Launching your own contracting business in Massachusetts is a big step, and it involves a lot of planning. You need to line up a workforce, build relationships with suppliers, and find trustworthy subs to contract. And, don’t forget about Massachusetts contractor licensing requirements.
Massachusetts contractor licensing is important, but we know how busy you are planning for your future. We put together this guide to Massachusetts contractor licensing to help you navigate the process confusion-free.
Working in a different state? For information on licensing in other states, check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.
Table of Contents
Who needs a contractors license in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts contractors license requirements can be a bit confusing. Between licensing and registering, just about every contractor has some rule or regulation to meet.
General contractors and specialty trades are required to carry a state-issued license. On the other hand, home improvement contractors have to register their businesses.
In some cases, you might need to do both.
General contractors and the construction supervisor license
In Massachusetts, general contractors are considered “construction supervisors,” and there are several types of construction supervisor licenses (CSL) that apply.
Restricted construction supervisor license holders can build two-family dwellings, including accessory buildings and structures. Unrestricted construction supervisor license holders can oversee the construction of any building under 35,000 cubic feet. Specialty construction supervisor license holders follow the same rules as unrestricted, but they can specialize in:
- Windows, doors, and siding
- Roof covering
- Solid fuel-burning appliances
Home improvement contractor
In addition to a CSL, any contractor or subcontractor who intends to work on a one to four-family residential properties in Massachusetts must register as a Home Improvement Contractor.
Do you need a license to file a mechanics lien in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts contractors licensing requirements might seem confusing —but the state’s mechanics lien laws do not specifically require a contractor to carry a license. So technically, you can file a mechanics lien in the event of a payment dispute even if you don’t have a license.
Keep one thing in mind: Not carrying a required license could affect your chances of winning a suit if you have to enforce the lien. It’s always best to carry the appropriate licenses for the work you’re completing.
If you need to file a lien in Massachusetts, get started with Massachusetts Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms.
How to get a contractors license in Massachusetts
How you go about obeying Massachusetts contractor licensing requirements will have a lot to do with the type of work you offer.
We’ll break each section down so you’ll know which license you need, which agency oversees that license, and how you can go about applying for one.
Getting a construction supervisor license (CSL)
Construction supervisor licenses are a function of the state’s Division of Professional Licensure. Whether you’re applying for a restricted, unrestricted, or specialty CSL, the steps are relatively similar.
To qualify for a construction supervisor license, you must be able to prove that you have three years of experience in building constriction or design. It doesn’t have to be three consecutive years, but the work must be full-time (40 hours per week), and all be within the last 10 years.
However, there are exceptions to this, which include:
- Three or four years of high school vocational training can substitute for one year of experience
- A bachelors degree can substitute for one year of experience
- A bachelors degree in architecture, science, engineering, or technology can substitute for two years of experience
- Active construction-related military experience counts for the entire full three years
If you meet those requirements, you’re free to start your exam application journey. The CSL licenses all involve taking a standardized, open-book test. This test is held by Prometrics, and you need to fill out this exam application and mail it in. After waiting a suggested 10 days from mailing, you should contact Prometrics and schedule your exam. You’ll have to score a 70 or better on this test in order to continue with the application process.
If you pass the exam, the score report will include instructions on applying and obtaining your license. It typically takes around 30 days for the Department of Professional Licensure to process each application.
Fees for applying for a construction supervisor license are $150 for the restricted and unrestricted license, and $150 plus $100 for each specialty for the specialty CSL license.
Home improvement contractor registration
Registering your business with the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is the next step for most contractors. Registration is actually quite simple.
Applicants can register as an individual, proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. If you’re registering under a trade name, or DBA, you’ll have to provide a copy of the business certificate issued by the city or town where the business is based.
To apply, create a login using the online portal. The fee for applying is $150, plus a mandatory payment to the Guaranty Fund. Luckily, the state bases this fee on your company size:
- 0–3 employees: $100
- 4–10 employees: $200
- 11–30 employees: $300
- More than 30 employees: $500
For more information about which lines of work require licensing, registering, or both in Massachusetts, click here.
Plumbing contractor licenses
To operate a plumbing contracting business in Massachusetts, you will have to carry a license issued by the Division of Professional Licensure. To apply, you’ll fill out this application and mail it, and a $150 license fee, to:
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Division of Professional Licensure \
1000 Washington Street, Suite 710, Boston, MA 02118-6100
Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters
Note: To qualify for a plumbing contractor license, you will have to have a master-level plumber on staff to act as an officer of the company.
Electrical contractor licenses
Electrical contractor licenses are also a function of the Division of Professional Licensure, and you’ll need one if you want to operate as an electrical contractor. Similar to a plumbing license, you will have to have a master-level electrician on staff.
Applicants can submit their applications through the state’s ePLACE portal. The fee for the application is $221.
Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Massachusetts
While your lien rights might not be at risk, unlicensed contracting does put your business, and yourself, in a bad position.
Massachusetts takes licensing and registration very seriously. Working without one is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to two years in jail.
For that reason alone, it’s critical to stay on the right side of the Massachusetts contractor licensing rules.
Protecting your payment rights in Massachusetts
Regardless of what the statutes say about licensing, protecting your payments is vital to growing a thriving, successful business. Cash flow issues arise all the time in the construction industry, and they can take a serious toll on a business — new and old alike.
Not only do Massachusetts contractors have licensing requirements to look out for, but they also have specific steps and deadlines to follow to protect their lien rights.
While GCs aren’t required to send a preliminary notice, subs and suppliers have 30 days to send a preliminary notice to the prime contractor.
Aside from notices, GCs, subs, and suppliers have sliding deadlines they have to follow:
“Subcontractors and other sub-tier parties in Massachusetts must record a Notice of Subcontract the earlier date of the earlier date of (a) 60 days after a notice of substantial completion is filed, (b) 90 days after a notice of termination is filed, or (c) 90 days after last furnishing labor or materials to project.
In addition, they must record a Statement of Account the earlier date of (a) 90 days after notice of substantial completion, (b) 120 days after notice of termination, or (c) 120 days after last furnishing labor or materials to project.”
Additionally, Massachusetts allows a very small window to enforce the lien, requiring a GC, sub, or suppliers to take action within 90 days — not a lot of time to fool around with deadlines.