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California Handyman License: How to Get Certified as a Handyman in CA

Profile picture of Andrew-Robichaud, freelance author for Jobber Academy.
Andrew Robichaud
June 19, 2024 13 min. read

If you’re looking to become a handyman in California, it’s a lot easier to get started than you think. 

In fact, you don’t even need a license to get started—just the right handyman skills. Want to start fixing your neighbors’ leaky faucets and squeaky windows? You’ll only need a license if the total cost of your projects exceeds $500 or involves multiple experts.

And once you’re ready to take on more work and bigger handyman jobs, it’s important to know the licensing requirements to ensure you’re operating a professional and certified business in California.

Not sure how to go about getting your license for those bigger jobs? Don’t worry—this article has everything you need to know:

First, let’s go into a bit more detail about if you need a handyman license in California. Then, we’ll cover the step-by-step process for certification.

Do you need a license to be a handyman in California?

California has no licensing requirements for handymen. However, your project’s total costs will be capped at $500, including combined labor and materials costs. If your project’s total costs exceed this amount, you will need a California general contractor license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). 

Projects also can’t be broken down into smaller amounts in an attempt to stay below this threshold. This will limit the types of projects you can work on.

Let’s say you’re working on a kitchen remodel. The Contractors State License Boards (CSLB) will look at the cost of materials, labor (including your own), and any experts you’ve hired for the total project.

You can see how easy it is for the costs to exceed the threshold.

What can a handyman do without a license in California? 

While you don’t need a license to be a handyman, there are some services you might be considering. Be aware that some of those services might require a license to perform, like major HVAC and plumbing tasks.

Handymen can usually perform the following services without a license, as long as each project is under $500:

  • Furniture Assembly: Assemble furniture, mount TVs, hang picture frames and mirrors, and install closet organizers and shelving.
  • Painting: Stain and paint interior and exterior walls, flooring, ceiling, and furniture.
  • Drywall Maintenance: Patch holes, repair nail pops, and remove old wallpaper.
  • Minor Electrical Tasks: Replace lightbulbs, install light fixtures and ceiling fans, upgrade smoke detectors, and install home security cameras and equipment.
  • Minor Plumbing Tasks: Fix leaky faucets, install bathroom hardware, and remove or apply caulk where necessary.
  • Minor Carpentry Tasks: Build bookshelves, replace doors, repair kitchen cabinets, or replace and repair baseboards or trim.
  • Window Coverings: Install blinds, curtains, and window coverings.
  • Winterization: Install and repair window film, weatherstrips, door sweeps, foam insulation, and caulk around windows and doors.
  • Tiling: Install, repair, and maintain tiles in bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Door Hardware Installation: Install and repair doorknobs, handles, deadbolts, and locks.
  • Gutter Cleaning: Remove debris, fix clogs, repair leaks, and clean out downspouts.
  • Pressure Washing: Pressure wash decks, stairs, siding, and driveways.
  • Window Washing: Wash hard-to-reach windows on second and third-story buildings and homes.
  • Screen Installation and Repairs: Replace and repair screens and install screen doors.
  • Yard Maintenance: Build garden planters, mow grass, install paving stones, assemble patio furniture, and put up holiday lights and decorations/
  • Fence and Gate Repairs: Build and install exterior gates and fences, repair broken fences, and replace latches.
  • Senior Home Upgrades: Install grab bars, stairlifts, motion-sensor faucets, ramps, and shower seats.

READMORE: 12 must-have handyman apps for busy contractors

Penalties for contracting without a license 

The CSLB has Statewide Investigative Fraud Team(s) responsible for finding violators. Anyone found performing projects exceeding $500 without a license will receive fines and potential jail time.

First-time offenses are classified as a misdemeanor with the potential for up to 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Administrative fines and this sentencing can be anywhere from $200 to $15,000. 

Subsequent violations result in at least 90 days of jail time, a fine of 20% of the contract price of the work performed (which might be quite substantial), or a $4,500 fine.

California handyman license requirements 

Even though you can start performing handyman work with just your hands and a toolbox, you might be considering taking on contracting projects worth over $500. You’ll need to accumulate the proper experience and documentation before applying for your contractor’s license.

Here’s what you’ll need before applying for a contractor’s license:

  • Must be 18 years or older
  • Have a driver’s license or state identification and a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
  • Have 4 years of journey-level experience, which can include up to 3 years of technical training at a college or trade school or apprenticeship program
  • Have a $25,000 bond in place or file a $25,000 cashier’s check with CSLB; to protect against any damages to customer property, license law violations, or unpaid employee wages 

The CSLB defines journey-level experience as “a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform a specific trade without supervision.”

