Illustration of phone showingNew York Contractor Licensing Guide

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This guide will help you navigate the ins and outs of New York contractor licensing laws and regulations so you can stay above board. You’ll learn about who needs a license, where they can get it, and some of the local municipalities that have additional requirements. Keep reading to learn more about what goes into starting your contracting business in The Empire State.

Working in another state? For more information on licensing, check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.

Who needs a contractor license in New York?

State-level licensing for contractors in New York is exceptionally straightforward. There are only two types of contractors that even need to carry a state license: asbestos contractors and crane operators. Plus, both of those licenses fall under the New York Department of Labor

Other than that, all other contractors are scot-free from carrying a license issued by New York State. But, that doesn’t make contracting within the entire state a free-for-all.

Many counties and municipalities in the state have their own contractor licensing requirements that construction businesses must meet to work legally. Here, we’ll go over a few in detail.

Do you need a license to file a mechanics lien in New York?

New York’s requirements for mechanics liens and licensing are crystal clear: If the work you’re doing requires a license, but you do not hold that license, you do not have a right to a mechanics lien.

For that reason, it’s best not to test the mechanics lien and licensing laws in New York. Instead, make sure you meet all of the licensing requirements wherever you’re working to ensure you can protect your payments.

Learn everything else you need to know about filing a mechanics lien in New York with New York Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms.

How to get a contractors license in New York

If you’re one of the lucky two types of contractors that require a state-issued license, here’s how you can go about getting them.

Asbestos removal 

Any contractor engaged in the removal of asbestos is required to have a license to do so. This is less of a trade license and more of a universal license for any trade dealing in removal.

A lot goes into licensing for asbestos, and you can find the general guidelines here.

Crane operator

If you plan to run a crane operating business within New York State, everyone who operates a crane independently must carry a license issued by the Department of Labor. 

Before a prospective operator can apply for the test, they must have three years of practical experience. Then, they’ll have a choice between six (technically five) licenses:

  • Class A – Unrestricted
  • Class B – Hydraulic
  • Class C – Boom Truck
  • Class D – Restricted Boom Truck
  • Class E – (Reserved)
  • Class F – Line Truck

You can find more about these guidelines, as well as the application links, here on the Department of Labor website.

New York contractor licensing by county

Several counties within New York have their own requirements for contractor licensing. The following is a breakdown of those counties and the licenses they require contractors to carry.

As a note: New York State and its municipalities typically refer to contractors and trades as “home improvement contractors.” In general, this includes general contractors and any subcontractor outside of plumbers or electricians.

Suffolk

Contractors starting businesses in Nassau County need to check with the Office of Consumer Affairs in order to stay above board with licensing. And it’s worth noting that almost all contractors need to carry a home improvement contractor license, including but not limited to:

  • General Contractors
  • HVAC contractors
  • Carpentry contractors
  • Tile and marble installers
  • Drywall contractors
  • Masonry contractors
  • Siding installers, and many more

These contractors will have to fill out this application. The general requirements are as follows: 

  1. Complete application
  2. Supply passport photo
  3. Choose between business type
  4. Supply a copy of your drivers license
  5. Pay a $200 application fee
  6. Submit proof of insurance and workers comp
  7. Pass criminal background check

Electrical, plumbing, home appliance, and electronics contractors will have to fill out this application with the Suffolk County Department of Labor and Consumer Affairs. 

To run an electrical business, you must have a master electrician on staff. While there are several other criteria to meet, you must have seven of the last 10 years of employment in the field. The same applies for plumbing contractors.

Nassau

Similar to Suffolk County, Nassau requires licenses from just about every home improvement contractor. Licensing goes through the Department of Consumer affairs.

These contractors are just a few of the trades that require a home improvement license in Nassau County:

  • General contractors
  • Carpentry contractors
  • Drywall contractors
  • Garage Builders
  • Masonry contracts
  • Roofing contractors

All of these trades have similar requirements they must meet, and they’re pretty stringent:

  1. Notarized application
  2. Notarized disclosure from each of the company owners, partners, and even salespeople
  3. Two professional passport photographs for each of the owners
  4. Proof of residence in the form of a DMV-issued license
  5. A utility bill from the place of residence
  6. A copy of the business phone bill
  7. State all criminal convictions
  8. Provide all trade names, partnerships, and corporations
  9. Certificate of Insurance and worker’s comp insurance
  10. A Federal Employer Identification number
  11. For contractors that sub work, provide a list of all your subs along with their insurance.

In addition to all those hoops you’ll have to jump through, the application fee for new applicants is $600. 

Westchester

Westchester’s contracting licensing law requires that all home improvement contractors carry a license issued by the Department of Consumer Protection. While the county website is far from exhaustive, you can expect to have to meet similar requirements as Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

Home improvement contractors will have to submit this application and meet some specific criteria in order to apply:

  1. Complete application
  2. Submit a $500 check 
  3. Provide proof of business name
  4. Detailed self-written work history of the applicant
  5. Notarized child support form from every partner
  6. Proof of insurance, as well as workers comp
  7. Professional passport photos
  8. Copy of driver’s license
  9. Current vehicle registrations for each decal requested (they are required)

Plumbing and electrical contractors also need to seek licensing through Consumer Protection. To become a contractor, either you or someone you employ must carry a master-level license for either of these trades. Plumbers can apply here, while electricians will apply here

Putnam

Compared to some of the other counties in New York, Putnam Cunty’s licensing is relatively lax. Instead of exams and licensing, Putnam County simply requires most home improvement contractors to apply for registration through the Office of Consumer Affairs.

