Tips for Hiring a ContractorBoard for Licensing Contractors
WARNING! Beware of contractors making door-to-door or telephone solicitations offering to make repairs to roofs and other storm damage to your home. Often these contractors are high pressure salesmen, without experienced employees, who get you to contract and then they hire inexperienced, unlicensed individuals as "subcontractors". Never sign over the insurance check; do not pay with cash, or pay the total charges before the work is complete. The Home Improvement law prohibits contractors from asking for a down-payment of more than 1/3 of the total contract. See also the new guidelines section required by roofing contractors performing work to be paid from insurance claims listed below in the "General Information".
To verify a license of a Contractor; Home Improvement Contractor; Limited Licensed Electrician or Limited Licensed Plumber, you may do so from our website at "Verify a License" and you may use the following "Search Tips" or contact our office at 1-800-544-7693 should you need assistance.
To check the complaint history of a contractor, contact the Board's "Complaint Section" by telephone at 1-800-544-7693 or by email at Contractors.Home-Improvement@TN.Gov Closed complaints with disciplinary action may be reviewed at: Disciplinary Actions
Check Out Before Hiring!
Before you hire anyone to perform any kind of construction or remodeling work to your home, be sure to check them out first before hiring. This includes making sure they are properly licensed with our Board (see section below to know "When is a License Required"). Many contractors will say and advertise that they are licensed, bonded and insured, however, this may be their county "Business License" which is easily obtainable by simply paying the $15.00 tax and nothing else; insurance does not cover poor workmanship; and a bond is rarely obtained unless the local permit office requires it. Some contractors may be licensed by our Board, but not financially covered to perform the entire project. If they give you more than one contract or several "invoices", this is often a red flag that they are trying to skirt the law to perform work over their monetary limit. In some cases, contractors may obtain a license to perform the work themselves, without having any employees, but may end up subcontracting the work to individuals (to avoid paying workers' compensation insurance and/or taxes). Always ask the contractor who will be performing the actual work and for their subcontractors references. Whenever subcontractors are hired by the contractor, they may also be required to be licensed, such as electricians or plumbers, with local government in order to obtain separate permits for inspections. Review the License Search Tips to confirm license status, limit and classification. There are more tips below to help with hiring a contractor, as well as with the Division of Consumer Affairs brochure.
Even after checking out a contractor, you may experience problems after you have hired a contractor or if they took payment without completing or even starting work. When this happens, don't be embarrassed to report them to us. Many are con-artists who know how to manipulate and take advantage of people. These are the ones who give good contractors a bad name! You can take control by filing a complaint and getting them reported before others are harmed. As far as workmanship, absent a written warranty, there is a one (1) year implied warranty pursuant T.C.A. 47-2-314 (see link below to the LexisNexis Law website). Many problems caused by contractors may require obtaining an attorney to take civil action. Contractors accepting payment without performing the work may be prosecuted by local authorities for felony theft.
When Is A License Required?
Contracting license requirements depend on the total dollar amount of the project (materials, labor and profit). Licenses regulated by our Board are: Contractor; Home Improvement; Limited Licensed Electrician; and Limited Licensed Plumber. Their requirement to be state licensed also depends on the total cost, as well as, the county where the project is located. The following is a summary of when a state license from our Board is required:
- Contractor - A "Contractor's" license is required if the total project is $25,000 or more
- A contractor's license differs from other licenses; it has a classification and monetary limit assigned. This law covers both "prime" (general) contractors and their "subcontractors". A contractor who contracts directly with the homeowner is always considered the prime.
- Construction Manager's are required to be licensed as a contractor to oversee a project.
- Subcontractors are those who contract directly with another contractor and not with the owner. The only subcontractors required to be licensed as a contractor are those portions $25,000 or more to perform the following:
- Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing, HVAC, and Roofing projects
- Masonry subcontractors are required to be licensed for projects $100,000 or more.
- Geothermal HVAC Well Drillers must have a license from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
- Home Improvement - A "Home Improvement Contractor's" license is required for projects $3,000 to $24,999 in nine (9) counties(Bradley, Davidson, Hamilton, Haywood, Knox, Marion, Robertson, Rutherford, and Shelby).
- A license is needed in order to perform residential remodeling or to make repairs. This includes replacement, alter, conversion, modernization, improvement, or addition to any land or building, such as, driveways, swimming pools, porches, garages, landscaping, fences, fall-out shelters, roofing, painting and other improvements adjacent to the dwelling.
- Electrical - Check with your local government for projects less than $25,000 for their license, permit and inspection requirements. A state "Limited Licensed Electrician" may be required in some municipalities without a local codes inspector. The Division of Fire Prevention perform inspections in these areas.
- Plumbing - Check with your local government for projects less than $25,000 for their license, permit and inspection requirements. A state "Limited Licensed Plumber" may be required in some municipalities without a local codes inspector. The Division of Fire Prevention perform inspections in these areas.
Note: The state does not have a HVAC license for projects less than $25,000. Typically, an electrical license (LLE) is required to make connections. Check with your local government for their licensing and permits for inspections requirements.
