Obtaining a painting contractors’ license & requirements by state

While there are aspects of the US that are very similar across state borders, there are definitely also aspects of the country that aren’t. You will probably notice a big difference between the cultures, whether you’re standing in the middle of California, New York or Virginia, but it’s not just the cultures that differ between these places.

While everyone may take pride in saluting the same flag, there are very big differences when it comes to the requirements contractors have to live up to in order to able to operate legally, and that includes painters, too, in some states. The confusing thing may be that you could in theory be able to operate legally in one state, and then move 15 miles South where you would be in a state that handles licenses entirely differently. It is also important to state that these regulations continue to change, and just because a given set of rules are in place at the time that we are writing this article on the topic does not mean that it is still the case.

A funny anecdote includes the fact that we once acquired a website that had gathered all the different rules when it came to various contractor licenses but the issue was that the site hadn’t been updated for a very long time. Some of the articles hadn’t been touched for 15 years, so once our crew started investigating and updating the content, we very quickly found out that it wasn’t enough to just update the content, we would have to entirely rewrite it from scratch in order to provide information that would be accurate at the time the article was written. While we may no longer have anything to do with those articles, it just goes to show that you should probably disregard articles of a certain age, as well as remember the basis that this article was written on. It was written at a very specific time, right now, and we do urge you to consider this entertainment only in nature and that you go to the official pages that are ensured to have the most up to date information on them, too. 

Starting out as a professional painter can seem like a fun and challenging endeavor that you are undertaking, but it does mean there are a bunch of things that you will need to think about in the process. While it may be a relatively cheap business to start in comparison to a lot of other businesses, it doesn’t mean there aren’t mistakes that you can make that will cost you dearly.

Not knowing how to deal with lead paint

If it’s the first time you have been on this website, you may not already know that our business consists mainly of selling lead paint test kits, but we do so because there is a great, big need in this country, given the history it has with the material. While the addition of lead may help make paint more durable, it also has a bunch of side effects that you need to know, whether you’re an aspiring contractor or a homeowner. 

In fact, it is even more important that you know about the side effects from working with this material, assuming you’re not taking the necessary precautions, if you’re a painter. As a painter, you’re not just doing an occasional job, but rather continuously dealing with the issues that this material has. While you will be safe if you’re doing things right, there are too many stories of contractors that don’t, and the consequences are bad. Although kids are the ones that are potentially the most affected by the material, since they’re still growing and developing, you will be exposed to a lot more lead dust as a contractor. As a contractor, you’ll be removing paint on a daily basis in order to address the problematic areas and get to the point where you can repaint the area again. Needless to say, if you’re working on a wall that has lead paint in it, you’ll be releasing all that lead dust out into the air, and when possible, you may be ingesting a fair amount of it. Unlike a bunch of other materials, you’re not just getting rid of the lead over time, but rather it accumulates in your body and does a lot of damage. Over the years, many people have suffered from some of the horrible consequences that stem from the exposure to this material, including kidney failure and death.

If we haven’t entirely scared you already, you can just go ahead and use the good ‘ol Google to find some statistics on lead poisoning. We’ve written extensively on the topic, and we don’t want to discourage anyone from becoming a painter, because it can be a really good living, for as long as you’re taking the necessary safety precautions when it comes to issues like this. Luckily there are easy things that you not just should do but that you have to do if you want to comply with the legislation in place that will otherwise come back and bite you really bad. We’re not just talking about irreversible damage to your health from not protecting yourself adequately, but we’re talking about getting massive fines from the EPA. Fines that would at the very best cripple your business, but may very well end up putting a stop to those self-employment adventures you were otherwise embarking on. The same issues come up whether you’re encapsulating lead paint or trying to remove plaster walls as they’re all going to disturb the wall and the paint that you are working on, at which point the dangerous dust is released into the room. Either way, that is beyond the scope of this article, and you can easily get more information about that topic if you search for EPA RRP, and find the EPA’s website on the topic. 

