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Ohio General Contractor License: Get Licensed to Work

September 13, 2023 9 min. read
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If you’re looking to get into a lucrative industry, getting your Ohio general contractor license is a great bet. According to the Economic Research Institute, the average general contractor in Ohio makes nearly $125,000, and the highest earners in the state bring in over $152,000. Plus, you stand to make even more money if you start up your own general contractor business.

In this licensing guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know to get licensed as a general contractor in Ohio.

Do you need a general contractor license in Ohio?

This depends on which city you want to work as a general contractor. This is because the only trades that are licensed statewide by the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board (OCILB) are electrical, plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, and hydronics. 

The residential and commercial construction work that a general contractor does is licensed at the municipal level – that is, by individual cities. Before starting any projects, you need to check in with your local authority to make sure you’re aware of the rules. 

For example, each of the three biggest cities in Ohio—Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati—requires you to get a license before taking on any projects. In this guide, we’ll look at the general contractor licensing process for these cities.

Types of contractor licenses in Ohio

The type of general contractor license you need varies depending on where in the state you want to work. Here are the licenses available in the biggest cities in Ohio:


In Columbus, there are three main contractor licenses for those who want to work on residential or commercial buildings: 

  • General Contractors: License holders can work on construction projects for any type of commercial building and on multi-family buildings that contain more than four units. 
  • Home Improvement Contractors: License holders can work on projects involving the construction or alteration of residential buildings that house three or fewer families.
  • Limited Home Improvement Contractors: License holders can work on residential projects in the specific field where they’ve built up expertise, like roofing, siding, waterproofing, or fencing.

To work one of these contracting roles, you need to be licensed by and registered with the Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services. The department also requires both types of contractors to subcontract specific work like electrical and plumbing.


The city of Cleveland requires general contractors and other skilled trades to register with the Department of Building and Housing for qualification and certification. Only electricians and plumbers need to be licensed. 

While there is only one type of general contractor in Cleveland, there are different permit applications you need to submit depending on whether the building you want to work on is a residential building with three or fewer units or a commercial building:

  • 1-, 2-, and 3-Family Structures Permit
  • Commercial Building Permit
  • New Home Construction

The city website has a contractor permit guide to help you find the necessary forms and information. 


Like Cleveland, Cincinnati doesn’t require contractors to have a full license. You just need to maintain current contractor registration with the Department of Buildings & Inspections. You will also need to provide a list of all the subcontractors who will be working on the project. 

However, if you’re the owner of a 1-, 2-, or 3-family dwelling, you may be exempt from registration as long as you personally perform the work.

The Department of Buildings & Inspections has a contractor registration checklist and FAQ document you can review to answer any questions during the application process. 

How do I get a general contractor license in Ohio?

Just like different cities and regions have different types of contractor licenses, the process and requirements for getting your license change depending on where you are in Ohio. 


To become a licensed general contractor in Columbus, you need to complete the following steps:  

  1. Complete the general contractor application
  2. Secure a bond of at least $25,000
  3. Obtain a certificate of liability insurance that covers $300,000 for damages to a single person and $500,000 for a single occurrence

To become a licensed home improvement contractor or limited home improvement contractor in Columbus, you need to complete the following steps:  

  1. Build up the necessary experience:
    1. Home improvement contractor: 3 years of experience working on 1-, 2-, 3-family homes
    2. Limited home improvement contractor: 1 year of experience in your specific home improvement field
  2. Pass the 767 Ohio Home Improvement Contractor exam with a score of at least 70%
  3. Complete the home improvement contractor application 

Send applications to the City of Columbus — Department of Building and Zoning Services at the following address:

111 North Front Street 
Columbus, OH 43215


General contractor registration steps: 

  1. Fill out, sign, and notarize the registration application form
  2. Secure a bond with a minimum of $25,000 
  3. Obtain a certificate of insurance with a minimum coverage of $200,000:
    1. Bodily injury coverage of $50,000 and $100,000
    2. Property damage of $50,000
  4. Secure the necessary residential or commercial permit

Submit the completed application and forms to the City of Cleveland Department of Building and Housing at the following address:

601 Lakeside Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44114


To register as a general contractor in the city of Cincinnati, complete the following steps: 

  1. Fill out the contractor registration form
  2. Complete the assignment of registration (if necessary)
  3. Include a Federal Taxpayer ID Number (for business) or the responsible party’s Social Security Number (individual)
  4. Obtain a certificate of liability insurance, including proof of no less than:
    1. $100,000 for damages to a single person
    2. $300,000 for a single occurrence
  5. Include a list of all the registered subcontractors that will be working on the project

Submit the completed application to the City of Cincinnati’s Department of Buildings & Inspections at the following address: 

805 Central Avenue, Suite 500
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Ohio general contractor exam

Of the general contractor licenses and registrations available across Ohio’s three major cities, the only one that requires a license exam is the home improvement contractor license in Columbus. According to the city website, these contractors need to write the International Code Council exam number 767.

