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Doing work without the right licenses is a crime in the state of Washington, D.C. which is why we have made this article to help both contractors and homeowners make sure they live up to the relevant regulations, and we try to keep it as up to date and accurate as possible, although the licensing landscape is an ever changing one.
Homeowners — we also want to extend this message that we have a big network of contractors in Washington that are ready to bid on your project. When contractors compete, you’ll usually also end up paying less in the end. To take advantage of this offer, completely free of charge, simply take 2 minutes to fill out the form below, and we’ll match you with the most relevant companies.
Washington, D.C. Contractor’s License Board
Washington, D.C. falls under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia, which means that it follows the District’s laws when it comes to licensing and other regulations. The issuance of contractor licenses is handled by either the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or DCRA, or the District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades, depending on the trade you want to be licensed in.
Only select trades are required to be licensed in Washington. The DCRA handles licensing for the general contractors and home improvement contractors only. The Board of Industrial Trades, on the other hand, regulates licenses of the following: electricians, asbestos workers, plumbers, those working on elevators, and refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics.
You can contact the DCRA through phone at (202) 442-4400, fax at (202) 442-9445, TTY at (202) 123-4567, or email at [email protected]. You can also go directly to their office located at 1100 4th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.
To get in touch with the Board of Industrial Trades, you can email them at [email protected], send a fax at (202) 403-3446, or call them at (866) 270-9817.
Foreign or out-of-state corporations are permitted to conduct contracting work in Washington D.C. but before they can do that, they are required to have a registered agent to represent them. This registered agent must be a resident of the District. A filing fee of $200 is also required.
These corporations should also get a Certificate of Authority that allows them to do business in the District. This certificate may be acquired from the District’s Corporation Division under the Business Regulation Administration of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which you can contact at their office located at 941 North Capitol Street N.E., Corporations Division, Washington, DC 20002. You can also apply for the certificate online using this link: http://dcra.dc.gov/dcra/cwp/view,a,1343,q,635456,dcraNav,%7C33408%7C.asp, or call them at (202) 442-4330.
Contractor License Classifications
In general, Washington D.C. requires that work contracts exceeding $300 in total cost must only be done by licensed contractors, regardless of trade.
General contractors in Washington DC are allowed to do various construction work, including demolitions, improvement works, remodeling, repairs, and construction of new structures. They can work on real estate properties considered as residential, governmental, commercial, institutional, industrial, and accessory use. These contractors are also allowed to do land development and heavy construction work.
Home Improvement Contractor
Unlike general contractors, home improvement contractors are limited to working on residential properties. These contractors are allowed to repair, modernize, remodel, alter, or convert residential properties, as well as add structures to the existing ones.
Electricians in Washington D.C. are generally those that can design, remove, install, convert, alter, change, repair, or maintain electrical wirings, conductors, systems, or equipment in public or private buildings or structures.
Washington D.C. classifies those working in the electrical trade under the following:
- Electrical Contractor
- Electrical Contractor Specialist
- Electrical Contractor Specialist Fixture
- Electrical Contractor Specialist Low Voltage
- Electrical Contractor Specialist Maintenance and Repair
- Master Electrician
- Master Electrician Limited Low Voltage
- Master Electrician Specialist – Escalator
- Master Electrician Specialist – Elevator
- Master Electrician Specialist – Sign
- Master Electrician Specialist – Maintenance and Repair
- Electrician Apprentice
- Electrician Journeyman
Plumbing or Gasfitting Trade
Washington D.C. considers plumbers as those who work with plumbing fixtures that would receive and discharge water and other liquids, as well as water-carried wastes, including its design, installation, and repair. They are also permitted to work on drainage systems.
Gasfitters are those permitted to work on gas appliances that are of the non-industrial type and their piping systems. This includes designing, fabricating, installing, testing, and operating such systems. The gases they can only work on are manufactured gas, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas-air mixtures, undiluted liquefied petroleum gas, or any combination of those.
You can be classified as one of the following under this trade:
- Plumber Apprentice
- Gasfitter Apprentice
- Plumber/Gasfitter Apprentice
- Plumber Journeyman
- Gasfitter Journeyman
- Plumber/Gasfitter Journeyman
- Plumber Master
- Gasfitter Master
- Plumber/Gasfitter Master
- Plumber Contractor
- Gasfitter Contractor
- Plumber/Gasfitter Contractor
Asbestos Abatement Work
Workers doing asbestos abatement are those permitted to remove, dispose of, encapsulate, or transport materials that contain asbestos and asbestos itself, like asbestos siding.
