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As with any state, contractors looking to go into business in Illinois have some hoops to jump through. Between registering their business, meeting Illinois license requirements, and taking complicated tests, there’s a lot to do before they can start a project. 

At the state level, Illinois contractor licensing seems very straightforward. But once you start digging into individual municipalities, the tune changes. This guide will help make sense of it all, so you’ll be sure to stay above-board.

For information on licensing in other states, check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.

Who needs a contractor license in Illinois?

There are a lot of contractor licensing requirements in Illinois, and navigating them can be tricky. If you’re a new contractor and you’re wondering if you need a license to operate your business in Illinois, the answer is: likely yes — in one way or another.

At the state level, there are only two types of contractors that need to carry a license: plumbers and roofers. If you’re a plumber or a roofer, you’ll have to go through a state agency, meet specific requirements, and take a licensing exam before you can contract in Illinois.

General contractors, electricians, and other trades do not have to carry an Illinois-issued license.

However, that definitely doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. All businesses need to register in some form or another — either with the state, county, or city in which they operate. They may also have to take a localized test for each municipality in which they work in order to receive a local license. 

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

Even though almost all contractors need to carry some form of license or registration, Illinois does not explicitly require a contractor to hold a license in order to file a mechanics lien

With that said, a 2005 court case found that two architects were unable to successfully foreclose on a lien because they did not carry the proper licenses. So, it’s highly advisable to carry any required licenses in your trade to fully ensure you can successfully protect your payments.

Learn all the ins and outs of filing a mechanics lien in Illinois with Illinois Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms.

How to get an Illinois state contractor license

As mentioned, there are only two types of contractors that require state-issued licenses. Let’s dig into those before we break down the municipalities.

How to get a plumbing license in Illinois

There are several types of plumbing licenses in Illinois, but two main types of license businesses need to consider are the trade license and the contractor’s license. Both of these licenses are a function of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

To get a contractor’s license, you’ll need to carry a valid plumbing license or hire someone who does.

To get a plumber’s trade license, applicants need to prove that they hold a valid license in another state or have successfully completed an apprenticeship program in Illinois. Once they can prove either, they can fill out this application and send it in with payment for the $225 fee. 

If you plan to work for yourself, you will need a plumbing contractor license. To apply for a plumbing contractor license, you must be a licensed plumber in Illinois. You also need to disclose your business’s organizational structure, whether it be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or an LLC. On top of the business structure and trade license, you also need to submit proof of a surety bond. The registration fee and annual renewal fee is $150. 

If you also plan to work in Chicago, there is a reciprocity application that covers both the state of Illinois and the city for the trade license, but contractors will still have to register with the city.

How to get a roofing license in Illinois

Roofing licenses in Illinois go through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. This license is a bit easier to navigate. All that’s required for a roofing license is that a qualifying individual apply and pass an examination.

This qualifying individual does not have to own the business — they must only be employed by it. This person will have to disclose criminal records, child support, and other personal information, however.

There are two types of roofing contractor license: limited and unlimited. Limited license holders are able to take on residential projects consisting of eight units or less. Unlimited license holders can take any roofing project. The fee for both of these is $226.

Learn the rules in nearby states

Illinois contractor licenses by city 

Chicago

Chicago is, by far, Illinois’ largest city, with over 2.7 million residents. It has its own very orchestrated contractor licensing regulations. 

Unlike the state’s relatively low licensing requirements, Chicago requires licenses or registrations for general contractors, supervising electricians, brick masons, private alarm contractors, and many more. 

There are five types of general contractor licenses in Chicago, each with a limit to how large a project they can take.

  • Class A – No Limit / $2,000 Annual Fee
  • Class B – $10,000,000 / $1,000 Annual fee
  • Class C – $5,000,000 / $750 Annual Fee
  • Class D – $2,000,000 / $500 Annual Fee
  • Class E – $500,00 / $300 Annual Fee

General contractors will also have to disclose their business structure and provide proof of general liability and workers compensation insurance when applying.

