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If you’re starting a contracting business in Hawaii, congratulations are in order. Instead of working for someone else, you’ll finally be your own boss and make your own decisions. You’ll be able to choose the projects you want to take and the clients you want to work with. But there are a few things that aren’t up to you, especially Hawaii contractor licensing requirements.

But when you’re starting a business, you don’t have time to sort through all of the details of Hawaii contractor licensing requirements. Let this article serve as a guide. It will provide all the information you need to run a legitimate business in line with The Aloha State’s rules.

Working in a different state? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.

Who needs a contractor license in Hawaii

If you’re wondering if you need a contractor license for your line of work in Hawaii, the answer is probably: Yes. 

Hawaii requires anyone “who offers to, holds oneself out to, or contracts to perform residential, commercial, or public works construction, alterations, or improvements” to hold a contractor license. This includes plumbing and electrical contractors.

However, there is an exemption: If the aggregate cost of the contract, including materials, labor, taxes, and all other items is under $1,000, a license is not a requirement.

Additionally, property owners and lessees can improve their own properties (with the exception of electrical and plumbing) without a license.

Do you need a license to file a mechanics lien in Hawaii?

Hawaii is pretty stringent on who it requires to carry a license, but some businesses might not require a license to perform work. The good news is that Hawaii makes no specific requirement regarding licensing and liens, so unlicensed contractors (legitimately or otherwise) may potentially have a right to file a mechanics lien.

But it’s never a good idea to perform work for which the state requires a license unless you hold that license. There could be liability issues and fines. And if you file a mechanics lien and have to foreclose upon it, skirting licensing laws might not send the right message to the court.

Learn moreHawaii Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms

How to get a Hawaii contractor license

Hawaii simplifies licensing by requiring all contractors to go through the same entity. Licenses for construction contractors go through the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Contractor License Board. The board offers three license types, including General Engineering Contractor, General Building Contractor, and Specialty Contractor.

Specialty contractors include:

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Roofing
  • Cabinetmaking
  • Drywall
  • Flooring 
  • Glazing
  • Wood and vinyl fencing
  • Painting
  • Refrigerations
  • Sheet metal
  • Interior design
  • And many more (they’re listed by code in the application)

The requirements and process for applying for each of these licenses are the same. The requirements for licensing are:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older
  • You must have a good reputation in all aspects, including honesty, financial integrity, and fair dealing
  • You must prove you have four years of supervisory experience in the trade within the past 10 years
  • You’ll have to pass an examination for the appropriate license classification
  • You also need to secure liability and workers’ compensation insurance

Applying for licensing

To apply for a license in Hawaii, prospective contractors will use this application. The same rules and regulations apply to electrical and plumbing contractors, with the additional requirement that they must hold a trade license at the journey or master level.

Beyond typical requirements — such as Social Security numbers and proof of experience — there are a few other items you’ll need to provide with the application. 

They include:

  • No less than three notarized certificates in support of your supervisory experience (If you’re applying for more than one classification, submit at least one certificate for each classification)
  • A chronological list of projects to prove your four years of supervisory experience
  • A recent (within the last six months) credit report issued by a credit reporting agency
  • Supply the name and information of your RME (Registered Managing Employee) if you’re applying as a corporation 
  • Obtain a copy of the Contractors Laws and Rules by submitting a written request to the Contractor Licensing Board

Examination

You have six months from the time you mail in your application to take the examination. The exam is a two-part test held by a professional testing service called Prometric

The sections include Business and Law (which every contractor must take) and a trade-specific section. That copy of the Contractors Laws and Rules you had to request by mail should be a sufficient study guide for the Business and Law section.

Licensing application fees

The fees involved in acquiring a license are as follows:

  • $50 for application (which must accompany the application)
  • $75 for examination per part (there are two parts, and Prometric collects these payments)

All licensing windows run from October 1st through September 30th, and fees are dependent on the year in which the window closes:

License TypeWindow Closing Odd YearWindow Closing Even Year
Corporations Requiring RME$438$334
All other Licenses$663$494

Contractors will also have to renew their licenses every two years. Licenses expire on September 30 of even-numbered years. The state will mail renewal applications to all current license holders by August 15 of that year. 

The fees for renewal are $353 for a contracting entity or sole proprietor and $208 for Responsible Managing Employees.

Once the application is complete, you can mail it to:

Contractors License Board 
DCCA, PVL Licensing Branch 
P.O. Box 3469 
Honolulu, HI 96801

Or hand-deliver it to:

335 Merchant St., Room 301 
Honolulu, HI 96813 
Phone: 808-586-3000

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Hawaii

While Hawaii does have some strict rules about who needs to carry a license, they at least streamline the application process for all contractors. But the penalties for not carrying a license aren’t quite as simple.

Hawaii sees unlicensed contracting as a misdemeanor, which means it’s a criminal offense. While the fines, fees, and sentences aren’t explicitly clear, understand that contracting without a license is an arrestable offense. It could result in fines or jail time.

Protecting your payments in Hawaii

Hawaii takes its contractor licensing requirements seriously. Should you get caught working without the appropriate license, the hit your business could take in the form of fines or its most important member spending time behind bars could ruin your cash flow. But there are also other important guidelines that Hawaii contractors need to keep an eye on to protect their cash flow.

Hawaii doesn’t have any specific requirements for sending preliminary notices. While this means that mechanics lien rights don’t hinge on preliminary notices like they do in other states, it’s still a good idea to send them. They serve as a friendly, professional introduction between your company and the folks cutting the checks on payday. They can also outline your terms and conditions around payments. Even though Hawaii doesn’t require them, you should be sending them on all your jobs.

Hawaii Preliminary Notice: Guide + Free Forms

Hawaii general contractors, specialty contractors, and suppliers looking to protect their cash have to watch the calendar. They’ll have 45 days from the date of completion of the improvement to file a mechanics lien. These 45 days start from the date of the Notice of Completion. If there isn’t a NOC filed, mechanics lien law considers the project complete after one year of the point of substantial completion. Contractors will have 45 days from that point on to file their mechanics liens.

Also, contractors, subs, and suppliers have three months to enforce their liens — and it’s not from the date they filed the lien. It takes 3–10 days for the court to determine whether or not a filed lien has probable cause.

If probable cause exists, the three-month deadline begins on that date. And since Hawaii mechanics lien deadlines cannot be extended, these are important time frames to keep an eye on.

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