Becoming a licensed landscaping contractor opens up opportunities in Hawaii’s thriving lawn care and landscape maintenance industry. Licensing allows you to promote your business more widely, bid on public and private contracts, broaden the services you offer, and build trust with homeowners.

This comprehensive guide will walk through everything you need to know about getting licensed in Hawaii, from eligibility rules to exam details. We’ll also cover license renewal steps, reciprocity for out-of-state contractors, bond requirements, and the necessary insurance policies.

Read on for an in-depth look at Hawaii’s licensing regulations for landscaping professionals.

Who Needs a Landscaping Contractor License in Hawaii?

The state of Hawaii requires a license for anyone who engages in or offers to engage in work as a landscaping contractor. This includes both individuals and companies.

According to Hawaii’s statutes, a landscaping contractor provides services like:

  • Preparing plots of land for architectural horticulture and decorative treatment
  • Installing and maintaining gardens, lawns, shrubs, vines, bushes, trees, and other decorative vegetation
  • Managing conservatories and greenhouses
  • Providing drainage and sprinkler systems
  • Building rock gardens, ornamental pools, and fountains
  • Constructing ornamental walls, fences, paths, and walkways
  • Applying hydroseeding and ground cover for soil containment
  • Wiring for low voltage lighting (under 30 volts)

Offering any of these landscaping services for a fee requires a specialty C-27 license from the Contractors License Board. Under Hawaii law, it’s illegal to act or advertise as a landscaping contractor without holding a current license.

Fines for unlicensed contracting can extend up to $50,000. Violators may also face permit sanctions, be ordered to cease operations, and have to pay back compensation received while unlicensed.

There are a few exemptions where a license may not be required:

  • Landscaping maintenance directly for a private homeowner (like mowing, raking leaves, trimming bushes)
  • Work valued at less than $1,500
  • Salaried employees doing landscaping for their employer

Some counties also have exclusions for plant nurseries and golf courses that perform their own landscaping work.

But in general, if you run a landscaping business in Hawaii, it’s safest to get licensed. Check with your county licensing department if you are unsure whether you need a contractor license.

Eligibility Requirements for the Hawaii C-27 License

To qualify for a landscaping contractor license, you must meet certain experience and character requirements:

Age – Applicants must be at least 18 years old.

Experience – Four years of experience in a supervisory capacity is required, accrued within the past 10 years. This experience must be relevant to the landscaping activities the license allows.

Good reputation – Applicants must demonstrate a reputation for honesty, truthfulness, financial integrity, and fair dealing. Factors like criminal convictions and bankruptcy filings may be considered.

Bonding and insurance – Proof of a $15,000 surety bond and adequate liability insurance is required before the license is issued. Workers’ compensation coverage is also mandatory if you have employees.

Employ a qualifying RME – An actively involved Responsible Managing Employee (RME) must be designated for the company. The RME should have the same minimum experience as the applicant. They don’t need to be owners or officers, but they must be W-2 employees of the business.

Business registration – The company must be registered with the Hawaii Business Registration Division before applying. This can be done online or via mail.

Meeting all the prerequisites and submitting a complete application helps ensure your approval for Hawaii contractor licensing exams.

How to Apply for an Initial Hawaii C-27 License

Follow these steps when applying for your initial landscaping contractor license:

1. Gather required documents

You’ll need to submit certain documents along with the application form. This includes:

  • A current financial statement for the company with an independent CPA’s report
  • A credit report for each owner, officer, or member issued in the past 6 months
  • Proof of general liability insurance coverage
  • Proof of Hawaii workers’ compensation insurance (if you have employees)
  • A State of Hawaii tax clearance certificate issued within the past 6 months
  • A filed copy of your trade name registration if you’ll use one

2. Complete the license application

The licensing process starts by submitting an application to the Contractors License Board. Use the official application form from the Board’s website.

Your application must be received by the Honolulu office on or before the first Tuesday two months prior to the meeting where it will be reviewed. The Board’s meeting schedule lists upcoming dates.

3. Pay the application fee

There is a non-refundable application fee of $345 as of July 2021. This must be paid via check or money order made out to “Commerce and Consumer Affairs.”

4. Pass the licensing exams

Once your application is approved, you’ll need to pass two licensing exams administered by PSI Exams:

  • C-27 Landscaping Trade Exam
  • Business and Law Exam

The C-27 exam covers topics like irrigation, plant materials, pest management, soils, hardscaping, and safety. The B-law exam covers business organization, estimating, labor laws, taxes, and other key subjects.

Both exams consist of multiple choice questions. You must score at least 75% to pass.

