Navigating the complex world of contractor licensing in Ohio can be challenging, whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your business.
The difficulty arises due to a lack of a general statewide license for contractors. Instead, many different contractor categories are licensed at both a state and local level.
In this Ohio Contractor License article, we’ve provided a detailed overview of whether you’ll need a contractor license, how to obtain one if you do, and any other important licensing requirements you may need to satisfy.
Tip: If you’re planning to work as a general contractor in Ohio, we recommend forming an LLC. This is an affordable business structure that protects your personal assets against debt and/or lawsuits.
Northwest Registered Agent ($29 + state fees)
Do You Need a Contractor License
In Ohio, not all contractors are required to obtain a specific license. Instead, licensing requirements vary depending on your specific trade and the location you’re based in. We’ve explored these considerations in greater detail below.
Electricians, Plumbers, and Other Tradesmen
There are five types of contractors that are regulated by licenses at the state level:
- HVAC contractors
- Hydronic technicians
It’s important to note that your responsibilities might not end with a state-level license, and individual cities or counties in Ohio actually often have their own unique licensing requirements or conditions that must be met in order for projects to be approved.
This means that, to operate legally within a specific jurisdiction, you’ll need to be aware of and comply with any local ordinances in addition to your state-issued license.
Handymen, Home Improvement Contractors, and Builders
In Ohio, if you’re involved in general home improvements, building construction, or handyman services, licensing requirements are usually set by local jurisdictions rather than by the state. For example, in Cincinnati the ability to offer these services is regulated by the home improvement contractor license. This license requires an application fee of around $130 and must be renewed annually.
On the other hand, Columbus has a different process for its contractor license. Home improvement contractors must have a notarized application, pass a state exam, and remit a fee of $185. These local nuances make it crucial to consult the building and zoning services department in the Ohio municipality or county where you plan to operate.
In addition, Cleveland requires a building construction contractor license for those who perform work on residential or commercial buildings. They must register as contractors with the city’s Department of Building and Housing. The registration process requires passing an exam, submitting a surety bond, providing proof of insurance, and paying a fee.
Keep in mind that failing to adhere to the applicable local requirements can result in severe penalties (e.g., fines, legal actions against your business, etc.).
Note: While not required at a state level, your business may still need to obtain a general contractor license at a local level as each municipality has its rules and regulations in this area.
Interested in getting started? We recommend using online study materials and prep courses to give yourself the best chance of success.
How to Get a General Contractor License in Ohio
Becoming a general contractor in Ohio doesn’t mandate a license at the state level.
However, if you intend to perform any work in a specialist trade (i.e., as a plumber or electrician), there are certain steps your business will need to follow in order to get licensed in Ohio. While the specifics of these steps vary between each trade, you will generally need to do the following:
Step 1: Choose Your Business Structure
Before starting the application process for a contractor license, you’ll first need to decide on the structure of your business. Since this decision will impact your liability, tax obligations, and how you run your business, it’s vital you’re informed about the details of each structure so that you can effectively determine which one is best suited to your needs.
Many contracting businesses in Ohio, particularly smaller ones, decide to structure themselves as limited liability companies (LLCs) because it grants them tax flexibility, limited liability protection, and credibility in the eyes of their clients.
Recommended: More than 72% of our readers form their LLC using a professional filing service. Our recommended service provider is:
Northwest Registered Agent ($29 + state fees)
Step 2: Meet the Basic Requirements
After forming your business, you’ll need to confirm that you meet the minimum basic requirements. While the specifics of these requirements will vary depending on the license you are trying to obtain, you’ll generally need to:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a US citizen or legally reside in the country
- Have no convictions of a disqualifying offense
- Have at least five years of experience in your trade, have three years of experience as a registered engineer in your trade, or have an equivalent experience that the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board (OCILB) finds acceptable
- Demonstrate a certain number of hours of on-the-job training, and experience. For example, each applicant should have continuously held a tradesperson license in their specialty for at least five years leading up to their application date
Note: Some licenses, like the Master Electrician License, require you to have held a more junior qualification in that industry for a certain amount of time. In this case, applicants must have held a journeyman’s license for at least two years before applying to become a master electrician.
Step 3: Submit an Application
Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the basic requirements of the contractor’s license your business needs, the next step is to submit your application. Thankfully, the application process in Ohio is much easier than many other states since it only uses one application and set of requirements to regulate the five trades instead of a unique process for each.
