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As anyone knows, running a construction business has its ups and downs, and it takes a specific type of person to succeed. It also takes a keen eye for details and an understanding of the necessary Pennsylvania contractor licensing requirements.

Here at Levelset, we want to help you achieve success: Instead of walking blindly into the world of Pennsylvania contracting, we’ll guide you through the rules and regulations around licensing requirements. 

Working somewhere outside Pennsylvania? 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 Pennsylvania?

The majority of contractors in the state of Pennsylvania fall under the term “home improvement contractor.” This term applies to general contractors, drywallers, carpenters, and all the typical subtrades on a standard residential construction project — with the exception of plumbers and electricians

Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, so its oversight on contractor licensing is minimal compared to other states. 

Instead, the state prefers to leave home improvement contractor licensing up to the individual municipalities and counties — and there are a lot of them in Pennsylvania.

The only two contractors that need state-issued licenses are crane operators and asbestos and lead removal contractors.

While the state doesn’t have any hard licensing requirements for home improvement contractors, it does require most to register with the State’s Attorney General’s Office.

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

Pennsylvania does not have any explicit rules requiring licensing and mechanics liens. So, potentially, you could be an unlicensed contractor and still retain your rights to your payments. However, if you have to file a suit, not having a license for work that requires one might hurt your chances of winning.

In any case, it’s important to meet the regulations and requirements of wherever you’re working. 

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

How to get a Pennsylvania state contractor license

Home improvement contractors don’t require licenses in Pennsylvania, but crane operators and asbestos and lead removal contractors do.

Crane operators

Crane operators need to go through the Pennsylvania State Board of Crane Operators to apply for a license. The requirements for licensing are as follows:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Be of good moral character
  • Hold a crane operator certification
  • Pass a physical
  • Pay all fees
  • Be free (or 10 years past) of felony convictions under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act

To apply, you’ll have to create a login for the Pennsylvania Licensing System and fill out your application online. 

Asbestos and lead removal contractors

Contractors working in asbestos and lead removal must carry a state-issued license. That license falls under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. 

The application process is fairly straightforward for asbestos and lead removal contractors. Simply complete the Asbestos Contractor Certification Application, and pay the licensing fee (between $304 and $608). Send everything by mail to:

PA Department of Labor & Industry
Certification, Accreditation & Licensing Division
651 Boas Street, Room 1606
Harrisburg, PA 17121

Home improvement contractor registration

All home improvement contractors and handyman businesses making an excess of $5,000 a year must register with the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Office.

The process for registration isn’t terribly difficult to navigate:

  1. Provide business information such as type of business (sole proprietor, partnerships, etc.), business name, address, and Federal Employer Identification Number
  2. Provide personal information such as social security numbers, driver’s license information, and addresses for every owner, officer, or partner involved
  3. Provide information identifying shareholders holding more than 5 percent stake in the company
  4. Provide license and registration information if the applicant holds a license in any other political subdivision
  5. Describe the business
  6. Provide proof of general liability and workers comp insurance
  7. Include a $50 check or money order made payable to “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania contractor licenses by city

Some municipalities in Pennsylvania have their own rules and regulations pertaining to contractor licensing. Here’s a breakdown of the laws in some of the most populated areas.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia requires all home improvement contractors working within the city to carry a city-issued license. The requirements for this license are quite simple. Applicants will have to provide proof of insurance, take the OSHA 30 safety training course, and disclose the names of each of their subcontractors.

To apply, use the city’s ECLIPSE system, create a login, and fill out the application online.

Electrical contractors must also carry a license separate from home improvement contractors, though they will use the same ECLIPSE portal to apply. The requirements are:

  1. Provide proof of insurance
    • General liability: $500,000 per occurrence
    • Automobile liability insurance: $300,000
    • $500,000 policy limit
  2. Have four years of employment doing electrical work
  3. Take and pass the Philadelphia Electrical Contractor Examination 
  4. Provide proof of at least 8 hours of continuing education coursework
  5. Photo identification
  6. Be in compliance with City tax law

Plumbing Contractors need city-issued master plumbers licenses to operate in Philadelphia. They will also use the ECLIPSE portal to apply. Other requirements are:

  1. Proof of insurance
    • General liability: $500,000 per occurrence
    • Automobile liability insurance: $300,000
    • $500,000 policy limit
  2. Registration as a Philadelphia Apprentice Plumber for a minimum of four years
  3. Registration as a Philadelphia Journeyman Plumber for a minimum of one year
  4. Take and pass the Philadelphia Master Plumber Examination
  5. Provide photo identification
  6. Be in compliance with City tax law

