Painting and decorating services fall under the residential building contractor licensing requirements in Minnesota. Any person or company contracting directly with a homeowner to provide interior painting, exterior painting, or drywall painting services may need to hold a state license, depending on the scope of services offered.

Who Needs a License?

In Minnesota, residential building contractors and remodelers must hold a state license if they contract directly with a homeowner to provide services in more than one “special skill” area. Painting services fall under three special skill categories:

  • Interior finishing – This includes interior painting services.
  • Exterior finishing – This includes exterior painting services.
  • Drywall and plaster installation – This includes drywall painting services.

Therefore, a painting contractor who offers interior painting, exterior painting, and drywall painting services would be required to hold a state residential building contractor or remodeler license in Minnesota.

However, a contractor who only offers one type of painting service, such as interior painting only, would not need a state license. They would still need to register as a specialty contractor with the state.

Some key exemptions to the licensing rules:

  • Subcontractors working under a licensed general contractor do not need their own license. However, they still must register with the state as a specialty contractor.
  • Commercial painting contractors working on buildings with 5 or more units do not need a residential building contractor license. Like subcontractors, they still must register with the state.
  • Homeowners doing work on their own properties do not need a license, unless they are improving homes for resale or speculation.

Determining License Needs

With painting services falling under multiple special skill categories, it can get confusing determining if a license is required. Here are some examples to help clarify:

  • Painter A offers interior painting services only. No state license required, only need to register as a specialty contractor.
  • Painter B offers exterior painting services only. No state license required, only need to register as a specialty contractor.
  • Painter C offers both interior and exterior painting. This is two special skill areas, so a state license is required.
  • Painter D offers interior painting and drywall painting. This is two special skill areas, so a state license is required.
  • Painter E is hired as a subcontractor by a licensed general contractor to do a full interior and exterior paint job. Painter E does not need their own license since they are working under a licensed general contractor. But they still need to register with the state as a specialty contractor.

As shown in these examples, any painter contracting directly with a homeowner to provide services spanning more than one of the painting-related special skill sets needs a Minnesota residential building contractor license.

Offering additional services like power washing, stain application, wallpaper removal etc. does not trigger the licensing requirement, as long as the painter only provides one type of painting service. The key factors are providing painting services across multiple interior/exterior/drywall categories and contracting directly with the homeowner.

Requirements for a New License

To obtain a new residential building contractor or remodeler license in Minnesota, painters must meet eligibility requirements and pass required exams.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for a license, painters must:

  • Designate a “qualifying person” who is an owner, officer, or managing employee. This person must pass the required exams.
  • Have an active registered business name with the Minnesota Secretary of State.
  • Provide proof of public liability insurance and workers’ compensation coverage or exemption.
  • Provide a financial statement reviewed by a CPA showing the required minimum net worth. For painting contractors, this is $10,000.
  • Submit a license application form and pay the required fees.

Qualifying Person

The qualifying person serves an important role in obtaining and maintaining the painting contractor’s license. This individual must be actively engaged in managing the company’s residential contracting activities. They will take the required exams and keep up with continuing education requirements.

Choosing an involved owner, experienced manager, or knowledgeable employee to be the qualifying person helps ensure the exams can be passed and requirements satisfied. The same person can serve as the qualifying person for multiple licenses, as long as they meet exam eligibility for each trade category.

Business Registration

Painting contractors must register their business name with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office to obtain a license. The business name on the license application must match exactly with the registered name.

Sole proprietors can use their full legal name or file a DBA. Partnerships should include the full legal names of all partners. Corporations, LLCs, and LLPs must be registered with their business entity name.

Insurance Requirements

Active commercial general liability and workers’ compensation policies must remain in effect to hold a painting contractor license.

General liability covers third-party bodily injury and property damage claims. For painting contractors, the minimums are:

  • $100,000 per occurrence
  • $300,000 aggregate
  • $25,000 property damage

Workers’ compensation provides benefits to employees injured on the job. Painting contractors must maintain a policy or obtain an exemption, if eligible.

Financial Requirements

Applicants must document a minimum net worth of $10,000 for the painting and decorating contractor category. This shows the financial resources to operate the business.