While being a painting contractor may not be quite as risky as it is to be a roofer, there are still inherent risks that come from doing this type of work, because you may very well be exposed to relatively dangerous chemicals, so we encourage you to read up on everything related to becoming a painter, but also VOCs and more. Luckily, there has been a great push to use types of paint that contain significantly lower amounts of VOCs than used to be the case.

Besides that, there are the common risks associated with being in business that anyone can tell you about that includes covering yourself by having the necessary insurance policies, which in turn will help you stay protected against things like someone falling on your property, or you accidentally damaging someone’s property. If you end up punching a hole through the wall, or you cause water damage in the home, guess who would otherwise have to pay that bill. Unfortunately you are able to inflict a lot of damage on other people’s property when you’re a contractor, and that means there are a couple of things that are almost universally required for contractors. These include:

  • Workers compensation: This is typically required, at least in most states and will be required for companies that have employees or 1099 workers, which some states classify as employees as well. 
  • General liability insurance: This insurance helps against things such as property damage and third party bodily injury, and the claims that may be made against you. 
  • Surety bonds: If you are working on high-value projects, there are states where these may be required, although they’re only required in some states, and some states only require them for projects above a certain value.

Make sure to check which of these requirements you have to live up to, as well as how you transfer your license from one state to another if you are trying to move, and want to make sure that you’re staying compliant throughout the whole process. 

This here is just one of the many articles that we have available on our site, and we also encourage you to check out our various other articles. We are continuously posting articles that could be of interest both to you but also to someone you may know. We recently published an extensive article on the various questions homeowners should be asking when they’re buying a home, but we have also covered various other topics such as purchase and sale agreements in Massachusetts. Those are all articles we encourage you to keep reading after you are done with this one. 

The list below gives you a better understanding of what the requirements may be when you are hoping to open a painting business in the state that you’re either living in, or considering living in.


In the great state of Alabama, you need both a state license as well as registration in order to get started, or that is at least if you plan on working on projects of higher value than $50,000. Getting a license in the state includes passing law and business exams, as well as having three years of experience before you can do that. 


Alaska has three different types of contractor licenses that include specialty contractors, general contractors and general contractors with residential endorsement. The state does require that you obtain a license if you’re planning on operating there, and you will then need to find out which license is the right one for what you are trying to do there. 


Arizona requirs both a state license and registration if you are going to work on projects that exceed $5,000 in value. The different types of licenses include a residential one, and a commercial one. In order to get the necessary licenses, you will both have to pass a business exam, a trade exam, proof that you have previously worked under a licensed contractor and proof that you have a surety bond.


For contractors wishing to work on projects that exceed $2,000, a license and registration is required, and you will need both a surety bond, workers compensation when relevant as well as passing the appropriate exam. If you are working as a subcontractor for someone who holds the necessary licenses, you are not required to have one yourself. If they don’t have a license, the person that you are working under, you will be required to have one. 


It’s not just with contractor licenses that California is very strict, as they’re also very strict when it comes to various things like tenant and landlord laws. Both a state registration and state license is required for projects that are more than $500, making it one of the lower thresholds. Getting the license is also quite an experience having to be able to prove that you have 4 years of experience.


Registration in Colorado happens at the city, county or local level where individual laws are often put in place, which also means that there is no corresponding state license. Check your individual counties to see what the requirements are there. 


Connecticut does not have a state license but does require registration, or that is if you’re going after projects that are worth more than $200, or if the total sum of the projects that you have been working on exceeds $1,000 per year. Depending on the types of work you’ll be doing, you can either end up being registered as a minor or major contractor.


If you want to establish yourself in the state of Delaware, you should know that both  a state license and registration is required if you are working on any project that you get revenue from. You will also need to pass an exam before you are able to obtain the adequate license. Workers’ compensation and surety bonds are also things you will have to look into if that is where you are planning on starting your business. 


