildings, and public works. The office is divided into three main offices, namely, (1) Construction Office, (2) Operations Office, and (3) Administrative and Licensing Office. The last office mentioned is in charge of ensuring compliance with licensing requirements and also serves as the record-keeper of all information pertaining to permits and licensed contractors.

For more information about the duties and responsibilities as it affects your contracting business, you can call them at 412-255-2175 or email them at [email protected]. Also, you can visit them at their office at City Hall from Mondays – Fridays, 8:00am – 3:00pm.

General Contractors License

Contractors who intend to work on the construction and demolition of both residential and commercial structures are advised to obtain the General Contractors License before starting any project. Generally, individuals who meet the following requirements can be issued a general license by Pittsburgh:

  • At least 18 years old, with ID or Birth Certificate attesting to one’s age.
  • Proof of General Liability Insurance worth at least $300,000.
  • Certification by the Finance Department of the city attesting to payment of all pertinent taxes.

Applicants can then submit their application to the PLI for proper evaluation, including an application fee of $93. The license is subject renewal annually, and as of 2018, the renewal fee is also $93.

Electrical Contractors License

All individuals interested in a career as an electrician in Pittsburgh must obtain the Electrical Contractor License from the PLI. The requirements for the license are as follows:

  • Fully accomplished application form
  • At least 18 years old, with ID or birth certificate attesting to one’s age.
  • Certification by the Finance Department of the city attesting to payment of all pertinent taxes.
  • General Liability Insurance coverage of at least $300,000.
  • And any one of the following:
  1. Electrical Wiring certification obtained from a reputable school with at least two (2) years of working experience, with a notarized statement of experience from any individual who has employed or supervised your electrical work.
  2. Ten (10) years work experience as a licensed electrical contractor in another jurisdiction, with a copy of your license as proof.
  3. Ten (10) years work experience under an electrician licensed by the City of Pittsburgh, with a notarized letter from the said electrician.
  • Obtain at least a passing score on the National Standard Master Electrician Exam conducted by the International Code Council.
  • Initial application fee of $371.

The license is subject to renewal every year, with a required payment of $278 for the renewal fee.

Allentown

Bureau of Building Standards

As the main licensing regulatory agency in Allentown, the Bureau of Building Standards is tasked to set and ensure compliance with requirements for electricians and plumbers. In addition, it is also in charge with the implementation of laws pertinent to safe commercial and residential structures. For more details, you can contact them via landline at 610-437-7591 or 610-437-7592. Their main office is located at the 4th floor of the City Hall Building, 435 Hamilton St. Allentown, PA.

Electrical Contractors License

Getting an electrical contractors license in Allentown is composed of several steps. Obviously, an applicant must first determine what specific kind of electrical license he can obtain based on his experience and education. The requirements for the electrical license are as follows:

  • For Residential Electrician: Two (2) years of applied experience.
  • For Master and Journeyman Electrician: Four (4) years of applied experience.

In addition, all applicants must also be 21 years old at the time of their application. Applicants must submit an accomplished application form, which includes all documents such as diplomas or certificates which validates the information he has included in his form. A non-refundable fee of $50 must be paid by the applicant to start the evaluation process. If the Bureau deems the application valid and approves it, only then can the applicant proceed to the examination. If he passes the examination, the contractor is issued a license subject to renewal by the board annually.

Plumbing Contractors License

To obtain a plumbing license in Allentown, an applicant must have accomplished and submitted his application form and all accompanying documents to the Bureau of Building Standards at least forty-five (45) days before the schedule day of the test. Generally, an individual must be at least twenty-one (21) years old, and must have had at least four (4) years of experience on the important aspects of plumbing such as pipe installation and drainage management. A non-refundable fee of $85 must be paid to the Board to evaluate the application. If an applicant is approved, only then can he proceed to the examination.

