Wisconsin requires handymen to be licensed if they want to work on projects valued at over $1,000 or that require pulling permits. To legally operate as a handyman in Wisconsin, you’ll need to obtain a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license from the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services. This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know about becoming a licensed handyman in Wisconsin.

Introduction

Wisconsin does not offer a specific “handyman license.” However, most handyman work falls under the jurisdiction of the Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license. This is the main license that covers general contracting work on one- and two-family homes in Wisconsin.

To be legally compliant, you must obtain this license if you want to:

  • Accept handyman jobs valued at over $1,000
  • Pull permits for handyman projects
  • Establish a handyman business with employees

Without the proper license, you risk facing penalties such as fines or even jail time for unlicensed contracting work. Fines can range from $100 to $1,000 per violation.

Unlicensed contractors may also be prohibited from obtaining permits or new contracts until proper licensing is secured. Harsher penalties like jail time up to 6 months are possible for repeat offenders.

To avoid fines or legal problems, it is critical to have the required Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license before advertising or accepting handyman jobs over $1,000 in Wisconsin.

This guide will walk through all the steps and requirements in detail so you can properly obtain a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license. With this handyman license, you can operate legally and take on a wide range of residential repair, maintenance, and improvement projects.

Dwelling Contractor Qualifier License Requirements

To qualify for a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license in Wisconsin, you must:

  • Complete a state-approved 12 hour course for dwelling contractor qualifiers
  • Pass the exam administered by the approved course provider
  • Submit an application with the Department of Safety and Professional Services
  • Pay required fees

12 Hour Course

The initial 12 hour course for dwelling contractor qualifiers provides training on building codes, construction standards, business practices, and safety. Course topics include:

  • Plan reading
  • Site preparation
  • Footings and foundations
  • Framing
  • Roofing
  • Siding
  • Drywall and plastering
  • Interior trim
  • Cabinets and countertops
  • Hardwood floors
  • Ceramic tile
  • Building science
  • Estimating project costs
  • Work contracts
  • Lien laws

Usually this is an in-person course, but online options are also available. You can choose to take your initial training from any provider approved by the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

Some licensed instruction providers include:

  • WARD Management
  • Knight Barry Title Group
  • Superior Trade Solutions
  • Total Con Ed

Course providers are located statewide, so you should be able to find an approved provider conveniently located near you. Expect to pay $100-$150 to complete the 12 hours of instruction.

License Exam

At the conclusion of the 12 hour course, you will need to pass a multiple choice exam administered by the instruction provider. This demonstrates your understanding of the concepts covered in the initial training.

The exam fee is usually included with the price of tuition for the class. You will receive a certificate of completion upon passing the exam. This certificate is submitted along with your license application.

If you fail the test, you can retake it after a short waiting period. There is usually an additional fee each time you need to retake the license exam.

License Application

Once you have passed the exam, the next step is submitting an application to the Department of Safety and Professional Services. You can find the handyman license application online or request the form by mail.

The Application for Dwelling Contractor Qualifier Certification will ask you to provide:

  • Personal information: name, address, phone, email
  • Business information if applying as a company
  • Education background
  • Construction experience
  • Certificate of completion for the 12 hour course
  • Answers to screening questions regarding criminal history or past violations
  • Signature and date

Along with the completed application, you must submit:

  • $15 application fee
  • $30 credential fee
  • Certificate of completion from your course provider
  • Any other documentation requested by the licensing board

Double check that you have included all required materials before sending your application package to:

Department of Safety and Professional Services
Trades Credentialing Unit
PO Box 78780
Milwaukee, WI 53293-0780

The Department will process your license application within approximately 3 weeks after receiving it. You can check the status on the eSLA website.

Once approved, you will be issued your handyman license number, also called a certification number. This number must be included on all contracts and permits you apply for as a licensed handyman.

Maintaining a Wisconsin Handyman License

Obtaining your initial Dwelling Contractor Qualifier handyman license is just the first step. You need to maintain your license properly to ensure it remains active and up to date.