This definition has a lot of flexibility. Those years you spent helping your licensed parent on the job could add up. Pair that with a bit of schooling, and you could be well on your way to qualifying for examination.

Recommended skills for a handyman

Beyond the legal requirements, a handyman in California should have a handful of skills before applying for a contracting license. Whether you’re looking to get hired or start your own business, you’ll want to be able to perform the following (at a minimum):

  • Furniture assembly
  • Exterior and interior maintenance
  • Door and window installation and repair
  • Tile repair
  • Interior and exterior painting and staining
  • Drywall repair
  • Lighting installation and maintenance
  • Ceiling fan installation
  • Minor plumbing, electrical, and carpentry tasks
  • Interior winterization services
  • Yard and fence maintenance and repairs

Requirements for working with asbestos or other hazardous substances

While the CSLB is responsible for contractor licensing in the state, the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupation Safety and Health (DOSH) requires specific certifications for working involving asbestos and other hazardous substances.

Contractors who want to be certified for hazardous substance removal work must complete the application and pass the examination.

Even though you can start performing handyman work with just your hands and a toolbox, you might be considering taking on contracting projects worth over $500. You’ll need to accumulate the proper experience and documentation before applying for your contractor’s license.

Here’s what you’ll need before applying for a contractor’s license:

  • Must be 18 years or older
  • Have a driver’s license or state identification and a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
  • Have 4 years of journeyman-level experience, which can include up to 3 years of technical training at a college or trade school or apprenticeship program
  • Have a $15,000 bond in place or file a $15,000 cashier’s check with CSLB

The CSLB defines journeyman-level experience as “a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform a specific trade without supervision.” This definition has a lot of flexibility. Those years you spent helping your licensed parent on the job could add up. Pair that with a bit of schooling, and you could be well on your way to qualifying for examination.

Beyond the legal requirements, handymen in California should have a handful of skills before applying for a contracting license. Whether you’re looking to get hired or start your own business, you’ll want to be able to perform the following (at a minimum):

  • Furniture assembly
  • Exterior and interior maintenance
  • Door and window installation and repair
  • Tile repair
  • Interior and exterior painting and staining
  • Drywall repair
  • Lighting installation and maintenance
  • Ceiling fan installation
  • Minor plumbing, electrical, and carpentry tasks
  • Interior winterization services
  • Yard and fence maintenance and repairs

Requirements for work involving asbestos or other hazardous substances

While the CSLB is responsible for contractor licensing in the state, the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupation Safety and Health (DOSH) requires specific certifications for working involving asbestos and other hazardous substances.

  • Contractors who want to be certified for asbestos abatement must complete the application, pass the examination, and register with the Asbestos Contractor Registration Unit of the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). 
  • Contractors who want to be certified for hazardous substance removal work must complete the application and pass the examination.

How do I get a general contractor license as a handyman in California?

You’ll need a contractor’s license to bid on and perform work for projects exceeding $500. Here are the licenses to consider:

  • Class A General Engineering Contractor: This license is for contractors who work on large-scale projects that require specialized structural engineering knowledge
  • Class B General Building Contractor: Most handymen in California will want this license. It allows contractors to work on projects that involve 2 or more trades.
  • Class C Speciality Contractor: This license lets contractors service and test fire extinguishing systems, install carpets, linoleum, and floor coverings, and prepare or remove roadway construction zones.

Likely, you’ll be more concerned with the Class B contracting license. Here’s the step-by-step process to get a handyman license in California:

  • Obtain at least 4 years of journeyman-level experience. This will need to be verified by a licensed general contractor, current or former employer, or union representative.
  • Complete the contractor’s license application (online easy-fill, PDF, or mail order)
  • Take and pass the general contractor examination
  • Pay the licensing fee
  • Submit your fingerprints
  • Obtain a bond
  • Provide proof of insurance

Not every aspiring contractor needs to go through the examination process. You can waive the examination if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your immediate family member has an active license and has been in good standing for 5 of the 7 years preceding your application
  • You must have been actively engaged in the licensed family member’s business for 5 of the 7 years preceding your application
  • You must be applying for the same license classification as your family member
  • Your license must be necessary to continue the operations of the existing family business in the event of the absence or death of the licensed family member

Does my California contractor license work in any other states? 

California has reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Louisiana, and Nevada. You can obtain a California contractor license without examination if you have a valid contractor’s license in any of these states (under these classifications). However, you may still be required to take the business law portion of the examination.

READ MORE: Find out what it takes to become a licensed handyman in every U.S. state.

How much does it cost to get a general contractor license in California?

