“Hey, can you help me put up this shelf?” “Do you have time this weekend to help me install new floors?” “I could really use an extra hand with this paint job.”
If you get a lot of requests like these from family, friends, and neighbors, it might have occurred to you that you have a reputation for being, well, handy.
What if you put those skills for home improvement and repair to work professionally? What if you became a handyman?
You might think that starting a business as a handyman is as simple as asking your family and neighbors to start referring you to others. You may have already accepted payments for small jobs, and figure at this point, all you need to do is advertise and expand.
But it turns out is a little more complicated than that. Before you can become a handyman, you need to know what the legal definition entails. You also need to be familiar with licensing requirements, and what types of work you can perform once you are licensed in your city or state.
In this guide, we will go over that information so that you can take your next steps in launching your handyman business. Let’s get started.
What is a Handyman?
First of all, what exactly is a handyman? You might think you know: A handyman is someone who does repair and renovation work.
But wait—what tasks qualify? And which fall under the domain of a general contractor?
Handyman vs. Contractor
First of all, it is important to know that the exact legal definition of a handyman depends in part upon your location.
The reason that is true is because licenses in different jurisdictions allow you to do different things.
But we can generally say the difference between handymen and general contractors is this:
Contactors manage large repairs or renovations. They coordinate and facilitate the work with a team of specialists.
Handymen carry out small repairs or renovations. They do not work with a team, and nobody needs to oversee them.
As you can see, these are two very different roles that involve entirely different skills. A general contractor needs to excel at managing a group of people. A handyman, however, needs to be skilled with manual labor and capable of working on their own.
Do I Need a Business License to Be a Handyman?
Next, you are probably wondering, “What kind of business license do I need to become a handyman?”
Well, that depends. What kinds of work do you want to be able to perform, and how much do you want to be able to be paid for the jobs you complete?
Depending on your location, the body issuing a handyman license might be either:
It is very common to be able to legally perform handyman tasks without a license so long as you do not surpass a certain threshold for payments.
But after you hit that threshold, you are operating illegally if you do not have a license.
The threshold isn’t always very high, either—in some jurisdictions, it is as low as $500 (like in California, for example).
So, if you plan to make a living as a handyman, you definitely are going to need to apply for a license.
Also, in some locations, you have to have a license to do any sort of handyman work.
We suggest applying for your license as soon as possible so you can scale up your business without worrying about breaking above a certain threshold.
Moreover, despite the fact that a general contractor and a handyman are two very different things, you often need a contractor license.
An example is New York City, which states, “A person or business must have a Home Improvement Contractor license to do construction, repair, remodeling, or other home improvement work to any residential land or building in New York City. Other home improvement work includes, but is not limited to, the construction, replacement, or improvement of basements, driveways, fences, garages, landscaping, patios, porches, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, and other improvements to structures or upon land that is next to a home or apartment building.”
As one more aside, you might not be able to advertise that you are a handyman in a particular state or locale if you are not licensed as such—or you might have to specify that you are unlicensed if you have no license.
So, that is something else you will need to look into.
Handyman License Requirements
Just as there is no simple answer to the question, “Do I need a handyman license?”, there is also no simple answer to the question, “What are the handyman business license requirements?”
Every jurisdiction sets its own requirements. You might qualify to become a handyman in one location and not another.
But to give you an example, here are the requirements NYC lists for a Home Improvement Contractor License:
Basic License Application
Sales Tax Identification Number OR Application Confirmation Number
Proof of Business Address
Proof of Home Address
Workers’ Compensation Insurance Information
Proof of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification relating to safe lead practices AND/OR Signed Affirmation
DCWP Trust Fund Enrollment ($200 fee) OR Copy of $20,000 Surety Bond (or Third Party Bond), properly signed
Contractual Compliance Agreement
Home Improvement Exam and $50 Exam Fee
Fingerprints and $75 Processing Fee per Person
Granting Authority to Act Affirmation (if applicable)
By now, you might be feeling a bit lost, so, to help you move forward, let’s go over a basic set of steps that will help you get licensed so you can legally become a handyman.
1. First, license your business to operate in your state.
You need a basic business license no matter what. Decide whether to operate as a sole proprietor, LLC, etc., and go ahead and register through your Secretary of State.
Need help with this step? You can have an attorney take care of it.
2. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
You can use your EIN instead of your SSN to identify your business for tax purposes.
3. Apply for a license to run a business in your locale.
After taking care of things with the state, you will need to check whether your city or other local jurisdiction requires a business license as well.
This is a step that is easy to overlook. But if you fail to obtain the appropriate local license, you could end up owing fines.
In the future, you will need to renew your business licenses from time to time. So, on a periodic basis, you will need to be ready to submit your renewal fees.
It is useful to know that it is not always entirely obvious what you need to do to meet local business licensing requirements.
So, if you do not find answers through online resources, pick up the phone and call. A human being can give you fast answers.
4. Check local and state requirements.
The next step is to do all the research to find out whether or not you need a license, and whether it needs to be a handyman license or a contractor license.
In some situations, you might even need to apply for more than one license in order to perform various specialized tasks.
Along the way, you could discover that you do not yet meet all of the requirements to qualify for the licenses that you need to operate.
If that is so, you may need to enter specific training programs.
5. Apply for your license(s).
Finally, you will need to apply for the license or licenses that you need. Make sure that you provide any required documentation.
What If I Don’t Qualify Yet for the Appropriate License?
You may encounter situations where you do not meet the qualification requirements for the contractor license you need, but you also need to get working right away.
If that happens, you might want to investigate related licenses or certifications that are available in your state or locale.
You might be eligible for some of those certifications now. If so, applying for them might allow you to start building the skills and experience that you will require to meet the qualifications for the contractor license you are ultimately aiming for.
Potential clients will also be reassured by your certifications in the absence of a contractor license.
And don’t forget—you might still be able to perform handyman work, depending on your location—so long as you do not exceed the payment threshold.
While that will limit what you can do, it still gives you a means to work toward your license.
First of all, if business insurance is listed as a requirement for a handyman or contractor license, you are not going to be able to legally run your business without it.
Secondly, handyman insurance is important for other reasons as well. Hopefully, nothing will ever go wrong with your jobs, but sooner or later, you might make a mistake, miss a detail, or have something happen that is outside of your control.
If such a thing should come to pass, your insurance can help cover any damages.
Additionally, if you have insurance, that makes you more competitive. So, you are less likely to be passed over for another handyman or contractor if you have insurance.
Handyman insurance is really a whole other topic, however, and beyond the scope of this article. So, if you want to find out more, you will need to read further in this post or call us for a free estimate.
Now you know all about licensing requirements for becoming a handyman. If you are ready to take the next steps, look into registering your business at the state and local levels, and start researching the requirements in your area for handyman or contractor licensing.
Completing these initial steps may not be easy, but they are necessary if you want to legally build a thriving business as a handyman.