Renewal

Your Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license must be renewed every 2 years prior to expiration. To renew your handyman license in Wisconsin, you need to:

  • Complete 12 hours of continuing education
  • Pay the $30 renewal fee
  • Submit renewal application through eSLA or by mail

The renewal application can be found on the Department of Safety and Professional Services website or will be mailed to you. Most handymen renew their license online through the eSLA portal for convenience.

Your renewal application must be submitted within 2 years of your last renewal to avoid late fees. If your license expires, you will need to reinstate it by submitting a renewal application along with a $25 late fee.

Continuing Education

All licensed handymen in Wisconsin must complete 12 hours of continuing education (CE) during each 2 year renewal period.

The CE courses must cover topics relevant to the construction trade such as building codes, construction techniques, business practices, and safety. At least 4 of the 12 required hours must focus on:

  • Construction laws, codes, and standards
  • Contracts and liability
  • Risk management

By completing CE, licensed handymen stay up to date on the latest industry best practices and standards. You can choose training courses from any state-approved program. Some options for CE providers include:

  • WARD Management
  • Superior Trade Solutions
  • Total Con Ed
  • Timber Talent
  • Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

Make sure to retain your course completion certificates in case you are audited. The Department of Safety and Professional Services randomly selects licensees to provide proof they completed CE requirements.

The cost for 12 hours of CE ranges from $150-$300 every 2 years.

Reciprocity for Out-of-State Handymen

Handymen with licenses from other states still need to obtain a Wisconsin handyman license to work there legally. Wisconsin does not offer reciprocity or license transfers even if you hold an active license in another state.

This means that no matter what type of occupational license you hold in your home state, you must meet Wisconsin’s licensing regulations if you want to operate as a handyman there.

For a handyman license, that entails:

  • Taking a 12 hour approved course
  • Passing the qualification exam
  • Submitting an application with fees to the Department of Safety and Professional Services
  • Completing continuing education for renewal

These requirements apply to all handymen seeking licensure in Wisconsin. Unfortunately there is no shortcut for transfers or reciprocity for out-of-state handymen.

Bonding Requirements for Licensed Handymen

For a sole proprietor with a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license, Wisconsin does not require acquiring a surety bond.

However, if you form a corporation or LLC and apply for a full Dwelling Contractor business license, bonding requirements come into play.

To qualify for a Dwelling Contractor business license, you must obtain:

  • General liability insurance (minimum $250,000 policy)
  • Surety bond of $25,000 or more

Or if you cannot meet insurance requirements, you can apply for a Dwelling Contractor Restricted business license. This license requires:

  • Workers’ compensation insurance if you have 3+ employees
  • Surety bond between $5,000 to $25,000

These business licenses allow you to establish a handyman company and hire W-2 employees. The insurance and bonding provide financial accountability to clients and employees.

Acquiring a bond also grants you increased credibility and trust. Bonds showcase you have undergone scrutiny and meet the state’s standards for financial stability.

Work with an insurance broker to secure the surety bond that fits your business plans. The specific bond amount required depends on the size of contracts you expect to take on.

Insurance Requirements for Wisconsin Handymen

Depending on your business structure, you may be required to carry certain insurance policies per Wisconsin regulations:

Sole Proprietor

No mandated insurance coverage. Should carry adequate commercial general liability insurance.

Corporation/LLC With Employees

  • Workers’ Compensation: Required if you have 3+ employees
  • Liability Insurance or Bond: Minimum $250,000 policy or $25,000 bond

Restricted Business License

  • Workers’ Compensation: Required if you have 3+ employees
  • Surety Bond: $5,000 – $25,000

For a sole proprietor Dwelling Contractor Qualifier, Wisconsin does not legally require general liability insurance. But it is highly recommended to protect your finances.

