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Ohio Contractor Licensing Guide


Last Updated Nov 16, 2023

Illustration of Ohio contractor license with hardhat and map of America with Ohio highlighted

If you're considering starting a contracting business in Ohio, you'll want to make sure that you're aware of the laws surrounding state and municipal licenses for contractors. Unlike some other states, Ohio has a statewide contracting license for only a few specific trades, while most contractor's licenses are dealt with at the city level.

If you're wondering whether you need a license, how to get one, and what other requirements there are for starting a contracting business, you've come to the right place.

Table of contents

Who needs a contractor license in Ohio?

At the state level, there are only a handful of contractors required to carry contractor licenses. Those contractors include:

  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • HVAC contractors
  • Hydronic technicians
  • Refrigeration installers

These contractors will need to pursue a license through the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board. General contractors and subcontractors that don’t fall into those categories do not need to pursue licensing with the state.

However, just about every contracting business needs to carry a business license issued by the state. Businesses can register for a license through the Ohio Secretary of State.

Additionally, each municipality in Ohio has its own rules around contractor licensing, so contractors will need to refer to specific information about their city to determine licensing requirements. Below, we have licensing information for contractors in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

How to get an Ohio contractor’s license

Only a few contractor types need to pursue contractor licensing at the state level in Ohio, and most of those licenses go through the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board (OCILB). But, it’s also important to note that almost all businesses in Ohio need a basic business license.

How to get a business license in Ohio

Before conducting business in Ohio, all companies need to carry licenses issued by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. This includes sole proprietors, general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, LLCs (for-profit and nonprofit), and corporations.

Realistically, the Secretary of State issues the license in exchange for registration (and, of course, a fee), so obtaining a license isn’t all that difficult. The state does offer this Getting Started Guide as a reference. 

How to get an Ohio contractors license from the OCILB

Electrical, plumbing, HVAC, hydronics, and refrigeration contractors must carry licenses issued by the OCILB. But, instead of five different applications and requirements, the OCILB has just one set.

Applicants will need to fill out this application and mail it to the OCILB. The requirements for licensing are:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a US citizen or provide proof of legal residency
  • Carry a tradesperson license in the trade for not less than five years immediately prior to the application date, or
    • Be a registered engineer with 3 years of business experience in construction
  • No convictions of a disqualifying offense 
  • Pass the applicable trade examination 
  • Carry a minimum of $500,000 contractor liability insurance
  • Pass State and Federal background checks
  • Have the application notarized
  • Pay the applicable fees

The fee for the application is $25, and it’s payable with a check made out to “Treasurer - State of Ohio.” Applicants can mail the completed and notarized application and fee to:

Division of Industrial Compliance
Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board
6606 Tussing Road, P.O. Box 4009 
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-9009

Examinations go through a third-party contractor, PSI. Once the OCILB reviews your application and approves it, you’ll receive a PSI Candidate Information Bulletin with instructions for scheduling your exam.

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How to get a contractor's license in Columbus, Ohio

The city of Columbus, Ohio, offers two types of licenses for building contractors:

  • A General Contractor’s license allows a contractor to build all new structures or buildings, excluding accessory structures for existing one, two, and three-family residences. However, these contractors can oversee and manage the modification, alteration, and repair of existing one, two, and three-family dwellings.
  • A Home Improvement Contractor’s license allows for the repair, replacement, remodel, alteration conversion, modernization, improvement, or addition to any residence or dwelling meant for three families or less.

There’s an important distinction between the two: A home improvement contractor cannot build a new home. However, they can build additions, garages, and other accessory structures for one, two, and three-family residences. A general contractor can build a new one, two, and three-family home, but any accessory additions after the fact must be completed by a home improvement contractor.

How to get a General Contractor's license in Columbus, Ohio

The rules and regulations around general contractor licensing in Columbus, Ohio, are fairly straightforward. Applicants must use this application from the Building and Zoning Department, and the requirements are:

  1. Fill out the application
  2. Provide proof of a bond in the amount of $25,000
  3. Provide a certificate of liability insurance listing the following as the certificate holder:
    City of Columbus
    Department of Building and Zoning Services
    111 N Front Street
    Columbus, Ohio 43215
  4. Limits must be no less than $300,000 for damages to a single person and $500,000 for one occurrence.

The application fee is $350, and there isn’t a trade exam required.

