Contractor Licensing: Professionalism or Food Fight?

Go to almost any local builder/remodeler trade association meeting and holler out, “I want licensing for residential contractors!” Odds are you’ll get at least a debate and maybe a lot more going. The fight has been going for years and it’s about to boil over. Do we make everyone take a test to show they are competent and pass or fail them? That can be pretty scary to some firms that have been around a long time; what if they don’t pass the test? On the other hand, if you “grandfather” everyone who has been around a while, what good is the licensing? Doesn’t that let the bad ones in too? There are good reasons to be on either side.

What is not in doubt is whether or not we will be required to be licensed — it’s gonna happen and sooner than you want. Some states are already licensed such as Florida (one of the first), California and Minnesota; most of the others are taking serious steps to implement it as a requirement. Where do you stand on the question? It’s time to give the subject some serious thought. As the saying goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!”

State licensing, with no local options, should be mandatory BUT — I believe just as strongly that it must be enforced stringently if it is going to work. Enforcement is the key to fair treatment because without it, licensing is just a revenue source. The abuses will abound. The same bad contractors will make life tough on the good companies and give the industry a bad rap. We need some teeth in the qualifying procedure (testing or the equivalent) AND we need some real teeth to enforce the rules. If a job calls for a permit and one isn’t obtained, the penalty needs to be stiff, real stiff. Building officials need to make sure they don’t pass by a jobsite that doesn’t have a permit posted. It’s the only way to get a handle on who is doing the work. The violators not only should be punished but the matter also needs to be publicized so the public will know. There need to be staged penalties that range from bad to “out-of-business.” Licensing fees will have to be high to cover the cost of good enforcement.

Did I hear someone say, “Weiss is nuts. There’s no way I’ll ever support licensing for remodelers.” In a perfect world, neither would I. Licensing is coming whether you like it or not and there’s only one way to make it something we have a chance to live and prosper with and that’s to take the initiative and write the licensing law. Trade associations are the best source of what will work, and what will be embraced and still be workable so we, the National Association of Home Builders, the Remodelors® Council, NARI, NKBA will be involved before it’s over anyway. Are we better off fighting what “they” pass or being proactive and helping to write the laws we have to live by?

If we step up and support reasonable requirements such as using designations (CGR, CR, CKD, etc.) as a part qualifier for the licensing, as is done in some locales, or to have local associations administer training for the licensing, we will be going a long way toward self-governing. There will always be municipal oversight. There has to be. If there is a habitual violator, let’s bring back tar-and-feathering — it was pretty effective from what I hear.

Licensing is the only way to police our profession for minimum levels of competency rather than none at all. Bring your cream pies and Bronx cheers because the licensing “food fight” is just around the corner. Let’s have the pros run it for a change; While you’re here . . .

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