Carrying insurance helps cover costs that may arise from:

  • Client injury on your job site
  • Accidental damage to client property
  • Tools or materials stolen from a job site
  • Employee injury if you have helpers

Without adequate insurance, you must pay these expenses out-of-pocket. Just one serious claim can bankrupt your handyman business and personal finances if uninsured.

Some common recommended insurance policies for handymen are:

General Liability Insurance

General liability insurance covers 3rd party bodily injury and property damage claims. It protects you if a client is injured on your worksite. This policy also pays for repairs or replacement if you damage something on a client’s property.

For a licensed handyman, starting general liability limits are around $500,000 and go up to $2 million or more.

Workers’ Compensation

If you have employees, workers’ compensation insurance is required in Wisconsin once you have three or more helpers.

This covers lost wages and medical care if an employee is hurt while working for you. Rates vary based on the type of handyman work and number of employees.

Tools & Equipment Coverage

Consider an inland marine policy that insures your tools and equipment against theft, vandalism, or damage while on a job. This protects your costly investments like power tools or generators.

Commercial Auto

If using a vehicle for business purposes, commercial auto insurance protects against collisions or accidents that occur while driving between job sites.

Purchasing bare minimum coverage leaves you exposed to major risk. Work closely with an insurance broker to evaluate potential costs and determine adequate handyman insurance limits.

Advertising and Marketing a Licensed Handyman Business

With the proper Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license in place, you are ready to begin advertising and marketing your handyman services in Wisconsin.

Your state-issued license number must be included on all communications and contracts with potential clients. This demonstrates you have met Wisconsin’s minimum requirements.

Some tips for effectively promoting your handyman business include:

  • Create a company name and logo. Register your business name with the county clerk.
  • Build a professional website with your services, past projects, contact info, and handyman license number listed.
  • Create social media business pages on Facebook and Instagram. Share photos of your work.
  • Distribute printable flyers or hang door hangers with your name, services, and phone number in neighborhoods.
  • Ask past clients to post online reviews on Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, etc.
  • Introduce yourself to local hardware stores, contractors, real estate agents. Offer gift cards for referrals.
  • Run promotions like discounts for seniors, military families, teachers, new homeowners.
  • Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity builds to gain experience and give back.

It will take consistent effort to build awareness as a new handyman in your area. As you complete projects and gain happy clients, word-of-mouth referrals will start coming in.

Stay active in your community by volunteering, attending trade group meetings, and networking with local businesses.

Expanding Your Wisconsin Handyman Business

Over time, you may seek to expand beyond working as a sole proprietor. There are a few ways to grow your handyman business in Wisconsin:

Hire Employees

Once licensed as a Dwelling Contractor, you can hire W-2 handyman employees. This allows you to take on more simultaneous projects. Just remember to carry proper workers’ compensation insurance.

Offer Specialized Services

Add services like drywall installation, tile work, kitchen remodels, deck staining to draw in a wider range of clients.

Partner with Other Trades

Partner with electricians, plumbers, roofers, HVAC technicians to provide one-stop services and take on larger jobs.

Expand Territories

Bid on handyman jobs in commercial buildings, rental properties, or neighboring cities.

Sell Your Business

Eventually, build up your handyman business enough to where you can sell it for a profit. Retain ownership of the client relationships and license but hire others to do the work.

Conclusion

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about becoming a licensed handyman in Wisconsin. The key steps are:

  • Completing initial handyman license training and passing the exam
  • Submitting a license application with the Department of Safety and Professional Services
  • Maintaining your license through renewal and CE requirements
  • Carrying proper business insurance
  • Being aware reciprocity is not offered for out-of-state handymen
  • Following rules if you want to expand into a larger handyman business

By obtaining your Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license and staying compliant, you can avoid legal penalties and establish credibility with customers. This allows you to take on a wide range of residential repair, maintenance and improvement projects in Wisconsin.

Use this detailed information to set yourself up for success as a licensed handyman. With preparation and hard work, you can build a thriving handyman business doing meaningful work for your local community.