A recent financial statement prepared by a CPA must be included with initial license applications. The state may request updated statements when renewing.


The qualifying person must pass two exams to meet the testing requirement for a new painting contractor license:

Business and Law Exam

This is a 1.5 hour exam with 50 multiple choice questions covering general business knowledge relevant for contractors.

Topics include forms of business organization, accounting principles, employer obligations, financing and cash flow, business taxes, liens, and construction contracts.

This exam is required for all specialty contractor licenses. It helps ensure qualifying persons have core business management competency.

Trade Exam

For painting contractors, the trade exam is a 2 hour test with 50 multiple choice questions covering industry-specific knowledge.

Topics include safety procedures, surface preparation, paints and coatings, application techniques, color theory, problem prevention and correction, drywall preparation and painting, and other aspects of residential painting.

Passing this exam demonstrates the qualifying person’s technical expertise related to providing painting services.

Both exams are administered on a computer at PSI test centers. Exam fees are $68 per test. Testing appointments can be scheduled after receiving approval from the state licensing board.

Helpful study materials include contractor licensing exam prep courses and books covering business principles, painting best practices, and code requirements. Tabbed reference books are allowed during the exams.

Some painters may already be familiar with the exam content through prior experience and self-study. But the expansive subject matter makes test preparation courses a worthwhile investment for many.

License Application

After the qualifying person passes both exams, painters can submit a completed license application packet. Required components include:

  • License application form – This provides key information about the business, qualifying person, experience, and background.
  • Exam results – Test scores for both exams must be submitted.
  • Secretary of State registration – The active registration document confirms the business name.
  • Insurance forms – The general liability certificate and workers’ comp form document required coverage.
  • Financial statement – This proves the painter’s net worth meets the $10,000 minimum.
  • License fee – Fees include a $120 base charge plus a revenue-based Contractor Recovery Fund assessment.

There is a paper application, but most painters apply through the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) online portal. This allows uploading all required documentation in one place.

It typically takes 2-4 weeks for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to review and approve applications after passing the exams. Applicants can check the public license lookup website to verify status.

Renewing a License

Painting contractors must renew their Minnesota license every two years before the expiration date to remain active. Key renewal requirements include:

Continuing Education

The qualifying person must complete 14 hours of approved continuing education courses to renew their registration.

At least 1 hour must cover the MN Energy Code. This change was implemented in 2018 to promote sustainability. Course options related to energy-efficient building practices qualify for this requirement.

Another 1 hour must relate to business management strategies relevant for contractors. Courses on topics like accounting, human resources, or project management help fulfill this requirement.

The remaining 12 hours can cover any construction-related subjects, as long as the courses are approved by the state. There are many available online course options painters can take on estimating, marketing, safety, technical skills, and vocational rules.

Proof of completing continuing education must be submitted when renewing. Transcripts or certificates from the course provider are accepted documentation.

License Renewal Fees

Following fees apply when renewing a painting contractor license every two years:

  • License renewal – $120 base fee
  • CRF renewal fee – Variable rate between $320 – $520 based on annual revenue
  • QP registration renewal – $35 fee

The Contractor Recovery Fund fee helps fund the program providing financial restitution to homeowners negatively impacted by contractor misconduct or abandonment.

Application Paperwork

Painters must submit the following documentation along with renewal fees:

  • Renewal application form
  • Active Secretary of State business registration
  • Updated financial statement
  • Proof of required insurance coverage
  • Workers’ compensation form
  • Continuing education transcripts
  • Any required disclosures related to business changes or legal/disciplinary history

Paperwork can be submitted up to 60 days before the expiration date. Submitting early helps ensure no lapse in licensing occurs.

Expiration Consequences

Painting contractor licenses expire if renewal applications are not approved before the expiration date printed on the license.

Contractors cannot legally work on residential projects with an expired license. Homeowners should check for an active status on the license lookup website before hiring.

After expiration:

  • Late renewal is possible up to 90 days past expiration with payment of late fees.
  • Beyond 90 days, painters must retake exams and reapply for a new license.

To prevent workforce downtime and extra costs, painters should calendar reminder dates and submit renewals early each period.