Tips To Hiring A Contractor (Summary)
- Hire only licensed contractors - check at: http://verify.tn.gov/ and ask if the licensed contractor will be performing the work with their employees or if the work is subcontracted out.
- See "Search Tips" on looking up licensees to ensure they have not forged the license certificate. Checking online ensures it is active, not revoked, and the type of license.
- Check with local government for codes, permits, inspections and business licenses
- Check references and their complaint/discipline history (Reg Boards, BBB, search their name on the internet, etc.). Always obtain more than one estimate.
- Get a written contract (Contract Information)
- Ask who will be performing the work (often the contractor is a "salesman" and may subcontract the work to inexperienced individuals misclassified as a subcontractor paid in cash, for the contractor to avoid taxes).
- Roofing Services and Insurance Payment Requirements (Eff. July 1, 2012)
- Make sure the contractor obtains a permit for code inspections (Code Information)
- Ask for proof of insurance; workers' comp is required if they have one (1) employee (WC Verification)
- Never pay cash; and do not pay the total amount before the work is complete or turn over your insurance check! (consider paying with credit cards with special protection). Law prohibits requiring more than 1/3 down payment
- If a contractor takes your money without performing the work, this may be considered a felony (theft) violation, and see the steps in the law to prosecute through local district attorney's office.
- It is unlawful for an "unlicensed" contractor to file a lien
Note - If your home was built before 1978, please check on important Lead Based Paint procedures.
For those who have experienced problems or want to report unlicensed activity, you may skip this section and go directly to the"Complaint Filing Process" for resources to report a complaint and review the steps to the complaint process. Unfortunately, the complaint process does not take the place of civil action and you may need to hire an attorney on cases where monetary judgments or consumer protection law damages are an issue. The Board's jurisdiction is limited to licensing law violations, however, we encourage consumers who have been wronged or received a judgment, to report this to us, as well as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). This offers protection to the public from unscrupulous activity. You are welcome to contact our Complaint Section Coordinator at 1-800-544-7693 or send an email (see "Staff Contacts"). You may want to consider consulting with an attorney since our Board may only take disciplinary action and cannot award judgments.
Beware of Unscrupulous Contractors!
Beware of unscrupulous contractors making door-to-door solicitations offering to make repairs to roofs and other storm damage to your home, especially after a disaster. If you receive telephone offers while on the "Do Not Call" registry, you should report them to the "Tennessee Regulatory Authority". Never sign over the insurance check; do not pay with cash; and do not pay the total charges before the work is complete.
Contact the Board's Complaint Section to check on or to report a contractor at 1-800-544-7693 or by email at Contractors.Home-Improvement@TN.Gov
Roofing Services Requirements Consumers have the right to cancel a roofing contract within three (3) days after a claim is denied by the insurance company. Roofing contractors whose work is covered by insurance will need to include specific language in their contracts to this effect.
FYI - Just because a contractor list a local business address does not mean they will remain until the work is completed. Many contractors may set up a short term business location at an office building with a month-to-month lease, as well as, use their building management's telephone services; or their street address provided to you may be for a rented mail box; check the license plate on vehicle; and research the contact information on the internet.
Permits - These are required to be obtained by the contractor and not the homeowner. If they insist on you obtaining the permit, or advise that one is not needed or too expensive, this is usually a sign that they are not legal to perform work. Permits have been issued in the past during a storm disaster at no cost to encourage the importance of making sure the work is performed right and according to codes.
Prime and Subcontractors - The one making the offer to the homeowner is considered the prime or general contractor and they are required to be licensed even if they hire a subcontractor to perform the work. Subcontractors work under the prime's license, unless, it is electrical, mechanical, plumbing or HVAC work; then both the prime and sub would need to be licensed as required by local and state law. Many prime contractors will categorize their employees or day laborers as "subs" to get out of providing workers' compensation insurance or paying taxes. This type of violation may be reported to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Check Disciplinary Action / History of Complaints
You may check the complaint history of a contractor by contacting our office. The Board may take disciplinary action for law violations and these cases are posted online. Complaint cases with an "OPEN" status (those still under investigation) are not listed on the website, as well as dismissed complaints.
The Department compiles a list of complaints with disciplinary action for all the the Regulatory Boards in their monthly and archived activity reports. In addition, the Board provides a list showing actions from formal hearings (cases overseen by an Administrative Law Judge) with revoked and license suspensions. Various lists have been compiled below for your convenience, as follows:
Revoked/Suspended Licenses (pdf)
This is a list of "formal" action taken by the Board after the case has been closed. Decisions by the Board on open complaint cases cannot be listed until after the Board conducts a formal hearing pursuant the Uniform Administrative Procedures. This information is also included on the "Disciplinary Actions" on the website.
Disciplinary action taken at the regularly scheduled board meetings is listed within 30 days after the case is closed. Note: Disciplinary action is not published until the case has been closed. Refer to "Disciplinary Reports" for all actions of closed cases. Note: Consumers may also check with our office to check a contractor for complaints with the "Complaint Section"; we will not have specific details of "open" cases while the investigation is in process, however, you may check their complaint history on open and dismissed cases with no disciple or letters of warnings.