The application, examination, and renewal processes go through Continental Testing Services, a private testing company. This company handles testing for all of the trades, including stationary engineers, brick masons, supervising electricians, crane operators, concrete masons, and more. 

Click here for a full list of Chicago contractor requirements by trade on Continental’s website.

Aurora

The City of Aurora does require most contractors to carry a license or register with the city. 

As of 2021, the Department of Building and Permit has revamped how you apply. Here are the applicable trades and applications for each, taken directly from the city website:

  • General Contractor, Signage, HVAC, Electrical contractors license application
  • Plumbing or Fire Alarm contractors registration application
  • Fence or Pavement (Private Property ONLY) contractors registration application
  • Pavement (Including Aprons and Right of Way) contractors registration application

Different trades will have separate insurance requirements and application fees, but general contractors, HVAC, electrical, and roofing contractors can expect to pay $200 for license application fee. 

Joliet

Joliet’s contracting registration process is short and sweet. All contractors have to register with the Building and Inspectional Services division. To work in Joliet, contractors need to provide a certificate of insurance naming the City of Joliet as a certificate holder.

Insurance amounts are:

  • $250,000.00 Bodily Injury Per Person
  • $500,000.00 Bodilly Per Occurrence
  • $250,000.00 Property Damage Per Occurrence

There are also some additional trade-specific insurance requirements:

  • A contractor working in the Public Right-of-Way: requires a $10,000 Street Obstruction Bond
  • Demolition Contractor (taking a structure down): requires a $50,000 Wrecking Bond
  • Plumbing Contractor: Illinois State Plumbing License (055 #)
  • Electrical Contractor: City of Joliet Electrical License or license from another municipality
  • HVAC Contractor: City of Joliet or another municipality HVAC/Business License
  • Roofing Contractor: Illinois State Roofing License
  • Siding Contractor: VSI (Vinyl Siding Institute) Certificate

And here’s the good news: There are no city exams, and registration is free. 

Do keep in mind that Joliet does expect roofers and plumbers to carry the appropriate state license.

Rockford

Contractors looking to work in Rockford will have an easy go of it. There aren’t many licensing requirements, opting instead for registration. Rockford does expect roofing and plumbing contractors to carry valid Illinois-issued licenses and register with the city, however. 

Demolition contractors have to apply for one of three licenses, each with its own parameters and requirements. 

There are some registration requirements to be aware of. For example, electrical contractors will have to register each year, to the tune of $25. 

Utilize the Illinois contractor database

Illinois maintains a database of contractor licenses and registrations. This database is public knowledge, and if you’re contracting in Illinois, your company should be in the database.

Many cities update the database with registration information they receive from contractors. However, if it’s not a requirement in the city you work in, you’ll probably have to register at the county level. 

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Illinois

The state takes a hard line on unlicensed plumbing and roofing contractors. Both can see hefty fines for contracting without a license.

For plumbers, a first offense can result in a $1,000 fine, but only if there are no violations of the Illinois Plumbing Code found. If there are violations, a contractor could see a fine of $3,000 for that first offense. A second offense can result in a $3,000 fine, and subsequent offenses can tally $5,000. 

Unlicensed roofing can be just as steep: Each offense is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

Additionally, each individual municipality has the right to set its own fine and penalties, so it’s best to stay above-board and follow any rules.

Protecting your payments in Illinois

Regardless of whether you’re in compliance with licensing (which you should be), protecting your payments is essential. Cash flow issues arise all the time in construction, and not having that reliable source of money coming in will make it next to impossible to grow your business.

General contractors, subs, and suppliers have strict deadlines they have to follow to protect their payments in Illinois. They (except for GCs) need to send preliminary notices on all their projects within 90 days of first furnishing labor or materials, and they have to file a mechanics lien within four months of the last furnishing

If you’re not protecting your payments while keeping an eye on these deadlines, there might not be any recourse for non-payment — licensed or otherwise.