Working as a contractor in the District of Columbia requires multiple certificates, licenses, and registrations be satisfied appropriately, or else you run the risk of fines and penalization. This is further complicated by the fact that the many contractors doing business in the District of Columbia often reside in neighboring states like Maryland or Virginia, and sometimes may be operating internationally.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) offers the ability to apply for General Contractor as well as Home Improvement Contractor’s licenses all online. Figuring out which of these licenses is right for you, as well as which supplemental materials you might need to include, will be covered through the rest of this guide.
DC General Contractor License Requirements
The District of Columbia has two different types of construction contractor licenses — the Home Improvement Contractor License and the General Contractor/Construction Manager License. Both require the applicant to pay a fee, provide a registered Tax ID number, prove they have liability insurance, show a Clean Hands Self-Certification, a Home Improvement Salesperson License, as well as a Certificate of Occupancy (if applicable), and that the applicant prove DCRA Corporate Registration. However, for all of their similarities, both Home Improvement and General Contractors differ in pretty drastic ways.
The Home Improvement Contractor License will require the applicant to submit an additional $25,000 surety bond, Home Improvement Contract Sample and Salesperson Designation Letter, and Police Criminal History Report (Form PD-70).
The General Contractor/Construction Manager License lists differing insurance requirements based on the License Class, and requires submission of three copies of at least two sample contracts and receipts.
Additionally, all subcontractors (including plumbers and electricians) hired by the General Contractor/Construction Manager must be properly licensed and registered as required by District of Columbia law, usually by the D.C. Board of Industrial Trades.
Who Needs a Contractors License?
The District of Columbia defines a “general contractor/construction manager” under NAICS Code 23-238990 as “any person who, for a fee, is contracted to do construction on real property owned, controlled, or leased by another person of commercial, industrial, institutional, governmental, residential or accessory use buildings or structures… General Contractor also includes those involved in heavy construction, land development and the construction of new buildings.”
Interestingly, this also includes the remodeling, repair, improvement or demolition of these buildings or structures — but is different from a” home improvement contractor.”
The District of Columbia uses the NAICS Code: 236118 description, which defines a home improvement contractor as one who conducts any of the following: the repair, remodeling, alteration conversion or modernization of, or addition to, residential property, all as may be more particularly defined in the regulations.
This difference between the two Licenses is defined by the DCRA under the “special instructions” section of their General Contractor Application Requirements:
“If a General Contractor performs work on existing residential properties, a Basic Business License for the Home Improvement Contractor category is not required.”
Both general contractors and home improvement contractors will be required to obtain a Basic Business License for the Home Improvement Salesperson.
Each of these licenses are good for two (2) years.
Subcontractors working in specialty trades need additional licenses. The District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades governs asbestos workers, plumbers, electricians, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, steam and operating engineers, and those in the elevator trades (with the exception of District of Columbia and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employees). Refer to them for additional requirements in each field.
What Do You Need To Become a General Contractor in DC?
To become a general contractor in Washington D.C., you’ll need a Basic Business License for the General Contractor/Construction Manager. There are a couple of basic things you’ll need to obtain that, most of which are listed on the DCRA General Contractor Quick Facts Sheet. These requirements are:
- The Application Fee, totaling $654.50
- Corporate registration with the DCRA via the Corporate Registration Information Center.
- A properly filled out Basic Business License Application
- This application will require you to sign a Clean Hands Statement, assuring that you don’t owe the District of Columbia $100.00 or more in any capacity.
- This application also requires an Agent (a DC resident) who can receive legal documents for your business. You may serve as your own Agent.
- A tax number such as an SSN or FEIN registered through the DC Business Tax Service Center
- Certificate of Occupancy/Home Occupation Permit (C of O and HOP, respectively) obtained via the DC Office of the Zoning Administrator
- Certificate of insurance proving commercial general liability pursuant to DC Code and DC Municipal regulations. This certificate must show the certificate holder as “Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 4th Street, SW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20024″
- Three copies of at least two sample contracts and receipts
- A Basic Business License for the Home Improvement Salesperson:
- This license has similar requirements, with an additional total fee of $154.00
- Additionally, applicants for this license will need to complete a Police Criminal History Report (Form PD-70).
- Applicants will also need to include an Affidavit sworn before a notary public, by a Home Improvement Salesperson located in and licensed to engage in the Home Improvement business in the District of Columbia, certifying that the applicant will be employed by the Home Improvement Contractor.
- Lastly, the applicant will have to provide three digital passport photos, and a copy of their legal identification containing the applicant’s name, current address, and photograph.
The list itself is somewhat extensive, but there is no exam requirement for D.C. contractor licensing, nor is there a surety bond requirement. However, getting fully bonded and insured is vital to properly protecting your business and customers may hesitate to hire a contractor who isn’t covered. Further, you may need to post a bond — such as a contractor, performance, or bid bond — to secure a contractor or to do work in any neighboring or nearby states.
