Starting a contracting business in West Virginia is an exciting time. The Mountain State is a great place to build your name. As your own boss, you’ll be able to choose your clients and the types of projects you want to work on. But even bosses have certain rules to abide by, not least of which are West Virginia contractor licensing requirements.
But starting a business is a hectic time, and you probably don’t have time to spend sorting through all the different requirements to ensure your business is on the up and up. This guide will help, as it sorts through West Virginia contractor licensing requirements, making sense of a complex situation.
Contracting in a state outside West Virginia? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Contractors License Requirements in Every State.
Who needs a contractor license in West Virginia?
You might be wondering if your business or line of work requires a contractor’s license in West Virginia. The short answer is “most likely” — with a caveat.
In West Virginia, a contractor is defined as:
“a person who in any capacity for compensation, other than as an employee of another, undertakes, offers to undertake, purports to have the capacity to undertake or submits a bid to construct, alter, repair, add to, subtract from, improve, move, wreck or demolish any building, highway, road, railroad, structure or excavation associated with a project, development or improvement, or to do any part thereof, including the erection of scaffolding or other structures or works in connection therewith, where the cost of the undertaking is $5,000 or more for residential work or $25,000 or more for commercial work.”
Contractors described above must carry state-issued licenses. So must plumbing, electrical, and some other contractors. Those other classifications include:
- Residential pools
- Finished carpentry
- Window Installation and more
Do you need a license to file a mechanics lien in West Virginia?
West Virginia’s mechanics lien laws make no specific requirement that contractors must hold a license to file a mechanics lien. With that said, it’s never a good idea to perform work for which the state requires a license unless you hold that license — it could significantly hurt your chances in court.
If you have to file a mechanics lien for work you performed while unlicensed and then enforce the lien, the court isn’t likely to look upon your unlicensed status fondly. Instead, it could shoot holes in your integrity and trustworthiness.
Filing a lien in West Virginia? Get the West Virginia Mechanics Lien Form | Free Template
How to Get a contractor license in West Virginia
While most contractors in West Virginia need to carry a state-issued license, there are some universal requirements and particular agencies to contact.
If you own a business of any type in West Virginia, you will have to register with the State’s Tax Department. This includes contractors, subs, specialty trades, handyman businesses, sole proprietors, and self-employed individuals.
Registration is fairly straightforward. All businesses will fill out this registration form with the required information, which includes:
- Legal names, DBAs, and physical addresses
- Tax information
- Business activity
- Ownership type
- Identifying information for the business’s responsible parties (if any)
- Unemployment compensation insurance information (this section must be completed, even if the business doesn’t employ anyone)
Once you register, you’ll receive a Business Registration Tax Number — a necessity for contractor licensing. The total cost of registration is $30.
In addition to the Tax Department, most businesses need to register with the West Virginia Secretary of State. It’s best to use the One-Stop Business Portal for the fastest registration.
General contractor licensing
General contractor licensing is a function of the West Virginia Contractor Licensing Board. Before you’re able to apply for licensing, you need to contact the board and describe your work in order to receive the information on classification and required exams.
Once you have the classification and exam info, you can contact ProV (a third-party testing contractor) and schedule your exam. The person taking the exam must be an officer, member, owner, or full-time employee of the company. You will need to provide proof of payroll for full-time employees.