To apply, you’ll need pay a $25 submission fee and mail this application form to the OCILB at the following address:
Division of Industrial Compliance
Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board
6606 Tussing Road, P.O. Box 4009
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-9009
Step 4: Pass a Licensing Exam
Once your application has been approved by the OCILB you’ll need to pass a trade examination for your specialty administered by PSI.
Many candidates struggle with these exams as they will often test both their knowledge of the trade and their understanding of Ohio’s specific regulations and laws. To avoid this, many applicants take advantage of online study guides and preparatory courses in order to get ready for these exams.
Interested in getting started? Kickstart the preparation for your contractor licensing exam today with comprehensive study courses and learning materials.
Step 5: Satisfy Insurance Requirements
In order to protect both your business and the client in case of accidents and damages, most contractors in Ohio will need to provide proof of insurance coverage in order to get licensed. In particular, you’ll need to obtain contractor liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $500,000.
Additionally, many local governments in Ohio impose a surety bond requirement based on the kind of work a contractor will perform. For example, general contractors in the city of Columbus are required to provide proof of a surety bond in the amount of $25,000 as part of their application.
Be sure to check the specific insurance prerequisites for the license you’re seeking as well as the surety bond requirements of your local municipality, as these requirements will be unique to each trade and city in Ohio.
Step 6: Keep Your Contractor License Valid
Once you obtain your license, it’s essential to keep it active. This often involves renewing it every few years, paying associated renewal fees, and meeting continuing education requirements in order to continue offering your services without interruption.
Congratulations! You’ve now successfully obtained the professional license needed to work as a contractor in Ohio. However, your licensing journey doesn’t end here, as there are additional licensing requirements your business will need to satisfy in order to operate legally.
Other Licenses You May Need
Below, we’ve explored the various additional licenses and permits that your Ohio contractor business may need in more detail.
State Business Licenses
While general contractor licenses aren’t required at a state level in Ohio, there are certain state business licenses you may need to obtain before you can get up and running.
Outside of a sales tax permit, your general contractor business may require an environmental permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if it takes on certain types of projects with the potential to impact the environment.
To better understand your general contractor business’s licensing requirements, we recommend checking out the Ohio Secretary of State’s Business Services Division for a comprehensive guide on state and local requirements.
Note: Alternatively, you can check out our detailed Ohio Business License guide for a more in-depth look into your general contractor business’s licensing requirements.
City and Municipal Licenses
Many local municipalities often impose their own additional requirements that you may be required to satisfy for your business to operate legally in that area.
For example, contractors in the city of Cincinnati must obtain a local contractor registration certificate to ensure they follow the city’s specific building and safety codes.
For contractors looking to operate in multiple Ohio cities, be aware that reciprocal agreements between municipalities are rare. This means you might have to obtain separate licenses or permits for each city in which you plan to work, adding another layer of complexity to your operations.
Note: You can use Ohio Municipal League’s directory to find your city’s government website and read more about its specific licensing requirements.
Ohio Contractor License FAQ
How do I get a contractor’s license in Ohio?
The process of obtaining an Ohio Contractor License varies depending on your specialization. If you’re in a field such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC, hydronic systems, or refrigeration, you must apply for a state-level license via the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board. Meanwhile, if you’re seeking a general contractor license, you should turn to your local municipality for specific requirements.
Do contractors need a license in Ohio?
In Ohio, contractors specialized in electrical, plumbing, HVAC, Hydronic Systems, and Refrigeration require state-level licenses with trade-specific requirements. General contractors, however, are typically governed by municipalities, which often require a different local license or certifications depending on the city or county where they operate. Interested in finding out more? Check out our How to Get a General Contractor License article.
Is there a contractor’s license in Ohio?
Ohio doesn’t have a state-level general contractor’s license, but it mandates state licenses for five specialized trades: Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC, Hydronic Systems, and Refrigeration. In addition to these, local municipalities often impose their own licensing requirements, making it crucial to check the rules in the specific areas where you plan to operate.
What insurance do you need to be a contractor in Ohio?
To be a licensed contractor in Ohio, you must have liability insurance, and possibly a surety bond, depending on the local municipality. Some cities also require proof of business insurance (such as Ohio workers compensation coverage), so be sure to research both state and local regulations thoroughly before starting any projects — especially if you’ve signed a power of attorney form.