Contracting without a license is a serious offense in Florida, and there are a number of ways that you can into trouble. Because the stakes are so high and the penalties are so steep, it’s important to understand exactly what’s required. Let’s take a quick look at how to get licensed, exceptions to licensure requirements, and the harsh penalties that can be incurred.
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The CILB and Performing a Florida Contractors License Search
The Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB) runs the show when it comes to getting a Florida contractor’s license. It’s responsible for licensing and regulating the construction industry in Florida. Thus, any conversation about a Florida contractor’s license must first begin with the CILB.
The CILB meets regularly to consider applications, review disciplinary cases, and conduct hearings related to licensure and discipline. Their headquarters of the Department of Professions is headquartered in Tallahassee, but they have field offices spread across the State. As we’ve discussed in a past article (linked below), the CILB has been known to even run sting operations to catch unlicensed contractors.
While running stings now and again might help curb the number of unlicensed contractors, it’s easiest for owners, subs, and suppliers to avoid the issue of licensure altogether. By performing a Florida contractors license search, everyone on a job can be sure that they’re working with a reputable contractor. Considering it only takes one bad contractor to force an owner to double-pay or leave a sub or supplier unpaid, it’s probably worth double-checking.
Luckily, the Department of Business & Professional Regulation makes it easy to perform a Florida contractor’s license search and verify the license status of a contractor. The website also makes it easy to lodge complaints. For those contractors looking to get licensed, the site also provides an opportunity to apply for a license online.
Florida Contractor’s License
The State of Florida provides for two classifications of Florida contractor’s licenses: “certified” and “registered.”
- A certified contractor license is valid throughout the entire state.
- A registered contractor license is limited to specific, local jurisdictions.
Both types of licenses have certain requirements that must be met before submitting the application. After passing the exam, the applicant can then submit the full application as long as certain requirements are met. The Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board requires you to provide the following information:
- Proof of 4 years experience (or a combination of college & experience),
- A credit report,
- Fingerprints for background checks, &
- Proof of insurance.
Certified Florida Contractors
In order to become a certified contractor, you must first pass the Florida State Certification Exam. The content of the exam depends if you are applying for Division I or a Division II license.
Division I is for general building and residential contractors.
The exam has three sections:
- project management,
- contract administration, and
- a business & finance section.
Division II exams are for trade-specific contractors such as drywall, HVAC, commercial pool installation, plumbing, and so on. This exam only has two sections:
- business & finance, and
- a trade knowledge section.
Registered Florida Contractors
For registered contractors, you must have passed the Certification Exam or possess a Certificate of Competency from the local licensing office. This involves a loooooong application requiring you to submit all of your personal info, business info, sworn statements, etc.
When submitting the application, you must have public liability and property damage insurance. After you are licensed, you have 30 days to acquire worker’s compensation insurance (or submit an exemption form).
Florida’s Handyman Exception
Florida statutes do provide an exception for “basic handyman services.” There is no limit to the contract amount, but it does limit the types of services you can provide.
For example, to fall under this exception, you cannot work on:
- structural walls,
- asbestos abatement, and
- other tasks that require licenses.
If you aren’t performing the work described above, you might not need a Florida contractor’s license. However, you still need to acquire a business license in order to operate your business.
Keep in mind, although the “handyman exception” allows you to perform work not included for state licensing purposes, there are some counties that will still require a license. For instance, Lee County requires painters to get a license to perform work in the county. So make sure to check your county license board to be certain whether you need an additional license or not.
Penalties for Unlicensed Construction Work in Florida
The State of Florida takes unlicensed contract work very seriously. A first offense is considered a 1st-degree misdemeanor which provides for up to a year of jail time or probation. If you commit any further offenses (or if you perform unlicensed work during a declared state of emergency), the State considers it a 3rd-degree felony upping the jail time or probation to 5 years! You are also subjecting yourself to civil penalties that can be up to $10,000.
That’s not all folks. In addition to the penalties and fees, you may also lose many rights as well.
First off, any contract (performed or not) is automatically unenforceable by law or by equity. That means you can’t force someone to honor your contract, and you can’t look to a legal tool such as unjust enrichment to recover payment. Also, any lien or bond claims/rights that you may have had are gone as well. If you did happen to get paid, you’re still not out of the clear. If your work was faulty or defective, a court can award treble (that means triple!) damages to the owner. Plus, they can also force you to return any money paid under the contract.
The penalties for unlicensed contracting in FL are severe, so make sure you’ve got your Florida contractor’s license if you need one.
Licensing and application requirements can get complicated. We get questions all the time regarding Florida licensing requirements in our Expert Center. Another helpful resource comes straight from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) website. They have a great support function where more nuanced questions can be asked, and answers can be searched by keywords.