Illustration of phone showing Rhode Island Contractor Licensing Guide

In Rhode Island, all residential and commercial contractors and subcontractors need to be registered with the state’s Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board (CRLB). However, registration is not the same as licensing, which is only required for a few select trades, including electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and HVAC.

Below, we’ll cover all of the steps you need to take as a contractor to get properly registered—and licensed if necessary. Following these steps can help you keep your business above board and avoid costly fines for violations.

How to register as a contractor in Rhode Island

Only a few contractor types need to carry state-issued licenses—but that doesn’t mean other contractors are completely off the hook. Quite the contrary: Rhode Island requires all contractors to register with the state, including general contractors and subcontractors. Here are the state requirements and steps to take to get registered.

Once contractors are registered, they will be required to renew their registration by completing continuing education and providing documentation that they are still properly insured.

How to get a contractor’s license in Rhode Island

Certain contractors need licenses that prove they have the experience and knowledge to do the job. Among these contractors are plumbers, electricians, mechanicals, HVAC professionals, and underground utility workers—though the list isn’t exhaustive.

These licenses are provided by the Department of Labor and Training.

Applying for a license is a straightforward process that includes the following steps:

  • Take an examination proving competency in your trade
  • Fill out an application
  • Pay an application fee

Applicants for license can check their application status at any time, and anyone is able to publicly search for licenses as well as license violations.

Do you need a license to file a mechanics lien in Rhode Island?

One of the aspects of Rhode Island contractor licensing that makes it so important is its impact on mechanics liens. Contractors who fail to register their business with the state do not have rights to a mechanics lien. 

So, even if a contractor meets all the contract requirements and does a fantastic job, they can still struggle to get paid. And since mechanics liens are the most effective way for a contractor to recover their money, not having rights would be a massive blow to their leverage. 

Learn moreRhode Island Mechanics Liens: Everything You Need to Know + Free Forms

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Rhode Island

Rhode Island makes meeting its requirements fairly basic and easy. And, for that reason, it expects everyone to play along. If they don’t, the consequences are severe.

For example, if the state catches a contractor working without registering or carrying the appropriate license, a first offense can be punishable by a fine up to $5,000. And, for any subsequent offenses, the penalty jumps sharply to $10,000 each.

Most importantly, remember that a contractor doesn’t have the right to file a mechanics lien if they don’t hold the appropriate license or they don’t register with the state.

Protecting your payments in Rhode Island

Obviously, it’s best to take Rhode Island’s contractor licensing requirements seriously. Getting a license or registration isn’t difficult if you have the qualifications, while the penalties for not following the rules are severe. But they aren’t the only rules contractors need to follow to protect businesses. The requirements and deadlines around Rhode Island’s mechanics lien laws are just as critical. And they vary quite a bit from most other states.

For example, general and prime contractors in Rhode Island must send a Notice of Possible Mechanics Lien within 10 days of commencing work to protect their lien rights. This document serves as Rhode Island’s version of a preliminary notice. Surprisingly, subcontractors don’t have to meet this requirement. 

Both GCs and subcontractors need to send a Notice of Intent to lien to protect their right to a lien. They have up to 200 days from last furnishing to send the notice, which is significantly longer than most other states. The same 200-day window applies for actually filing the mechanics lien, and the NOI does not extend the window. For that reason, it’s best to send the Notice of Intent much earlier than the deadline.

Finally, once a contractor files a lien, they have just 40 days to take enforcement action, which is significantly shorter than most other states. 

But the deadlines don’t stop there: contractors must first file a Notice of Lis Pendens before filing a Complaint to Enforce a Mechanics Lien. And, they only have seven days from filing the Lis Pendens to file the enforcement paperwork, so things move very quickly. This makes protecting lien rights and keeping your ducks in a row incredibly important in Rhode Island.

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