If you’re considering starting a contracting business in Maine, congratulations are in order. Starting a business is a big step that takes grit and resilience. But when you own a business, all the decisions about which projects to take, which customers to partner with, and the direction of the business are your call. However, there is an area where you won’t have much say, and that’s Maine contractor license requirements.
Getting a business off the ground takes a lot of time and energy, and sorting through all of the information about Maine contractor license requirements will take too long. This guide will help, as it collects all of the most important information about getting a contractor license in Maine and sums it up into one source.
Contracting in another state? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.
Who needs a contractor license in Maine?
Maine takes a different approach to contractor licensing than most other states. Rather than issuing contractor licenses at the state level, the state leaves licensing up to the individual municipalities and towns.
The only construction contractors that the state issues licenses to are plumbing and electrical contractors. All other contractors, including GCs and sub-trades, are subject to the laws of the towns in which they work.
In most cases, general business licenses are also required, though they are also regulated at the local level. Other than holding the appropriate business license and requiring contractors to utilize written contracts for projects valued at over $3,000, there aren’t many state-issued regulations. In fact, building codes aren’t even universally adopted throughout the state.
Do you need a contractor license to file a mechanics lien in Maine?
Generally speaking, states that take a hands-off approach to licensing usually do the same with mechanics lien rights. Maine is not an exception.
In Maine, a contractor license is not a requirement for filing a mechanics lien. So, if an unlicensed contractor doesn’t receive payment for work they performed, they do have the ability to file a lien to recover their money.
But just because the state doesn’t require a license to file a mechanics lien doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carry one. Consider this scenario: you deliver a project to contract, but the project owner doesn’t pay. After filing a mechanics lien, the owner still refuses to pay, forcing you to enforce the lien. When you take the case to court, how will the court look upon your unlicensed status as you attempt to foreclose on someone’s property? It’s probably not a good idea.
How to get a Maine contractor license
As a state, Maine issues licenses to just two types of building contractors: electricians and plumbers. Beyond those two trades, the rest of the licensing requirements are under the control of the individual municipalities.
How to get a Maine electrical license
When it comes to electrical licensing, Maine’s Professional and Financial Regulation Office’s Electricians’ Examining Board handles the job. While the office doesn’t issue a contractor’s license, it does require that contractors carry or employ someone who carries a master-level license.
Applying for a Maine master electrician license requires filling out two applications; this one for the exam and this one for the license. Experience requirements aren’t readily available, but they generally require an applicant to carry a journeyman’s license for at least a year and be able to prove their work history with a work experience affidavit.
The fee for the test application is $25, and the fee for the license is $171.
How to get a Maine plumbing license
The state’s Professional and Financial Regulation Plumbers’ Examining Board handles plumbing licenses within the state. However, like electrical licenses, the state doesn’t have a plumbing contractor license. Instead, it requires plumbing contractors to carry a master-level license or employ someone who does.
The requirements to apply for a master-level Maine plumbing license are:
- Prove ONE of the following:
- At least four years of work expeirence with a minimum of 8,000 hours in the field as a licensed trainee plumber under a master plumber
- At least one year of work and 2,000 hours as a licensed journeyman plumber under a master plumber
- Proof of an out-of-state Master plumber license
- Submit an affidavit proving work experience
- Fill out this application for the exam
- Fill out this application for the license
- Pay the $221 license fee
How to get a Maine contractor license at the local level
The majority of Maine’s contractor licensing requirements fall on the individual municipalities, not the state. On occasion, a local municipality can make attempting to get a contractor license more complicated than it needs to be. Let’s take a look at some of the most populated areas within Maine to determine if that’s the case.
Note: Do understand that you don’t have to carry a business license for every city in which you work. It’s only a requirement to register with the city in which your business’s registered address lies. Also, business licensing information can be very difficult to find for many Maine municipalities. Contact the City Clerk if you’re unable to find licensing information.