Elevator Contractor and Mechanic
Washington D.C. defines elevator contractors as those sole proprietors, corporations, or firms, who are permitted to erect, construct, install, repair, alter, service, or test elevators, stairway chair and platform lifts, conveyors, manlifts, escalators, material lifts, dumbwaiters, automated people movers, and other similar conveyances.
Elevator mechanics, on the other hand, have the same scope as elevator contractors but these individuals themselves do the work.
Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic
Mechanics involved in the refrigeration and air conditioning trade are those permitted to do the design, installation, repair and maintenance, and alteration of such systems in public and private buildings, as well as in automotive.
Apprentice mechanics can only work on refrigeration and air conditioning systems if they are employed or supervised by a licensed master mechanic. Master mechanics, limited, are those who can work on systems that have a less than 25 compressor horsepower, while master mechanics are permitted to work on systems that have more than 25 compressor horsepower.
This trade has the following license classifications:
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Apprentice Mechanic
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Contractor
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Contractor, Limited
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Journeyman Mechanic
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Master Mechanic
- Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Master Mechanic, Limited
How to Get a Contractor’s License and the Advantages of Getting One
Contractors’ license applicants are required by Washington D.C. to be more than 18 years old during the filing of the application for the license and must not have a prior conviction that can affect his or her suitability for the license. This applies to all the trades.
Aside from acquiring the necessary licenses, contractors may also be required to obtain a Basic Business License, or BBL, before they can do contracting work. The requirements for the BBL will depend on the contractor or trade license you are applying for, which you can check at https://dcra.dc.gov/node/514522.
To apply for the BBL, you can do that online using this link: https://mybusiness.dc.gov/#/register. You can also personally file your application by going to the office of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Business Licensing Center, which is located at 1100 4th Street S.W., 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20024. If submitting your application through mail, you may send it to the following address:
Wells Fargo Bank
DC Government Wholesale Lockbox 91360
7175 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
Applications for the licenses are generally made online and Washington D.C. will only accept walk-in applications in certain cases.
Those who are required to take the state-level examinations must schedule their exams with the PSI at this website: https://candidate.psiexams.com.
General Contractor’s License Application
Applications for the General Contractor’s License is done online at https://mybusiness.dc.gov/. You must also fulfill the following requirements to be issued the Basic Business License required for the General Contractor’s License:
- Corporate registration for contractors who are considered as corporations
- Basic Business License application
- Clean Hands Self-Certification, which proves that you do not owe more than $100 to the District of Columbia Government
- Tax registration (FR-500)
- Home Occupation Permit or Certificate of Occupancy
- Three copies of a minimum of two invoices and sample contracts
- Submitting to a 30-day background investigation
- Certificate of Liability Insurance that depends on the license class you are applying for. The commercial general liability insurance must have the following minimum limits: $2,500,000 per occurrence for the Class A license, $1,500,000 per occurrence for the Class B license, $500,000 per occurrence and $1,000,000 aggregate combined limit for both Class C and Class G licenses, and $500,000 per occurrence for the Class H license
It costs $654.50 for the two-year license, but you can also choose to have a four-year license, which costs $1,204.50, which in turn saves you about $100 in fees.
Home Improvement Contractor’s License Application
Those applying for the Home Improvement Contractor’s License should also apply online through https://mybusiness.dc.gov/.
The Basic Business License is also required for the Home Improvement Contractor’s License. To be issued the BBL, the requirements are:
- Corporate registration, if applicable to you
- Basic Business License application
- Tax registration (FR-500)
- Clean Hands Self-Certification that proves that you don’t owe the local government more than $100
- Surety Bond of $25,000
- Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit
- Police Criminal History Report (PD-70 Form)
- Certificate of Liability Insurance with a coverage ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, as well as insurance for property damage worth $10,000 to $25,000. The certificate holder must be the “Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 4th Street, SW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20024.”
- Two pre-printed Home Improvement Contract samples
- Home Improvement Salesperson Designation Letter, including a list of salespersons that are working for you or for the company
- Undergoing a background check after submitting your application for the BBL
You are required to pay $288.20 for the two-year license or $471.90 for the four-year license. This in turn also saves you about $100 in fees.
Electrical Trade License Application
Those who wish to apply for their licenses under this trade may file their application at https://electrical.dcopla.com/account/login/, regardless of the classification of the electrical license being applied for. More information about the application process for this license can be found here: https://www.dcopla.com/trades/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/09/Website-Individual-Application-Process_Electrical_updated.pdf.
Apprentice electricians can only be licensed if they will be under the supervision of a master electrician or master electrician specialist holding a valid license.