5. Meet any final requirements

After passing the exams, the Board will advise you on any final steps to complete the licensing process. This may include submitting current insurance certificates.

Once all requirements are satisfied, the Board will issue your official contractor license certificate by mail. Prominently display this at your place of business.

Now that you have your license, you can legally advertise, bid for jobs, and perform landscaping services in Hawaii. But remember to renew it before expiration every two years.

Renewing a Hawaii Landscaping Contractor License

Landscaping contractor licenses must be renewed every two years before the expiration date. The current renewal fee is $340.

To renew your C-27 license, you must:

  • Pay the renewal fee
  • Provide updated certificates showing adequate liability insurance and workers’ compensation coverage
  • Submit a current State of Hawaii tax clearance certificate

In addition, the Responsible Managing Employee (RME) for your company must complete continuing education hours. The number of CE hours depends on the RME’s years of experience:

| RME’s Years of Experience | CE Hours Required |
| Less than 5 years | 20 hours |
| 5-10 years | 15 hours |
Over 10 years | 10 hours |

At least 50% of the hours must be trade-specific courses related to landscaping. The remaining hours can be general industry or business courses.

Some sources for approved CE courses include the Hawaii Contractors Association, Hawaii Landscape Association, and various community colleges. Online courses are also available.

Try to complete CEs well in advance of your renewal deadline. It can take time for providers to report your hours to the Licensing Board.

If you don’t renew on time, your license will lapse. This means you must stop offering landscaping services until a new license is issued. Renewal also restores your bond.

Reciprocity for Out-of-State Landscaping Contractors

Landscapers licensed in another state may apply for a Hawaii license through reciprocity. This can save time compared to the regular application process.

To get licensed via reciprocity, you must:

  • Hold a current landscaping contractor license in another state, with no disciplinary action
  • Submit a complete Hawaii application form
  • Pass the Business and Law exam
  • Meet Hawaii’s licensing requirements for age, experience, financial strength, and insurance
  • Pay standard licensing fees

The Contractors License Board maintains reciprocity relationships with a handful of states: Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada, and California. Applicants licensed in those states do not need to take the B-law exam.

But all reciprocity applicants must still meet Hawaii’s eligibility rules and insurance requirements. There is no exemption from the license bond, trade exam, fees, or other qualifications.

Check the Board’s contractor licensing requirements page for the most current information on reciprocity agreements.

Surety Bond Requirements in Hawaii

Before the Contractors License Board will issue your landscaping license, you must obtain a $15,000 surety bond. This provides financial protection to consumers who may be harmed if a contractor violates licensing laws or fails to complete work.

Licensed landscaping contractors must maintain an active surety bond at all times. If it gets cancelled or revoked, your license will be automatically suspended until you secure a new bond.

You can purchase a Hawaii surety bond from any company authorized by the state Insurance Commissioner. The annual cost is usually around $200 depending on your personal credit and company finances.

When applying for your initial landscaping license, you’ll need to submit proof that the surety bond has been filed with the Contractors License Board.

Required Insurance Policies in Hawaii

In addition to a surety bond, landscaping contractors must carry certain insurance policies:

General Liability Insurance – This is required for all licensees. It covers third-party property damage and bodily injury claims arising from your business operations. Hawaii requires minimum limits of $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 aggregate. Higher limits may be advisable.

Hawaii Disability Compensation Insurance – This mandatory policy provides injured employees with medical treatment, wage replacement, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits. Sole proprietors with no employees are exempt.

Other types of insurance that can protect landscaping businesses include:

  • Commercial Auto Insurance
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Professional Liability
  • Pollution Liability
  • Commercial Property

An insurance broker can help you determine the right insurance coverage for your business based on the services you provide.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways for Hawaii Landscaping Licensing

Becoming a licensed contractor is crucial for legally and successfully running a landscaping business in Hawaii. Here are some key takeaways:

  • A specialty C-27 license is required for landscaping services like lawn maintenance, planting, irrigation, and tree care. Penalties for unlicensed contracting are severe.
  • To qualify, you must meet experience requirements, employ a qualified RME, demonstrate good character, and pass two exams. Allow 2-3 months to complete the entire application process.
  • Licenses renew every two years with payment of a fee. The RME must also complete continuing education courses.
  • Out-of-state landscapers can apply via reciprocity if licensed in states like Alaska, Nevada, and California. But reciprocity has limitations.
  • A $15,000 surety bond must be maintained at all times, along with general liability and disability compensation insurance.

Following Hawaii’s licensing rules shows customers your landscaping business is legitimate, bonded, and insured. We hope this guide provided a detailed overview of becoming a licensed contractor as a landscaper in Hawaii. Reach out to the Contractors License Board with any other questions.