Licensing and Registration Fee Summary
A Basic Business License for General Contractor/Construction Manager and a Basic Business License for Home Improvement Salesperson must be submitted at the same time. The fees for each are as follows:
- General Contractor License:
- Total Fee: $654.50
- Category License Fee: $500.00
- Application Fee: $70.00
- Endorsement Fee: $25.00
- 10 % Technology Fee: $59.50
- Total Fee: $654.50
- Home Improvement Salesperson License
- Total Fee: $154.00
- Category License Fee: $45.00
- Application Fee: $70.00
- Endorsement Fee: $25.00
- 10% Technology Fee: $14.00
- Total Fee: $154.00
DC Contractors Exam
The District of Columbia doesn’t require general contractors to pass an exam to obtain a license. However, subcontractors working in specialty trades (asbestos workers, plumbers, electricians, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, steam and operating engineers, and those in the elevator trades) need additional licenses as required by the District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades.
DC Contractors License Application
The DCRA Basic Business License Application can be found here. On the application you’ll be required to complete these six steps:
- Get your Corporate Registration and Employer ID Number. Unless you’re a Sole Proprietor with no trade name, go to business.dc.gov/startbusiness to get this started.
- Get your Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupancy Permit. This essentially demonstrates that your business activity does not conflict with building and zoning codes. This can be obtained via the Office of the Zoning Administrator (202) 442-4576.
- Get your New Business Tax Registration. You can register at MyTax.dc.gov.
- Sign and Date a Clean Hands Statement. The District Government will not issue or reissue any license or permit if the applicant owes more than $100.00 in outstanding debt to the District of Columbia.
- Complete Sections A-D:
- Section A: Specify application type, either by checking the “General Contractor” box or by checking and filling in the “Other” section. This is a universal application, but you’ll need to fill two separate ones for General Contractor and Home Improvement Salesperson.
- Section B: Provide the business owner or entity name, as well as the registered trade name of the business (if applicable). Check whichever one applies:
- Sole proprietor
- Corporation (for-profit)
- Corporation (non-profit)
- Section C: Here you’ll specify whether the business is in your home, not in your home, or not in D.C. You’ll also provide either your Home Occupancy Permit number or your Certificate of Occupancy number as well as the date issued. You’ll also be required to provide your business’s physical address.
- Section D: All businesses must have an Agent who can receive legal documents for your business. This person must be a D.C. resident, and you may serve as your own agent. Name, address, phone number, and email address of the Agent are required.
- Submit Your Completed Application. Visit the DCRA Business License Center with a completed Basic Business License Application and payment (cash, check, credit card, or money order) payable to D.C. Treasurer; Amex not accepted. The application states that “A DCRA Business Center representative will calculate the final amount you owe during your visit.”DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street
SW, 2nd Floor
Washington, D.C. 20024Hours: M T W F, 8:30am – 4:00pm
TH, 9:30am – 4:00pm
You may apply online by visiting mybusiness.dc.gov.
District of Columbia Contractor Registration and Permitting Requirements
The District of Columbia requires further registration of asbestos workers, plumbers, electricians, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics, steam and operating engineers, and those in the elevator trades. The District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades governs these licenses.
The DCRA may also require contractors to provide additional permits or surveys before building. Information on building permits in D.C., can be found here.
District of Columbia State Business Licenses and Registration
General Contractors Licenses are covered as a Basic Business License itself. Specific business information will be submitted as part of the application process.
District of Columbia Business Registration
All those seeking Basic Business License Application for a General Contractor/Construction Manager will use the universal Basic Business License Application, which can be found here.
District of Columbia Tax Identification Numbers and Registration
Get your New Business Tax Registration by visiting the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.
District of Columbia Workers’ Compensation Insurance Requirements and Forms
All employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance in D.C. if they have one or more employees. You can also apply for self-coverage if you are self-employed. Visit the DCRA Department of Employment Services page for more information.
District of Columbia Certificate of Liability Insurance Requirements
All general contractors must provide a Certificate of Liability insurance. The amount you need depends on the type of license you’re applying for:
- Class A: At least $2,500,000 per occurrence;
- Class B: At least $1,500,000 per occurrence;
- Class C: At least $500,000 per occurrence, or combined $1,000,000 for bodily injury or property damage;
- Class G: At least $500,000 per occurrence, or combined $1,000,000 for bodily injury or property damage;
- Class H: At least $500,000 per occurrence.
Home improvement contractors also need a certificate of insurance, worth at least $50,000 for bodily injury of one person, $100,000 for more than one person in a single accident, and $10,000 for property damage in a single accident.
Visit the DCRA Certificate of Liability Insurance Details page for more information.
District of Columbia Contractor License Lookup and Verification
The DCRA Business License Verification website can help you find a licensed contractor in Washington, D.C. You can search by License Number, address, name or you can check the entire category list.