The requirements for both the journeyman electrician and master electrician limited (low voltage) are:
- Completion of a class on Title 12C of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, or its equivalent, within 2 years before filing the application
- A total of 8,000 hours at minimum working as an apprentice electrician in 4 years or more
- Either have a degree in electrical engineering obtained from an accredited institution, at least 2 years of practical experience certified by a master electrician with a valid license, or a combination of both that the Board will deem sufficient
- Passing the examinations. However, a journeyman electrician license applicant may be exempted from taking the examination if he or she can provide certification from a national certifying organization that he or she has passed their organization’s examinations and has been designated as a journeyman electrician
Electrical contractors must either have an employee who is a master electrician or be master electricians themselves before they can be issued the electrical contractor licenses.
The application fee for all the licenses under this application costs $65. Save for the journeyman, journeyman electrician specialist, master electrician, master electrician specialist, and designated master electrician specialist licenses, Washington D.C. does not require applicants to pass an examination. For those required to take the exam, you need to pay the $85 examination fee.
Licenses under the electrical trade expire every odd numbered years, specifically on November 30 of those years. The license fees will depend on the classification:
- $85 for the designated master electrician license
- $110 for the temporary electrician, apprentice electrician, journeyman electrician, and journeyman electrician specialist
- $120 for the electrical contractor, electrical contractor specialist, electrical contractor specialist fixture, master electrician, master electrician specialist, and designated master electrician specialist
Bonds are also required for specific electrical licenses:
- $4,000 for the electrical contractor
- $2,000 for the electrical contractor specialist and designated master electrician
- $1,000 for the electrical contractor specialist fixture and master electrician specialist
Plumber/Gasfitter’s License Application
Applicants for this license, regardless of classification, must file their application online by going to https://plumbing.dcopla.com/account/login/?ReturnUrl=%2f. When filing your application, you must also submit at least one letter from one of your former employers attesting your fitness to be issued the license you are applying for (except for those applying for apprentice licenses). Other information regarding the application can be found at https://www.dcopla.com/trades/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/06/Application-Process-Plumbing.pdf.
Apprentice plumber licenses can be issued as long as the applicant is employed or under the guidance of a licensed master gasfitter or master plumber/gasfitter.
You must fulfill the following requirements if you are applying for the journeyman plumber or gasfitter license:
- Have a minimum of 8,000 hours work experience as an apprentice gasfitter or plumber in 4 years or more
- Either obtained a mechanical engineering degree from an accredited institution, a minimum of 2 years’ worth of practical experience, or a combination of both that would satisfy the Board’s requirements
- Successfully passing the examinations. However, you can skip the state-level examinations if you can provide certification from a national certifying organization that you are a passer of their examination and are considered as a journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter of that organization
Master plumber/gasfitter and master gasfitter applicants are required to be a licensed journeyman plumber or journeyman gasfitter and has worked as such for a minimum of 8 years before filing their application. They are also required by the District to post a bond of $5,000 and have a Certificate of Public Liability and Property Damage Insurance with a $40,000 coverage per occurrence before doing any contracting work.
Plumbing/Gasfitting contractors must also post bonds of $5,000. Their licenses and the bonds expire every March 31 of an even year.
The application fee for all types of licenses under this trade is $65. The licenses cost $110 for the apprentice and all types of journeyman licenses and $120 for all types of master and contractor licenses. These licenses are generally valid for 2 years.
Asbestos Abatement Worker’s License Application
Workers applying for this license must use the online form to fill out their application. You can do so at this website: https://asbestos.dcopla.com/account/login/?ReturnUrl=%2f
In order to be issued this license, you must meet the following requirements:
- Completion of a course of instruction that focuses on asbestos abatement, which the Board has approved
- Meeting the standards set by the Non-Health Related Professions and Occupations Licensure Act of 1998, including having the necessary training and educational requirements, experience, and demonstrating competency on the trade
- Submission of other supporting documents that will prove your ability as an asbestos worker
You can also refer to https://www.dcopla.com/trades/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/06/Application-Process-Asbestos.pdf for the requirements and application process.
Asbestos abatement workers are also required to take the necessary examinations. The application costs $65 and the license costs $110. The license will expire exactly two years after its issuance and is renewable.
Elevator Trade License Application
You can file your application for the elevator trade license at https://elevator.dcopla.com/account/login/?ReturnUrl=%2f. You can also refer to https://www.dcopla.com/trades/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/06/Application-Process-Elevator-Maintenance.pdf for the requirements for the license application.
Elevator contractor applicants are required to meet the District’s requirements in terms of insurance and surety bonds. They must also have one or more workers in their company who are licensed in the elevator trade who will perform the work. They are also required to provide a bond of $4,000.