Reciprocity with Other States

Minnesota has limited license reciprocity with five nearby states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

Reciprocity allows experienced painters holding a current residential contractor license in those states to obtain a Minnesota license without needing to take exams.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for license reciprocity in Minnesota, painters must:

  • Have held an active residential building contractor license for at least 3 consecutive years in one of the states with reciprocity.
  • Ensure their license in the other state is current and in good standing.
  • Submit a completed reciprocity application and $120 fee.

Application Process

The reciprocity application requires:

  • Applicant name, business address, and contact information
  • Information about their out-of-state license
  • Statement confirming they have read applicable MN laws/rules

Unlike a typical new license, only the application form and fee is required. There is no need to take exams, submit insurance documents, or provide a financial statement.

Once approved, the painter will receive a Minnesota license number valid for two years. They must renew by the expiration date like normal resident licensees.

Reciprocity applications typically process within 1 week if all documentation is in order. Checking the public license lookup will confirm when the new MN license number becomes active.

Bond Requirements

Obtaining a $25,000 license and permit bond is mandatory for all licensed residential building contractors and remodelers in Minnesota. This surety bond must remain effective for the duration of the license period.

Purpose of the Bond

This bond protects homeowners financially in multiple scenarios:

  • Contractor performs defective work that requires repair by a new contractor. The bond covers associated costs.
  • Contractor fails to pay subcontractors or material suppliers for work performed or products provided on the homeowner’s project. The bond provides payment.
  • Contractor does not complete contracted work after taking payment from the homeowner. The bond provides restitution for work not performed.
  • Contractor fails to comply with applicable building codes. The bond covers penalties assessed.
  • Contractor damages property while performing contracted work. The bond pays for damages.

Having this bond coverage provides important peace of mind to homeowners hiring a licensed painter or other contractor. It eliminates worries about being left with an unfinished project or financial headaches if issues arise.

Obtaining the Bond

Painters can obtain contractor license bonds from insurance agencies and specialty surety bond brokers. The process includes:

  • Completing an application providing information about the business, owners, projects, and finances.
  • Undergoing credit checks and other background screening by the surety bond company.
  • Paying a premium ranging from approximately $150 – $500 per year. Premiums depend on credit score, business tenure, and other risk factors.

After approval, the surety company files the $25,000 bond with the state on the contractor’s behalf. Licensed painters must maintain an active bond to renew licenses without any gaps in coverage.

Insurance Requirements

Painting contractors must submit proof of required insurance coverage levels when applying for a new license and at each renewal.

General Liability Insurance

This coverage protects against third-party claims for bodily injury and property damage that occur because of the painting business’s operations.

Minnesota requires these minimum limits:

  • $100,000 per occurrence
  • $300,000 aggregate
  • $25,000 property damage

Policies should also include completed operations coverage protecting against claims made after a project finishes.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

State law requires all employers to maintain workers’ compensation for employees. This provides medical care and lost wage replacement for workplace injuries and illnesses.

Painters with employees must carry an active policy at all times. Licensed contractors must submit a Certificate of Compliance with Workers’ Compensation Laws form as part of licensing.

Painters without employees can file for an exemption from coverage requirements. But they still must submit proper paperwork confirming their exemption status when applying for or renewing their license.

Key Requirements

Other insurance requirements include:

  • Listing the State of Minnesota as a certificate holder
  • Providing 30-days’ advance notice of cancellation
  • Insurance must be from a provider licensed in Minnesota

Maintaining continuous coverage that meets state minimums is essential. Letting policies lapse can lead to license suspension or penalties.


In Minnesota, painting contractors contracting directly with homeowners to provide services in more than one special skill area must hold a residential building contractor or remodeler license. Key steps in the licensing process include:

  • Designating a qualifying person who passes required exams
  • Registering the business name and maintaining required insurance
  • Submitting a license application with all documentation
  • Renewing the license every two years by the expiration date

Reciprocity is available for experienced painters licensed in certain states. All licensees must also obtain a $25,000 bond and meet minimum insurance requirements.

Following Minnesota’s licensing rules allows painting contractors to operate legally while protecting homeowners. Understanding the requirements for obtaining, renewing, and maintaining a residential building contractor license enables painters to keep credentials active.