How to get a Home Improvement Contractor license in Columbus, Ohio

Home improvement contractors have different rules to follow than traditional general contractors. There are two types of Home Improvement Contractors: Home Improvement General Contractor and Home Improvement Limited Contractor. Both of these licenses will use this application, and the requirements are:

  • Complete the application no later than seven days prior to a board meeting, which occurs every first Wednesday of each month. Later application will require waiting an additional month. Note that the application requires notarization.
  • Provide a copy of passing test results for the 767 Ohio Home Improvement Contractor Exam
  • Three years of hands-on experience in one, two, and three-family residences for general contractors and one full year of hands-on experience for limited contractors, or
    • Be a registered design professional with a valid certificate, or
    • Be a graduate architect or engineer with one full year of experience

While completing the application, limited contractor applicants can choose between the following license types:

  • Siding, windows, and doors
  • Masonry fireplaces
  • Swimming pools and spas
  • Prefabricated fireplaces and wood or coal stoves
  • Irrigation sprinkler
  • Gypsum board
  • Deck installation
  • Asphalt paving
  • Basement waterproofing
  • Exterior lathing and stucco
  • Sidewalks & driveway approaches-roofing
  • Fencing

The application fee is $185, and checks should be made payable to the Columbus City Treasurer. Once complete, mail the application and the fee to:

City of Columbus
Department of Building and Zoning Services
111 N Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215

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How to get a contractor's license in Cleveland, Ohio

Contractors working in Cleveland will need to fill out this application, which is good for general contractors, plumbing and electrical contractors, as well as residential and unlimited work. 

The requirements for applying are:

  1. Completed and notarized application
  2. Provide proof of bond coverage of at least $25,000
  3. Power-of-Attorney Form attached to the bond
  4. Certificate of insurance naming the City of Cleveland as “additional insured” and “certificate holder.”
  5. Insurance endorsement
  6. Copy of Articles of Incorporation, if applicable
  7. $150 application fee

Applicants will choose between the following contractor types:

  • General contractor
  • Sewer contractor
  • Demo contractor
  • Fireplace installer
  • Plumbing contractor
  • HVAC contractor
  • Electrical contractor

As well as:

  • One, two, or three-family only
  • All types of work

Beyond these requirements, the application is straightforward, requiring written proof of prior convictions, work history, and other basic information.

How to get a contractor's license in Cincinnati, Ohio

Unlike other cities which require licensing, Cincinnati prefers to lean on registration for contractors working within the city limits. All contractors need to register with the city, other than:

  • Property owners working on their own one, two, or three-family dwellings
  • A family member or volunteer of the property owner 
  • An architect or engineer
  • Those performing general maintenance work

The requirements for registration include:

  • Filling out this application
  • An Assignment of Registration form for contractors registering a business as opposed to an individual (included in packet)
  • Income tax contractor application (included in packet)
  • Proof of a certificate of liability insurance
    • Limits must be no less than $100,000 for damages to a single person and $300,000 for one occurrence.
  • Proof of Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation Coverage
  • Copy of State License of OCILB contractor

While completing the application, applicants will have to choose from the following designations:

  • Home Improvement Contractor (and specialization, if applicable)
  • Building Construction Contractor (and specialization, if applicable)
  • OCILB Contractor (and license type)

Registration fees are $131.25 per year for up to three years, the price of which includes the $125 fee, plus a 3% technology fee, plus a 1% financial recovery fee, and 1% training surcharge. Checks are to be payable to the City of Cincinnati. Once the application is complete, mail it and the applicable fee to:

Department of Buildings and Inspections 
Contractor Registration 
805 Central Avenue, Suite 500 
Cincinnati, OH 45202 

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Ohio

The OCILB can hit contractors with a fee of up to $1,000 per day, per violation, for not carrying the appropriate license. And that’s just the licenses required by the state.

Unlicensed contractors also need to concern themselves with getting caught by individual municipalities. Each city has the right to fine or penalize any contractor that doesn’t meet its licensing requirements, and the cities determine how much those fines will be. 

So although unlicensed contractors do generally retain the right to file a mechanics lien in the event of non-payment, the fines they could face for getting caught will outweigh the benefits of skirting licensing.


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Written by

Tom Scalisi

57 articles

Tom Scalisi is a writer with over 15 years of experience in the trades. He is passionate about educating contractors and specialty contractors about the best practices in the industry. He has seen first-hand how education, communication, and preparation help construction professionals overcome challenges to build a strong career and thriving business in the industry.

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