Erie

Electrical Contractors License

As defined by city law, electrical contractors in Erie are individuals, businesses or any other legal entity whose main trade is related to the installation and repair of all electrical circuits, including, but not limited to, moldings, conduits, electrical machinery, among others. An individual may obtain an electrical contractors license by first submitting his complete application which contains the following:

– Information on all the previous electrical-related projects the applicant has worked on, including his description of all those projects.

– References who can attest to the performance and knowledge of the applicant in the field of electrical contracting.

If the applicant has been engaged in an occupation related to electrical contracting for at least six (6) years prior to his application, then the examination requirement is waived. An initial fee of $300 is charged, and an annual renewal fee of $200 is required if the contractor wishes to maintain the validity of his license.

Plumbing Contractors License

These licenses in Erie are divided into three: (1) apprentice license, (2) journeyman license, and (3) master’s license. To obtain the apprentice license, an applicant must merely register with the city government before the start of his apprenticeship. If the plumbing contractor wishes to proceed to the next level, which is the journeyman license, he must have had at least three (3) years of experience as an apprentice plumber, under the supervision of a journeyman or master plumber. Lastly, if the plumbing contractor desires to obtain the highest plumbing license, which is the master’s, he must need at least five (5) years of practical experience as a journeyman license, and he must obtain passing marks or higher in the trade examination.

The following are the fees for the respective licenses:

  • Apprentice license: $25
  • Journeyman license: $50
  • Master’s license: $200

All licenses must be renewed annually and the aforementioned fees must also be paid accordingly.

Reading

Electrical and Plumbing

The following are the requirements for the electrical and plumbing contractors license in the City of Reading:

1. For Master Electrician/Plumbing License

  • Certification of Employment as a journeyman electrician or plumber in another city of municipality OR
  • Proof of possession of a journeyman license issued by the City of Reading for at least two (2) years.

2. For Journeyman Electrician/Plumbing License

  • Proof of Participation in a duly-approved apprenticeship program.
  • Certification of at least four (4) years of experience as an apprenticeship, with a minimum of 2,000 working hours every year.
  • Certification of taking courses related to the applicant’s trade specialty as an apprentice OR
  • Work experience of at least eight (8) years with a licensed master plumber/electrician acting as the supervisor of the applicant.

For the master’s license, a fee of $100 will be charge for examination, and a licensing fee of $90 that must be paid annually. For the journeyman license, the examination fee is $100 as well, but the annual licensing fee is only $50.

Pennsylvania License Reciprocity

License reciprocity are usually in the form of agreements where one entity supposedly recognizes the validity of a license issued by another entity, and vice-versa. However, this doesn’t mean that a professional from Michigan, for example, can automatically be a licensed contractor in Pennsylvania. Rather, license reciprocity agreements usually allow states or other entities to waive certain requirements for contractors, such as the experience requirement or the need to take a specialty trade exam.

In discussing Pennsylvania, this article will focus on internal reciprocity agreements. External reciprocity agreements are those which were entered into by state-level entities of the Commonwealth. However, since most licenses are regulated in the local level, Pennsylvania has no long-standing or current reciprocity agreements with other states, nor does it accept the NASCLA certification. On the other hand, internal reciprocity agreements are those which are primarily limited to bilateral city arrangements within the Commonwealth.

Philadelphia:

Philadelphia does not have any existing reciprocity agreements with other local governments.

Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh does not have any existing reciprocity agreements with other local governments.

Allentown:

Plumbing License

York, Williamsport, Corry, Dubois, Lancaster, Altoona, Corry, Erie, Franklin, Farrell, Easton, Hazelton, Sunbury, Titusville. (for a comprehensive list, click here)

Electrical License

Scranton, Kutztown, Bethlehem, Harriburg, and the State of Connecticut.

Erie:

No specific reciprocity agreements, but the city government can issue reciprocal licenses on a case by case basis. For more information, contact the Licensing Office of Erie.

Reading:

No specific reciprocity agreements with other cities, but those holding a license from another city may apply for a reciprocal license which would waive examination requirements, but approval is not automatic and subject to the evaluation of the city government.