Open Complaints or No Discipline
Not all cases result in disciplinary action. Depending on the complaint, many may receive a letter of warning or dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction. Cases that are still open have limited public information available. You may contact our Complaint Section Coordinator at 1-800-544-7693; or the direct line is (615) 532-3996; or by email to check the complaint history.
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) serves as a resource to check and also report a complaint. We encourage consumers to report to them, as well as to our Board. The BBB issues many public notifications to warn others of scams. (See alerts below.)
Licensed, Insured and Bonded - Information
While many contractors may be licensed, typically more than one license is required to perform work. Due to printing technology, always check to ensure the license certificate has not been forged with a different expiration date or name. Look for licenses by both the state and local governments (state contractor's license; county and city business license for taxes; county and city codes license for permit, etc.) As part of the licensing process, insurance obtained by the contractor may not be helpful to the consumer unless their work caused damage. For example, depending on the type of coverage, general liability may only cover third party injuries. You may want to contact your insurance agent for supplemental coverage unless the contractor has provided proof of their coverage. In addition, the contractor working on your project may not have covered themselves with workers' compensation insurance, since they may obtain an exemption. Lastly, unless a bond is issued for your project at the local level (as part of the permit), a bond may not have been obtained or even required. The Home Improvement licensees are required to provide $10,000 proof of financial responsibility and this may be in the form of a surety bond or they may obtain an Irrevocable Letter of Credit; property bond; or even a cash bond. Verify state licenses online at: http://verify.tn.gov/
Note: No one may use the license of another contractor (including relatives) and all contracts must be in the exact name as licensed.
Checklist - Before Hiring A Contractor
- Contractor has a current unexpired "Contractor's" license (may check at "License Search").
Note: Always check the license pocket card to see what "type" of license and the "name" listed, to ensure a contractor does not attempt to use someone else's license. Most licenses look the same for a security guard, auctioneer, barber, fire sprinkler, etc., however, it will identify whether it is from the "Board for Licensing Contractors". Local government licenses, such as a business tax license and a building permit for inspections may also be required.
- Contractor has the acceptable license limit and classification:
Classification: BC-A or BC or BC-B allows "Residential" building;
Monetary Limit: The amount approved for their license is based upon their financial statement, insurance, exam and experience. The monetary limit must cover the total contract or bid price (including profit, materials and labor). Contracts cannot be split into phases to circumvent the law of the total project cost.
- For example, if your contractor has a classification such as BC-A/r and the limit on their license states $70,000, they would NOT be legal to build a house when the total cost or amount of the contract is $150,000. This would be considered unlicensed contracting. In addition, you may not be required to pay the full amount of the contract, as the law in TCA 62-6-103 only allows documented expenses to be recovered by an unlicensed contractor by the court. A contractor exceeding their limit does not have the right to file a lien.
- If the work requires plumbing or electrical work, your contractor is required to have employees or hire subcontractors licensed locally, and/or have a state Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE) or state Limited Licensed Plumber (LLP), in order to obtain permits for inspections. HVAC requirements less than $25,000 depend on the local government's requirement or may be required to have a state LLE.. Note: Ask your contractor for each of the subcontractors license information! The contractor would not be licensed to perform unless they have an additional license or classification.
- Proof of Valid Insurance - A licensed contractor must provide proof of General Liability insurance at the time of renewal as a condition of license; Workers' Compensation (WC) insurance is only required if they disclose having an employee (the owner of the license may register for an exemption). Therefore, you must ensure their insurance coverage is active and not canceled. For workers' comp, check with the Department of Labor's website at: WC Insurance Verification Search
- Permits for Inspections - Always require the contractor to obtain permits for inspections and make sure it is posted at the job site. Some counties/municipalities require a performance bond as part of the permit, which offers further protection to the consumer. You may check at the Local Government Contacts for this information. Effective October 1, 2011, the Residential Building Code Program may be in place for your area!
- Bond - A "contractor" is not required to obtain a bond at the state level in order to obtain a license (one is required for "Home Improvement" licensees). Bond requirements are typically required at the local level, in each municipality, to cover each individual project. The Board requires the contractor to supply a financial statement to ensure they have enough working capital and net worth to perform a project based on the size of their monetary limit assigned to the license. (Note: Financial statements are confidential by law and not considered a matter of public record. A subpoena with a protective order would be required.)
- Written Contract - Require the contractor to provide a written contract to avoid any miscommunications with the start to completion date, payment terms, change orders, right to cancel without penalty and warranty information, to provide documentation should problems arise. Another concern, ensure the contract covers installation costs allowances, materials and labor. See also the law relative to recent contract requirements for Roofing Services Contracts and Insurance Payment Requirements (Eff. July 1, 2012)
See the "Complaint Resources" for information on filing a complaint with the Board and an explanation of the process. This includes reporting the contractor to our Board for license violations, or to report the complaint to the Division of Consumer Affairs to have their office attempt mediation.