The requirements for elevator mechanic license applicants are as follows:
- Successfully passing the examination
- Certificate of Completion that is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship training, the District of Columbia Apprenticeship Council, or any other equivalent organization, which proves that you have successfully completed an apprenticeship program
- Work experience as an elevator mechanic for a minimum of two years that has been unsupervised, including the construction and maintenance and repair. You must be employed in a company that has been licensed to conduct their business in the District during that period. Your work experience must be within the last 3 years prior to your application
Elevator apprentices can also be issued licenses as long as they provide an employment verification letter or proof that they will be part of or are currently enrolled in an apprenticeship program.
Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic’s License Application
To apply for a license under this trade, you must do so online at https://hvac.dcopla.com/account/login/?ReturnUrl=%2f. You can also learn more about the application process and the requirements at https://www.dcopla.com/trades/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/06/Application-Process-RefrigerationAir.pdf.
Applicants for the apprentice refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic license are required to have themselves registered with the mayor and are not required to take any exam.
Master mechanics are required by the District to be experienced in working on refrigeration and air conditioning systems with 25 or more compressor horsepower for at least 5 consecutive years before the application was filed and pass the trade exam.
If you are applying for the master mechanic, limited license, the requirements are:
- A minimum of 5 years (consecutive) work experience in terms of installing, repairing, replacing, and maintaining refrigeration and air conditioning systems that have less than 25 compressor horsepower
- Present proof of chlor fluro carbon certification
- Passing of the examination. This requirement may be waived if you have certification from a national certifying organization that proves that you have successfully passed the trade examination of the organization, completed their apprenticeship program, and is recognized as the journeyman refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic of the organization
Journeyman refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics can be licensed after completing an apprenticeship program, with a total of 8,000 hours or 4 years if applying via waiver or 3 years of minimum work experience if applying for the license by means of taking the examination.
The application costs $65 and licenses are valid for 2 years.
Advantages of Having a License
The District of Columbia, including Washington D.C., has established various rules and regulations involving the construction industry to promote the health and safety of its residents. This is why they require certain trade workers and contractors to be licensed.
The District has what it calls its “disgorgement rule”. If you are an unlicensed contractor but you worked on a project anywhere in the District of Columbia, you are legally required to return all the payment the client has given you even if he or she was satisfied with your work.
Being licensed also gives you the right to charge higher, since you have sufficient proof that you are fully qualified to do the job. Licensed contractors and workers are much more in demand now than unlicensed ones, especially for costly projects, because clients know that they will be getting their money’s worth once they hire one, that’s why they proactively search for them.
The Importance of Hiring a Contractor With a License
Everyone knows that construction projects are generally costly, so people would try their best to cut costs and save as much as they can. Unfortunately, these cost-cutting measures sometimes result in the total opposite of what they are expecting and going over their initial budget.
One of the common examples for this is when you hire an unlicensed contractor. You may think that you will be saving money by doing so, since they charge lower than licensed contractors, but this is a very risky move since this generally ends up costing you more. Many homeowners have complained about unlicensed contractors not finishing the work, suddenly disappearing in the middle of the project, producing unsatisfactory results, and many others. By hiring licensed contractors, you eliminate, or at least lessen, these issues.
While Washington D.C. allows you to get your money back whenever you hire an unlicensed contractor, the stress and headaches are not worth the risk. In contrast, licensed contractors will give you a peace of mind.
Washington, D.C. Contractor License Search
You can check if the contractor has the required Basic Business License in Washington D.C. using the online database found at https://eservices.dcra.dc.gov/BBLV/Default.aspx. This applies to general and home improvement contractors, since they are required to have the BBL before accepting contracts.
For the other trades, you can search the licenses at https://trades.dcopla.com/Public/MemberSearch/BITLicense.
Contractor’s License Reciprocity
Having issued a license in any city, county, or state with a contractor’s license reciprocity agreement with another has a major perk. That is, it allows you to bypass some of the requirements in order to get the same or equivalent license in the reciprocal city, county, or state.
If you have been issued a contractor’s license, or any construction trade license for the matter, you know how time-consuming and costly it is to obtain one. License reciprocity agreements will save you time, effort, and money, since these agreements generally allow you to submit only a fraction of the usual requirements in order to obtain the license in another state, city, or county, as well as skip the required examinations.
Unfortunately, Washington D.C. does not have a license reciprocity agreement with any city, county, or state.
We have also written guides on the licenses require in the surrounding states including New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and more. All the different states can be accessed through the navigation bar on this page.