After you take and pass the examination for your classification, you can apply using this application. The application requires the following information:
- Business name, address, phone number, and other identifying information
- The type of ownership or corporation
- Your Federal Employer Identification Number
- WV Business Registration Tax Number
- Unemployment Compensation Account Number
- Worker’s Compensation Policy Number
- Wage Bond Information for any contractor who has not been actively engaged in construction IN West Virginia for at least one year, unless: 1) they’ve been in business for more than 5 years elsewhere, 2) have $100,000 in assets, or 3) is a subsidiary of a parent company that has been in business for at least 5 years
- Identifying information for each partner or corporate officers, depending on business structure
- A list of exams you passed, including:
- Business and Law (all classes)
- General Building Contractor
- General Engineering Contractor
- Multi-Family Contractor
- Piping Contractor
- Plumbing Contractor
- Residential Contractor
- Manufactured Home Installation
- Remodeling and Repair Contractor
- Sprinkler and Fire Protection Contractor
- Utilities (Sewer and Water) Contractor
With the exam information, bonds, insurance, and application requirements, you’re able to mail in your application, as well as a $90 licensing fee, to:
West Virginia Contractor Licensing Board
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
State Capitol Complex
Building 3, Room 200
Charleston, WV 25305
Contractor licensing requires annual renewals to the tune of $90 each year.
Subcontractor and trade licensing
Much of the licensing process is the same for West Virginia subcontractors, but there’s even more importance placed on contacting the board for proper classification and examination. These subs and trades will fill out the same application as general contractors, but they’ll have to describe their scope of work when they get to the fourth page of the application.
In order to run a plumbing contracting business, the company must employ a certified plumber. Plumbing certification is a function of the Division of Labor, and the two classifications that can qualify (and their requirements) are:
- Master Plumber: A person who has passed a master plumber written examination with a score of at least 70 percent and who is competent to design plumbing systems, and to instruct and supervise the plumbing work of journeymen plumbers, and plumbers in training.
- Journeyman Plumber: A person qualified by the passage of a journeyman plumber written examination with a score of at least 70 percent and who is competent to instruct and supervise the work of a plumber in training.
To operate as an electrical contractor, the business must employ a licensed electrician. The Office of the State Fire Marshal oversees these licenses. The requirements are:
- Master Electrician: A person with 10,000 hours or 5 years of actual hands-on electrical work experience, including a mixture of residential, commercial, and industrial experience
- Journeyman Electrician: A person with 8,000 hours of 4 years of actual hands-on electrical work experience in above-ground structural wiring OR completed an apprenticeship program approved by the US Department of Labor, OR completed a West Virginia vocation course of not less than 1080 hours which has been approved by the West Virginia Department of Education
Penalties for unlicensed contracting in West Virginia
West Virginia is serious about its licensing requirements. While unlicensed contractors are technically allowed to file a mechanics lien, the state doesn’t look fondly upon breaking the rules.
The Contractor Licensing Board is able to issue fines between $200 and $1,000 for any person caught contracting without a license, and that’s just for the first offense.
Getting caught a second time can cost a minimum of $500 and a max of $5,000 and up to six months in jail. Break these rules a third time, and the minimum fine jumps to $1,000 and jail time skyrockets to between 30 days and one year.
Those are big consequences for something the state makes relatively straightforward and affordable.
Protecting your payments in West Virginia
Beyond staying above-board with the Contractor Licensing Board, West Virginia contractors have certain requirements and deadlines they must meet in order to protect their payments. Losing sight of these requirements could mean sacrificing cash flow and stunting your business’s growth — or worse.
West Virginia doesn’t impose any laws or requirements for sending preliminary notices to preserve your lien rights. With that said, it’s still a good idea to send them on all your projects. They serve as friendly introductions between your business and the people cutting the checks. They also show your business in a positive, organized light, which can be extremely helpful if you have to enforce a lien in court.
Learn more – West Virginia Preliminary Notice: Guide + Free Forms
When it comes to actually filing a lien, West Virginia contractors have just 100 days from the last date that they provide labor or materials to file. This window is significantly shorter than some states, which means Mountain State contractors don’t have time to fool around, waiting for a slow-paying GC or project owner to cut them a check.
Finally, West Virginia mechanics lien laws dictate that contractors have up to six months from the date they filed the lien to take action toward enforcing it. This deadline can’t be extended, and after that window, the lien expires altogether. Keep an eye on the calendar so you’re not throwing away your right to a payment on a technicality.