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Starting your own contracting business in Montana is an exciting time. You’ll finally be your own boss, make your own decisions, and choose the types of projects you want to get involved in. You’re in the driver’s seat in all but one area: Montana contractor licensing requirements.

Even though you’re the boss, Montana has some rules it’s going to make you follow. But when you’re starting your business, you don’t have time to check through all those web pages to find the correct information and applications. And for that reason, Levelset wants to help.

We put together this guide to help you navigate Montana contractor licensing requirements to ensure you stay above board and on the level with The Treasure State.

Working in a different state? Check out our guide to contractor licensing in all 50 states.

Who needs a contractors license in Montana?

Montana prefers to lean on the concept of registration rather than licensing when it comes to construction trades. These registrations are relatively broad, but they do allow the state to ensure everyone is meeting the standard insurance requirements.

If you’re wondering if your specific business needs a license or a registration to operate in Montana, chances are the answer is: probably yes

Montana requires anyone who constructs, alters, repairs, adds to, subtracts from, improves, moves, wrecks, or demolishes a building, highway, road railroad, excavation, or other structure, project, development, or improvement attached to a piece of real estate to hold a license.

That even includes carpet installers, scaffolding erectors, as well as roofing and siding installers.

Knowing that, the answer is almost always yes — you need a license or registration

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

Montana doesn’t have any hard and fast rules about licensing or registration and mechanics liens. But not holding a license or not registering your business when the state requires it is never a good idea. Even if you’re able to file a lien, if you have to foreclose on it, the court won’t find your unlicensed or unregistered status flattering to your case.

If you’re to file a lien in Montana or just find out more, get everything you need in Montana Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms.

How to get a Montana contractors license

Montana contractor licensing and registration can be pretty simple: Almost all contractors within the state of Montana have to carry a license or register their business with the state. We’ll go over the requirements for each of the typical contractor types so you’ll understand what’s required.

General contractors and subcontractors

General contractors and subs have to register their businesses with the Secretary of State, but there are two routes they can go afterward.

Montana offers both Independent Contractor Registration and Construction Contractor Registration, and your business’s structure will determine which is best for you. Both registrations go through the Department of Labor and Industry

Montana considers Independent Contractors as contractors “independently established in their own business and have elected to not cover themselves under a Montana workers’ compensation insurance policy.” To apply for an Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate (which exempts you from the insurance requirements), applicants will fill out this form.

Independent contractor applicants must be free from control or direction from a hiring agent, engaged in their own independently established business, and covered under a self-elected workers’ comp insurance policy or obtain an ICEC.

Construction Contractor Registration is for contractors in the construction industry with employees, as well as corporations and manager-managed LLCs. This designation will include most construction contractors with employees, including sub trades.

Both business types will fill out this application. The fee for a contractor registration application is $70, and the independent contractor registration fee is $125. Neither of these registrations requires work experience or a written exam. 

Electrical contractors

Licenses for electrical contractors fall under the control of the Montana Electrical Board, which is part of the DLI. The requirements are different than other subcontractors in that electrical contractors will have to take a written exam before the board issues a license.

To apply, click here. You’ll have to create a login and password, but you’ll be able to file for an electrical license online.

Plumbing contractors

Plumbing contractors looking to start their own businesses will have to carry licenses issued by the Montana Board of Plumbers. This board also falls under the DLI. Montana requires applicants to pass a written exam before they receive a license or registration.

To apply, click here. Like the electrical contractor application, you’ll have to create a login and a password, but you’ll be able to apply for a license online.

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Montana

The Big Sky State takes its licensing and registration requirements seriously. Construction contractors found working without a registration or without a license can find themselves racking up a $500 fine for each occurrence.

Performing electrical or plumbing work without a license is even worse. In Montana, such unlicensed work is a misdemeanor, and it could result in a minimum fine of $250 (with a $1,000 maximum) and a jail stint between 90 days and a year. 

And, since Montana contractor licensing and registration is so accessible and affordable, new contractors shouldn’t risk the fines or jail time. A few simple forms (and in the case of an electrical or plumbing license, an exam), and you’ll be running an above-board business free from the potential of DLI-issued fines and penalties.

Protecting your payments in Montana

You should always do what it takes to make sure you’re on the right side of the registration or licensing laws in Montana. But if you’re not protecting your payments, there could be more at risk than a $500 fine for working without registration. Protecting your lien rights means meeting certain requirements.

For instance, Montana has Notice of Lien Rights requirements. All subcontractors and suppliers have within 20 days of first furnishing materials or labor to serve this notice on the property owner. The sub or supplier then has to file the Notice of Lien Rights with the county recorder’s office within five days of delivering it to the owner. General contractors do not have this requirement as the prime contract serves this purpose.

Montana subs, suppliers, and GCs have deadlines when it comes to mechanics liens, as well. All three tiers have 90 days from last providing labor or materials to file a lien. Missing this deadline could mean the difference between successfully protecting your payments or losing your rights altogether.

How to File a Montana Mechanics Lien – A Step-By-Step Guide

We’re not done, either. Should a GC, sub, or supplier have to foreclose upon the lien, they have yet another deadline to keep an eye on. All tiers have up to two years from the date of filing the lien to initiate an action to enforce it. While that might seem like a long time, you don’t necessarily have to way that long to enforce your lien.