Believe it or not, the Permitting and Inspections department in the most populated city within Maine doesn’t require contractors working within the city to carry a contractor license. This includes general contractors and subs, however, sole proprietors and partnerships must register as a DBA. The application for either type is available on the city’s business licensing page.
Lewiston, Maine, takes an entirely different approach to regulating contractors. Rather than requiring contractors to have city-issued licenses, Lewiston requires a permit for every construction project.
This is the city’s way of staying on top of each construction site, as these permits require inspection during the project and upon completion. Permits are available here.
Information about business licensing for contractors isn’t readily available online, so would-be contractors should contact the City Clerk.
Like Lewiston and Portland, general contractors and subcontractors are largely unregulated when it comes to licensing within Bangor city limits. However, construction projects do require permits, allowing the city to provide some watch over contractors and the projects they’re completing. Permits are available through the city’s Code Enforcement.
Business licensing for contractors and subcontractors isn’t readily available online, so it’s best for applicants to contact the City Clerk.
South Portland doesn’t have any licenses specific to contractors or subs, but does make business licensing information available through the City Clerk’s office. Sole proprietors and partnerships must complete DBA applications in order to be registered with the city and be in compliance with the state. Both application types are available on the City Clerk’s licensing page.
The City of Auburn’s website doesn’t provide much information on licensing, but as Maine contractors know, they are required to register their business with a municipality. In order to do so, the city’s website states:
“The City of Auburn offers licenses for many businesses. If you’d like to obtain a license to start a business, or renew an existing license, please contact the City Clerk’s Office by calling 207-333-6600.“
However, like other Maine municipalities, building permits offer the bulk of regulation for contractors and subs. Fill out this application for all of your Auburn projects.
Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Maine
As a state, Maine doesn’t regulate contractors (except for electricians and plumbers, and those are actually technically trade licenses). As such, it isn’t very clear what the penalties would be for not carrying the appropriate license, whether it’s a trade or business type.
However, that doesn’t mean Maine won’t show its teeth every now and then. The state’s Attorney General’s web page lists a slew of contractors that the state sued at one point or another, for a variety of reasons.
Protecting your payments in Maine
The rules and regulations that Maine contractors and subs must play by are more relaxed than almost anywhere else in the country. But even though they have different rules, Maine contractors face the same industry challenges. Cash flow is still critical, and protecting their lien rights is the best way for Maine construction companies to ensure their cash flow stays positive.
First, Maine doesn’t require contractors, subs, or suppliers to send preliminary notices on any of their projects. However, it’s a good idea to do so anyway. A preliminary notice serves as a friendly introduction between your company and the people cutting the checks. These documents also outline your lien rights and expectations. They show the project owner and GC that you’re a professional outfit and intend to get paid for your work.
Also, Maine contractors aren’t required to send a Notice of Intent to lien before filing, but they should. These documents can serve as a warning shot, alerting the project owner and GC to your unpaid status, and telling them you’re willing to file a lien in order to be made whole.
If a Maine contractor has to file a mechanics lien, the deadline to do so is 90 days after last providing labor or materials for subs and suppliers. General contractors have up to 120 days to file their lien. But this is where Maine’s mechanics lien laws get a bit tricky.
While GCs have 120 days and subs and suppliers have 90 days to file their liens, those windows are two-fold. Within those same deadlines, contractors must also take action to enforce the lien. So, if a subcontractor filed a lien on January 1st, 2021, they would’ve had until March 31st, 2021, to both file a lien and take action to enforce it.
For that reason, it’s important to file a lien early in Maine, leaving enough time for the project owner to make good on the amount while still allowing time to foreclose.
Also, contractors must file a certificate from the court clerk in which the action is pending with the Maine Registry of Deeds within 60 days of filing. This is yet another unique step that most other states don’t require, which is why it’s crucial to stay up to date on Maine contractor license requirements as well as mechanics lien laws.