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Washington Contractor’s License: How to Become a General Contractor in Washington State

If you’re wondering how to become a contractor in Washington state, you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, the team at Northwest Lien takes you through the process of obtaining your Washington contractor’s license, elaborating on any paperwork, tasks, or training you need to complete before the state allows you to complete contracting work. And, naturally, we can’t help but introduce the concept of mechanics’ liens and notices and why they’re an important tool in every licensed contractor’s legal toolbox.

Working in Oregon? Learn how to become a general contractor in Oregon.

What is a Washington Contractor’s License?

A Washington contractor’s license, as administered by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, is a license all construction contractors must acquire in order to be protected and regulated by the state.

An equally important definition in this case: Washington state defines a general contractor as someone who can perform most categories of construction work. A general contractor in Washington state can also hire subcontractors to complete specialty work. There are a few limitations to the work even licensed general contractors can do in Washington state, however; specifically, general contractors themselves cannot complete asbestos removal, work with boilers or elevators, offer plumbing or electrical service, or install mobile homes without additional training and certification.

Do You Need a General Contractor’s License in Washington State?

Yes! Washington state imposes substantial penalties and fines on people who complete work for others without first obtaining a Washington state general contractor’s license. If you intend to complete specialty work, you must first apply for a specialty contractors license. Washington state does not allow specialty contractors to hire subcontractors.

Construction is a competitive industry, and contractors often have to make extra effort to stand out as experts among their competitors. One advantage of registering as a contractor with the state? By getting your Washington contractor’s license, you immediately improve your credibility and demonstrate your expertise with prospective clients. Oftentimes, clients will look up the license of contractors they’re considering hiring, and appearing on the list of licensed contractors increases your chances of winning the bid. 

Additionally (and more importantly, in our opinion), only licensed contractors have the right to lien in the event of non-payment. So, if a property owner refuses to pay for work you did on a property, you have the right to file a mechanic’s lien in Washington state and, if it comes to it, force the sale of the property to recover payment — but only if you’re licensed. Protect yourself in the future by registering with the state now!

Do Independent Contractors Need a Business License, Too?

We also get a lot of questions from independent contractors who wonder if they must register to obtain a license in Washington state. The Washington Department of Revenue requires independent contractors to obtain a business license unless they meet each of these three criteria:

1. You earn less than $12,000 per year before deducting expenses.

2. You do not make retail sales.

3. The Washington Department of Revenue does not require you to collect or pay any taxes that it administers.

How to Become a General Contractor in Washington State

Under general contractor rules in Washington state, you should apply for a general contractor’s license if you complete construction, demolition, remodeling, or building repair. The Washington state legislature requires you to apply for a separate specialty contractor license if you intend to offer any of these 63 specialty services. Here are the documents you will need to gather up before completing and submitting your contractor registration form:

  • Social security number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). The first is for sole proprietors and the second is for general contractors who decide to establish a business entity.
  • Completed business structure registration that lists whether you will complete your contracting work as a sole proprietor, corporation, partnership, or limited liability company. Unless you plan to work under your own name as a sole proprietor, you will need to choose and identify a business name. Corporation owners should contact the Washington Secretary of State for instructions on how to proceed.
  • Surety bond of $12,000 to pay damages to clients for unfinished work.
  • General liability insurance to protect your assets in case of injury, property damage, third-party accidents, or client lawsuits. You will need a minimum of $50,000 in coverage for property damage and $200,000 in coverage to protect you from liability for an at-fault claim.
  • Proof of workers’ compensation insurance if you have or plan to hire employees.
  • Business and mailing address. Your mailing address can be a post office box number, but your business address must include an actual street name.
  • Previous registration information if you, your spouse, or anyone acting as a principal owner of your business have ever registered as a general contractor.

Once you have collected the required documents, you will need to sign your Washington general contractor registration and have it notarized. You can then deliver your application and supporting documents to the Washington State Department of  Labor & Industries office in person or mail them to this address:

Contractor Registration

P.O. Box 44450

Olympia, WA  98504-4450

How Much is a General Contractor’s License?

And now for the final (and least fun) part. As of March 2021, the fee to apply for a Washington contractor’s license or specialty license is $117.90. You will need to renew your license annually, and the renewal fee is the same as your initial registration fee.

How Northwest Lien Helps General Contractors in Washington State

Northwest Lien files mechanics’ liens, also known as construction liens, and preliminary notices electronically for contractors in Washington and Oregon — oftentimes, in as little as 48 hours. 

Once filed, you can track the progress of your lien online. We are here to support you through the process from choosing which type of lien to file for non-payment of funds owed to you to lien filing to collecting your money. Clients know you mean business when they see you have filed a construction lien through Northwest Lien; in fact, we’re especially proud of our record of obtaining an average of $2 million dollars on behalf of clients each year. Contact us or create a free account today to begin sending liens and notices through Northwest Lien.

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Washington Contractor’s License: How to Become a General Contractor in Washington State
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Washington Contractor’s License: How to Become a General Contractor in Washington State
Northwest Lien explains how to become a general contractor in Washington state, obtain your Washington contractor's license, and protect yourself in the future.
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Northwest Lien
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