Getting a Contractor’s license in California without any experience is not impossible, but it can be ethically questionable.
A Contractor License is issued to a tradesman who has proven a certain level of experience and expertise. They are entrusted to deliver a standard of service to the consumer public.
There are a few ways individuals who don’t have the required experience can directly hold or indirectly use a contractor license.
This article will show you the different possibilities that are legally available to you.
What is a Contractor License?
A Contractor License is type of permit or authority that allows construction tradesman to charge over $500 for their services.
Individuals who are looking to start a business, hire workers, bid on projects, and advertise must become licensed contractors.
To get a license, you must prove at least 4 years journey level experience in a trade, pass an exam and hold an active contractor bond.
Why California requires Contractors to hold licenses?
California takes the construction trades very seriously.
In an effort to protect the public from overcharging, unsafe construction practices, fraud, and substandard work, California has licenses for 73 different trades.
People that are charging over $500 for specialized services must be registered with the state, prove they know what they are doing and have financial protections in place for their clients if things go wrong,
Types of Contractor licenses
There are 73 different license classifications in California which are broken up into 4 categories
A- General Engineering
B- General Building
C- Specialty Classifications
D- Specialty Classifications (C-61 Limited Specialty) - No Trade Exam Required
All licensing classifications except those that fall under the D- Specialty Class, require you to pass a trade exam in addition to the California Contractor LAW exam.
All licenses require you to be registered with the state and have an active contractor bond.
For a more in-depth look into the different categories of contractor licenses available check out the Complete Licensing Guide on the main menu.
Contractors State License Board
The Contractors State License Board is the governing agency for construction contractors in the state of California.
The CSLB maintains a database of licensed individuals, partnerships, LLCs, C-Corps and S-Corps which are kept on a public record.
They facilitate examinations, conduct sting operations targeting unlicensed contractors, and oversee the licensing process.
The CSLB has offices all over the state of California and regulates construction activity around the state.
Ways to get a Contractor License without experience
One of the most common ways that individuals with no experience can have access to a contractor license is through an RMO or RME. RMO stands for Responsible Managing Officer.
This person is a licensed contractor that allows their license number to be used by an existing business to take on construction projects over $500.
RME stands for Responsible managing employee and is basically the same as an RMO except the contractor qualifying the company is an employee.
To learn more about RMO and RME licensing, take a look at this article.
Forming a Company with a Qualifying individual
Another way someone without hands-on experience can get a license is through being a legal member of a company that is licensed.
John is an investor who put up the money to start a business. He invests in the office space, advertising, payroll and is 100% owner. John has no construction experience, so he enters 50/50 agreement with Edward who holds a general contractor license. He offers Edward a stake in his business knowing that his association with Edward will allow him to bid on more lucrative projects. California law states that anyone legally associated with a contractor license for at least 4 years, has completed the journeyman experience requirement and can take the contractor license exam. After 4 years of being a part of Johns company, Edward leaves, and John applies for his own license with the CSLB. John passes the exam and now is a licensed contractor.
I personally have seen this scenario several times. It is one of the ways someone without any experience can get a contractor license in California, but it still requires you to pass the state exam.
For a more in depth look at setting up a construction business, check out our free full course.
Signature from a General Contractor
I spent years working with contractors in a variety of capacities.
I have helped thousands of contractors fill out applications, study for the exam and get certified in many areas.
There are thousands of people all over the country applying each year to become licensed contractors in California.
The truth is some applicants slip through and get a chance to take the contractor license exam without actually having to prove their experience.
If you have been in this business for any length of time that I am sure you have come across someone with little or no actual hands-on construction experience but has a license.
Somebody signed for them, they sent their application and miraculously got accepted to take the test.
They passed the test after 7 tries, and now they are a General Contractor. It’s not fair but it is just a hard fact of life. Some applications are reviewed thoroughly, and some aren’t.
If you are someone without any experience, there is a chance you can have a contractor sign your application and say you have experience and see if you get a test date.
I do not advise this. As someone who has a lot of respect for the work that tradesman do, I don’t think people who have no idea what they’re doing should be charging money to the public.
That being said, I am writing this post to be 100% honest about the possibilities that are available to you if you choose to go that route.
Grandfathering Contractors License in California
Years ago, if you had a license, you could simply pass the license down to your children to continue the family business.
The person who got the license passed down to them did not need to take the exam, they were just gifted or “Grandfathered” a contractor license.
This is no longer possible. If someone who is currently qualifying a company through their license decides to retire, the person taking over the license number must prove 4 years’ experience and pass the state exam.
The CSLB allows you to keep the same license # but the new qualifier has to pass their own exam.
The Truth about CSLB Exam Waivers
The following information is directly from the CSLB.GOV website:
Are there any circumstances under which a waiver of the examination may be requested?
Yes, at the Registrar's discretion, if the qualifying individual meets the following criteria:
• The qualifying individual is a member of the immediate family of a licensee whose individual license was active and in good standing for five of the seven years immediately preceding the application;
• The qualifying individual must have been actively engaged in the licensee's business for five of the previous seven years and must be applying in the same classification(s); and
• The license must be required in order to continue the operations of an existing family business in the event of the absence or death of the licensee.
In some cases, the CSLB will give you an exam waiver. However, this is becoming harder to get. In my experience, I have never actually seen an exam waiver issued.
These days the state of California wants to make sure anyone charging for construction services has documented experience and has passed the exam.
If you meet all of their requirements though, it could be worth a shot... just don't get your hopes up.
Alternative paths while you gain experience
If you don’t have the experience to get a license and none of the above options are realistic for you, that’s fine.
There are many ways to earn a living in the construction industry you will just need to leverage the skills you do have and be creative.
Some people aren’t directly involved in a trade or remodeling and are earning great livings in other areas. Home inspection is a lucrative business that is perfect for people who may not have the 4 years experience.
Another option is getting certifications like the EPA lead safety certification and Mold remediation under your belt.
Learn core skills like Blueprint Reading or check out our Trade Skills Library for a complete guide.
If you are just coming out of high school, get familiar with Construction LAW.
The point is to invest in yourself. While it is not impossible to get a contractor license with no experience, your focus should be not on gaming the system but developing yourself.
Feel free to email me anytime or check out any of our free educational resources available here.
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