How Much Work Can You Do Without A Contractor License?

Do you need a contractor’s license in California to do construction work? 

The answer is: yes, in most cases, you need a contractor license to legally perform construction work. Usually. 

There are some big exceptions, depending on the size and scope of your work so read on to see what types of construction jobs require a contractor license in California.

When Do I Need A Contractor License To Do Construction Work?

In California, you need a valid California Contractor’s State Licensing Board (CSLB) license to perform construction work on any project that exceeds a total of $500.

In addition, any construction job that requires a specific trade expertise – such as electricians or roofing contractors – requires you to get a license.

TIP: To see the full list of Class C classifications, visit the CSLB’s website. 

The $500 threshold means that – in practice – almost every construction job out there will require you to have a valid contractor’s license to perform the work legally.

The one exception is called the “Minor Work Exception” which usually involve low-cost materials and jobs like replacing the knobs on cabinets or installing a new door for the pantry.  In essence, this is handyman work.

Let’s see what kind of jobs you CAN do without a license in California.

Jobs Unlicensed Contractors Can Do

Some tasks that may fall within this Minor Work Exception – and therefore allow you to do the construction work without a CSLB contractor license – include:

  1. Minor painting projects, such as a single room or wall
    1. Larger painting projects require a C-33 Painting And Decorating license.
  2. Small landscaping tasks, like planting or basic garden maintenance
  1. Simple drywall repairs
    1. Larger drywall jobs require a C-9 Drywall license.
  2. Basic plumbing repairs, like fixing a leaky faucet
    1. Bigger plumbing jobs require a C-36 Plumbing license.
  3. Minor electrical repairs, such as replacing an outlet or light switch
    1. Bigger electrical repairs require a C-10 Electrician’s License.

It is important to emphasize that even though you do not need a license to perform these jobs without a license, you must still abide by the general licensing rules.

That means that unlicensed contractors must not work on projects requiring permits, advertise as licensed contractors, or bid on projects exceeding the $500 limit.

Jobs Unlicensed Contractors Cannot Do

Put simply, most construction jobs in California will require a permit.  You cannot perform construction work in California without a license if the job:

  1. Exceeds the $500 limit, including labor and materials
  2. Requires a permit
  3. Involves specialized trades like HVAC, roofing, or swimming pool construction
  4. Needs the expertise of a licensed contractor, such as structural alterations or major renovations
  5. Requires you to hire subcontractors or employees

Staying Compliant with California Regulations

Both homeowners and unlicensed contractors must ensure compliance with California regulations when engaging in construction projects. 

Homeowners should verify that the total project cost is below the $500 threshold, no permits are required, and the unlicensed contractor has liability insurance. 

Unlicensed contractors should familiarize themselves with local building codes, avoid projects exceeding the $500 limit or requiring permits, and maintain liability insurance coverage.

Make More Money As A Licensed Contractor

With very few exceptions, you’ll want to get a license to perform construction work in California. Unless you’re a professional handyman who intentionally keeps the value of your jobs below $500, or you’re working on a passion project where you own the property, you will almost always get more value out of being licensed than unlicensed.

The reality is that bigger jobs leads to bigger opportunities to make money and build wealth for your business and your loved ones. Getting your CSLB license is a pathway toward financial freedom – it’s a no-brainer if you’re wondering whether to take the plunge and finally get your contractor license.