Pittsburgh

There are a few contractors that the city of Pittsburgh requires to carry a license: general contractors, sign contractors, plumbing contractors, and electrical contractors. These licenses fall under the Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections

General contractors are able to build and renovate one or two-family dwellings. The requirements are:

  1. Valid driver’s license and photo ID
  2. Proof of insurance
  3. Proof of worker’s compensation (or an affidavit stating you have no employees)
  4. Comply with City tax law
  5. Check or money order made out to “Treasurer – City of Pittsburgh”
  6. Apply online or with a paper copy

Sign contractors are able to erect, alter, repair, or maintain ground signs, wall signs, projecting signs, and more. They have the same requirements to meet as General Contractors, and they can apply online or with a paper copy

Plumbing contractors must carry Allegheny County-issued master plumber licenses. This license falls under the County Health Department. To apply, would-be contractors will use this application. They must have two full years of work experience as a journeyman plumber.

Electrical contractors must carry city-issued licenses to take contracts in the city. They also have several other requirements to meet, including:

  1. Valid driver’s license or photo ID
  2. Proof of 8 hours of continuing education
  3. Payment of check or money order to the city Treasurer
  4. Completed trade license application
  5. Proof of general liability insurance
  6. Proof of worker’s compensation
  7. Proof of passing score of electrical trade test
  8. Apply online or with a paper copy

Allentown

Neither the city of Allentown or Lehigh County have requirements for general contractor or home improvement contractor licensing. Instead, they rely on the Attorney General’s registration. However, plumbing, electrical, and sheet metal contractors do need licenses-issued by the city.

Plumbing contractors do require city-issued licenses. The city’s requirements aren’t explicitly outlined on its website, but the application is available.

Electrical contractors also require city-issued licenses, and the requirements are more clearly outlined:

  1. Must be 21 years or older
  2. Have a high school diploma or G.E.D.
  3. Master applicants must have 4 years of practical experience
  4. Fill out this application

Sheet metal contractors must carry a city-issued license as well, though the requirements are a bit cloudy. This is the appropriate application.

Erie

Neither the city of Erie nor Erie county has any regulations for general contractor or home improvement contractor licensing. The city does require licenses for electricians, plumbers, and HVAC installers, but contractors must contact this office for any information on licensing.

Reading

To operate a plumbing or electrical contracting business in the city of Reading, you or someone on your staff must hold a masters-level license. The license requirements are as follows:

Electrical license:

  • PA Apprenticeship and Training Council – Apprenticeship Agreement or
  • PA Apprenticeship and Training Council – Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship
  • And proof of completion of 4 years of approved apprenticeship training, consisting of at least 2000 work hours per year.
  • And proof of instruction in subjects related to each trade for the hours required by each trade during the 4 year apprenticeship by an accredited educational provider. Each Trade Board will have the discretion to decide whether or not to allow candidates to take their respective test in April before the completion of the 4th year. Candidates should inquire as to each Board’s respective rules regarding early testing, at the beginning of their 4th year or
  • Proof of a minimum of 8 years of work experience under a Licensed Master Electrician, Master Plumber, or Mechanical Contractor for all other license classifications or reciprocal licenses, contact the appropriate trades inspector for testing and licensing requirements.

Plumbing license:

  • Proof of possession of a City of Reading Journeyman license for 2 years or
  • Proof of employment as a Journeyman in another jurisdiction for 2 years

Applications are available through the office of Building and Trades Division:

Building/Trades Division
815 Washington Street, RM 3-10
Reading, PA 19601-3690
(610) 655-6284

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Pennsylvania

Penalties and fines for unlicensed work are the responsibility of the municipalities and will vary from location to location. However, working while not registered with the Attorney General’s Office is a violation punishable by fines of $1,000 or more.

Protecting your payments in Pennsylvania

Regardless of which state you work in, cash flow is always an issue in construction. Allowing a mistake like working without a license when it’s required could end up costing you some of that valuable cash.

On top of licensing requirements, Pennsylvania contractors have certain deadlines they need to keep an eye on to protect their payments. For instance, subs and suppliers have 45 days from first furnishing to send a preliminary notice on some projects. Also, they must provide a Notice of Intent to lien 30 days before filing a lien. They also have six months since final furnishing to file a mechanics lien. 

Don’t let these deadlines or working without a license affect your cash flow. Protect your payments and stay on the right side of licensing regulations.