People hoping to live out their life and earning money from painting in the sunny state of Florida will need to know that both a state license and registration is necessary there, and that they distinguish between two different types of licenses, those that are certified and those that are registered.  If you are registered it gives you the possibility to work on local jobs, whereas a certified contractor has more freedom and is able to do work outside of his local area as well. There are additional requirements depending on where you are trying to get licensed.


Georgia is a state that does not require a state license for painters but will require registration, as painters are one of the categories exempt from a state license there. That is not to say that you may not be required to have a license as local counties might have their own requirements that you need to be aware of, why you will need to check what those are. 


Do you want to be a painter in the great state of Hawaii? If so, you will both need a state license as well as registration to go along with it, which you will be obtaining from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. That is, if you want to work on projects that cost more than $2,500. Getting a license there requires that you are able to show proof of a surety bond, general liability insurance as well as workers compensation insurance.There are also exams that you need to pass, and you’ll need to show a certain level of experience, too, before you can get the necessary licenses to be operation by yourself.


Idaho doesn’t require you to have a state license but will require state registration for painting contractors if you’re working on projects with a value that is higher than $2,000. General liability insurance and workers’ compensation are also some of the things you will need to handle before you can get started. 


Illinois doesn’t require a state license or registration, but as with many of these states that may not have requirements at the state level, you will want to see what the situation is at the local municipality level to figure out if there are things that you may have to address there, and what those requirements may be.


IN the sense that state licenses and registration aren’t required on a state level, Indiana is similar to Illinois. Once again, we want you to be sure that you check to see if there are any requirements on a local level, and what types of registration and licenses you will need there instead. 


So, we have just gone through a couple of states that didn’t require either at a state level, but Iowa is a little bit different as they do require state registration, although they don’t have a state level license to be performing the work. The registration is required when the work you are doing ends up exceeding $2,000 for any given year, and the registration is done with the Iowa Division of Labor.

Iowa is no different from all the other states that don’t have licenses at state levels in that you may have to check in to see what the local regulations require,  and to make sure that you know what both the city and county are requiring in the process.


Is your dream to start working in Kansas? If so, you won’t have to worry about a state license, but you will need to make sure that you are registered, and if you are going to be dealing with lead paint, you do also need a license that you will be obtaining from the Kansas Department of Health & Environment. 


In Kentucky, there’s no state license but a registration is needed. Making sure that you are checking what the requirements are at a local level is also important so that you don’t just start working before you make sure you’re following the rules.


Louisiana is another state that requires registration among contractors wanting to do paint work, and they also have a state license, which is the one that falls under the broader Building Construction license. There are various types of licenses depending on which types of projects you will be working on, including a residential, a commercial, and a mold remediation one. There’s also the home improvement registration. 


Maine is yet another state that does not have a state license but does require registration. That is, of course, unless you are dealing with lead-based paint in which case it is required that you have to be certified by the state. Make sure to check local rules and regulations to see if there is anything else that you need to be aware of and make sure that you have workers’ compensation insurance covered, which is required for companies with employees.


Maryland requires that you both have a state license and that you are registered as well, as this is a state that requires state licensing for any contractor who is performing home improvement work, which naturally covers painting. In order to obtain the license, you will have to pass an exam, show proof of your experience, show proof of general liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance, as well as provide a range of financial information as well. 

While we have only a part of the states in this article, we realize that it has already gotten pretty long, and that you have stayed focused for relatively long if you have made it this far. If the state you are looking for hasn’t yet been covered, then that means we haven’t released the second part of this article, which we intend on releasing in the future. 

As soon as it is released, we’ll include a link to it at the top of this article, so there is no reason to reach out to us to check whether it has been published just yet.

Owning and operating your own business is the American dream to many people, including a bunch of aspiring painters, while for others it may just seem like a tedious thing to try and do. I, myself, love running my own business but also realize that it’s not for everyone, but ensuring that you have the necessary licenses will help you significantly, including making sure you don’t end up in a bunch of legal trouble.

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