Fees vary depending on if you’re a sole owner. Here’s a list of the fees you can expect to get and maintain your California general contractor license. 

  • Application Fee: $450
  • Initial License Fee (Sole Owner): $200
  • Initial License Fee (Non-Sole Owner): $350
  • Additional Classification: $150
  • Re-Examination: $100
  • Asbestos Certification Application: $125
  • Hazardous Substance Removal Certification Application: $125
  • Active Timely Renewal (Sole Owner): $450
  • Inactive Timely Renewal (Sole Owner): $300
  • Active Timely Renewal (Non-Sole Owner): $700
  • Inactive Timely Renewal (Non-Sole Owner): $500
  • License Reactivation Application (Sole Owner): $450
  • License Reactivation Application (Non-Sole Owner): $700

Do I need to renew my general contractor license?

Yes, to keep your general contractor license active, you need to renew it every two years. You can renew online if your license has a single qualifier. Multiple qualifier licenses will need to submit the renewal application along with payment to the following address:

Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026 

If you want to keep your license, but aren’t actively contracting as a landscaper, you can renew your license as inactive. Licensing fees are lower and you’ll only need to renew every four years.

What happens if my general contractor license expires?

Apply on time, and you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars. Here are the fees for renewing an expired license:

  • Active Delinquent Renewal (Sole Owner): $675
  • Inactive Delinquent Renewal (Sole Owner): $450
  • Active Delinquent Renewal (Non-Sole Owner): $1,050
  • Inactive Delinquent Renewal (Non-Sole Owner): $750

If your license has expired, you’ll also have to stop working on any projects that cost more than $500, including labor and material costs. 

You can petition for a retroactive renewal if you have a legitimate reason for missing the deadline and want to keep working. You’ll need to send the CSLB a petition in written format that clearly demonstrates that you missed the expiration date for circumstances beyond your control.

You can renew a license within five years of its expiration date. After this date, you’ll need to reapply.

Requirements for handyman business owners

A contracting license allows you to legally perform handyman services in California. However, if you want to start your own business, you’ll need a business license, insurance, and permits to protect yourself, your employees, and your customers.

First, you need to register your business with the state and obtain business insurance. Next, you’ll need to look at additional license classifications relevant to your work.

For example, if you want to expand your business to include more robust plumbing, electrical, or fencing work, you’ll need additional Class C specialty contracting licenses.

Insurance and permit needs

You’ll need to acquire the right insurance to receive your contracting license in California. Here’s a list of the insurance requirements:

  • Worker’s Compensation Insurance: Contractors who hire employees must provide Worker’s Compensation Insurance. If you don’t currently have any employees (and don’t plan to hire any soon), you can apply for an exemption from this requirement.
  • General Liability Insurance: You must have at least $1 million in liability insurance and an additional $100,000 for each additional member of your personnel (but this doesn’t need to exceed $5 million in total).

While Worker’s Compensation and General Liability insurance are the only types of insurance mandatory to receive a contracting license in California, you may want to consider a few others in order to protect your business.

  • Commercial Auto Insurance: In case of accidents or damage caused by accidents when driving company vehicles.
  • Tools and Equipment Insurance: To repair or replace tools and equipment damaged or stolen.
  • Commercial Property Insurance: To repair any damage to property you rent or own as part of your business activities.

Does a general contractor license increase your earning potential as a handyman?

Without a license, you’ll be stuck with small-time projects for less than $500. While you can make a good income bouncing around between tasks, it’s much more lucrative (and less time-consuming) to win more expensive contracts.

Unlicensed entry-level handymen earn an average of $45,985 in California. Once you gain experience and licensing, this wage can jump up to $59,045 in less than 10 years.

Plus, once you obtain your contracting license, you can begin hiring employees and scaling your business. Greater scale and talent on your teams mean more projects, higher-quality tasks, and bigger paychecks—and who doesn’t want that?

READ MORE:How to write your own handyman job description

Want to see how location and experience can affect your income as a handyman? Check out our Essential Handyman Salary Guide. It lets you filter by location and experience to find exactly how much you should be earning.

Our data is up to date and crowdsourced, meaning it’s not just guesswork—it’s data-backed salary numbers you can trust. Use this guide to determine how much you should make depending on your experience. Want to stick with the handyman career for the long run? Stay in California, and you could be making upwards of $70,000 by the time you’ve accumulated 20 years of experience.

And if you’re considering setting down roots somewhere else, filter by location to see which states pay handymen the best. For example, handymen in California make 9% more compared to national averages.

Now, you have everything you need to pursue your handyman license in California and start your career. All that’s left is to get started.

Originally published in May 2022. Last updated on June 19, 2024.

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