The application, on the other hand, is just as involved as it is the other counties:

  1. Fill out application
  2. Supply proof of insurance
  3. Provide proof of bond 
  4. Complete child support form
  5. Provide current registrations for each vehicle you’re requesting a decal for
  6. Include a $300 registration fee
  7. Provide a photograph of the company owner.

Electrical contractors must hold a master electricians license or employ someone who does. These licenses are under the Department of Consumer Affairs Electrical Board’s watch. The applicant must have 7.5 years of continuous full-time working experience in the electrical field and pass a written examination.

Plumbing contractors must also have a licensed master plumber on staff, and this license falls under the Department of Consumer Affairs Plumbing Board. To qualify, the applicant must be 21 years or older and have at least nine years’ experience in the trade.

Rockland

The office that controls contractor licensing in Rockland County is the Department of Consumer Protection. Similar to the other counties that handle licensing, Rockland requires all home improvement contractors to carry licenses. 

To apply, home improvement contractors must fill out this application and meet the following criteria:

  1. Complete the application
  2. Provide notarized proof of experience 
  3. Supply child support certification
  4. Supply a photograph of the owner (DMV-issued license will do)
  5. A business license
  6. Proof of insurance and workers compensation
  7. Insurance documents
  8. Letters of reference from two or more people
  9. Current DMV registration for each vehicle used in business
  10. $325 application fee

To operate an electrical contractor in Rockland, you’ll need to hold or hire someone who holds a master electrician license. The applicant must have at least 7.5 years’ experience and complete this application

Contact the Department of Consumer Protection for more information on obtaining a master plumber’s license. 

New York contractor licensing by city

There are a few municipalities that have their own requirements for contractor licensing.

The following is a rundown of a couple of those cities’ regulations. Be sure to check with your municipality, as this list is far from exhaustive.

New York City

For a city of over 8 million people, home improvement contractor licensing isn’t terrible to navigate. Essentially, all home improvement contractors will have to contact the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, fill out the application, and take an exam. Here’s what’s required:

  1. Complete the basic license application
  2. Create a login and apply for licensing
  3. Provide sales tax ID number
  4. Provide proof of residency
  5. Provide proof of business address
  6. Provide proof of workers compensation insurance
  7. Provide proof of EPA certification (for businesses that apply)
  8. Provide a copy of a surety bond
  9. Contract compliance agreement
  10. Include a $50 exam fee and pass the Home Improvement Contractor Exam
  11. Have fingerprints taken and pay associated fees
  12. Pay licensing fee

The licensing fees work on a sliding scale, depending on what time of year you apply. They’re generally between $25 and $100, with an extended option costing $125.

Plumbing contractors must have a licensed master plumber on their payroll to operate within the city. Licensing for master plumbers is a function of the NYC Department of Buildings. Aside from the application and exam, the requirements are:

  • Must be 18 or older
  • Read and write in English
  • Be of good moral character

Applicants must also meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have 7 years of total experience in planning, design, and installation of plumbing systems
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or appropriate engineering technology and 5 years of experience
  • Hold a state-issued professional license as an engineer or architect and 3 years of experience
  • Have 7 years of experience with a government agency inspecting plumbing work

Electrical contractors must also have a master-level license holder under their employment to contract within NYC. The Department of Buildings also controls electrical licensing. Aside from the application and exam, the requirements are:

  • Must be 21 years or older
  • Read and write in English
  • Be of good moral character
  • Have at least 7.5 years of experience in the field

Applicants must also meet one of the following requirements:

  • Hold a journeyman electrician license
  • Hold a masters of science or bachelors of science in electrical engineering and:
    • 2.5 years of experience for masters applicants
    • 3.5 years of experience for bachelors applicants
  • Graduate from a trade school and have 5.5 years of experience
  • An appropriate combination of education and experience (somewhat subjective, so be able to back up this claim)
  • Have 7.5 of experience with a government agency inspecting electrical work

Buffalo

Buffalo home improvement contractors must carry city-issued licenses. These licenses fall under the Department of Permit and Inspection Services. In addition to filling out this application, the steps to apply are:

  • Must be 21 years old or older
  • Provide proof of name and residence of the business
  • Provide proof of years the applicant has been engaged in the field
  • Number of employees
  • Proof of workers compensation
  • Proof of general liability insurance
  • A statement of credit references of suppliers
  • A sample of a contract template
  • Copies of liens, judgments, or complaints outstanding

Plumbing contractors must have a master-level license to operate within the city of Buffalo. While experience requirements aren’t explicitly listed on the department’s website, you can obtain more information from the Department of Permit and Inspection Services. Prospective contractors will have to fill out this application for licensing.

There aren’t any detailed requirements listed on the city’s website for electrical contractors, but you can reach out to the Chief Electrical Inspector for clarification on requirements. 

Penalties for contracting without a license in New York

Not only can you lose the rights to your payments if you work without a state-required license, but there can also be severe penalties, including criminal charges.

For instance, operating a crane while unlicensed is a misdemeanor, and it varies between Class A and B, depending on circumstances.

On top of state-issued licensing penalties, individual counties and municipalities can hit you with their own fees, civil penalties, and criminal charges. It’s best to stay above board.

Protecting your payments in New York

Sure, it’s important to make sure you meet all of the licensing requirements in every municipality you work in for legal reasons. But it’s also essential for protecting your payments. If you’re supposed to carry a license but don’t, say goodbye to your lien rights.

On top of that, New York contractors have some deadlines and requirements to meet to protect their payments. While preliminary notices aren’t a requirement, GCs, subs, and suppliers must file their mechanics liens within eight months of last furnishing.

On a residential project, that window shrinks to four months — not a lot of time to be casual with your payments. After filing, contractors must enforce those mechanics lien within a year, though there are extensions for which you can file.