The exam is two and a half hours long and includes 60 multiple-choice questions on the following topics: 

  • Administration 
  • Footings and foundations 
  • Masonry and fireplaces 
  • Framing
  • Roofing 
  • Decks and guards
  • Egress 
  • Fire

For more information on the Columbus home improvement contractor exam, you can look at the ICC’s candidate information bulletin.

Does Ohio reciprocate general contractor licenses?

Reciprocal license agreements let professionals from out of state apply directly for a general contractor license without having to re-do exams. Ohio does reciprocate licenses for state-regulated trades like electrical and plumbing but doesn’t do so for general and building contractor licenses.

Because general contractor licensing is not conducted at the state level, you should check with your regional authority to determine if reciprocity is possible.

How much does a general contractor license cost in Ohio?

You can expect to pay between $130 and $350 for the initial general contractor licensing or registration process in Ohio. The size and number of fees change depending on the city and type of building you want to work on:

CityLicense, Registration, and Permit Fees
Columbus• General contractor registration fee: $350 
• Some eligible parties can get a reduced fee of $200
• Home improvement contractor application fee: $185
• Home improvement contractor exam: $115
Cleveland• New applicant fee: $150
• Renewal fee: $120
• Building permit fees
Cincinnati• Contractor’s initial registration: $131.25 per year for up to three years
• Same-day registration: additional $210
• Renewal: $131.25 per year for up to three years
• Late renewal (within 30 days): $131.25 per year + $78.75
• Reactivation: $131.25 per year$150

You should also keep in mind that there are insurance and bond requirements for most general contractor licenses. 

Renewing your general contractor license

Here’s how long your general contractor license or registration is valid in the three major Ohio cities and how you can renew it in each:


According to the Columbus Code of Ordinances, licenses expire 12 months after the date they are issued. You can renew your license at any point during the 90 days before it expires. 


Cleveland general contractor licenses need to be renewed every year before December 31st. For instructions on how to renew online, you can use this online checklist from the city website. 


Cincinnati contractors can register for up to three years by paying all yearly fees in advance. Typically, registration is renewed on an annual basis using the registration application. 

The registration for State-licensed contractors is valid in Cincinnati until the State license expires. The registration for all other contractors is valid in Cincinnati for one year from the date the registration is issued.

What happens if my general contractor license expires? 

No matter where you are in Ohio, you should stop all work if your license, registration, permits, or insurance has expired. Otherwise, you open yourself up to fines, penalties, and even legal action. 

Working as a contractor without the necessary license or registration is a misdemeanor in Ohio, and there may also be local penalties depending on where you work. 

For example, in Columbus, the penalty for violating the building code can be up to a $1,000 fine and even include jail time.

After determining the status of your license, registration, or permit with your local authority, you need to fill out a renewal form and pay any necessary fees. If the license has lapsed for too long, then you may have to go through the initial licensing process again.

How to start a contracting business in Ohio

The process for starting a general contractor business in Ohio also changes depending on where in the state you want to operate. Some areas require business information on the permit or registration application, while others may have additional requirements for general contractors operating as business owners. 

For example, the City of Cincinnati website includes a dedicated page with all the information and access to forms you need to start a business, including a list of specific business permits, how to file income tax, and securing a small business loan.

The state website for Ohio also has a dedicated page for finding information about starting businesses in specific industries, including contracting and home improvement. 

There are also some practical considerations for general contractors who are thinking of starting their own company, including: 

Does a general contractor license in Ohio increase your earning potential?

In general, yes, getting your general contractor license or registration increases your earning potential. But it depends on where exactly in Ohio you want to work as a general contractor. 

While the average salary for a general contractor in Ohio is around $125,000, you stand to make even more than that, depending on the municipality and the type of projects you want to take on. Plus, after building up enough experience, you can increase your earning potential even more by starting your own contracting business.

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