Guidelines and Information for Contractors

Here's how to determine if you need to register as a Home Improvement Contractor

Table of Contents

Who needs to register as a home improvement contractor?

Any individual or any company that solicits, bids on, or performs residential contracting as a contractor or subcontractor on an existing one- to four-unit, owner-occupied primary residence in Massachusetts must register as a home improvement contractor.

Be sure the information you are providing is current. It is the contractor's obligation to notify OCABR whenever there are changes to the information provided.

Do I need a Construction Supervisor's License (CSL) in addition to an HIC registration?

A Construction Supervisor License (CSL) is not the same as a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) Registration. You may need both. A CSL is provided through the Office of Public Safety and Inspections. Most construction projects will require both a licensed and registered contractor

A contractor possessing only a home improvement registration may only perform projects that would typically be considered ordinary repairs to a property (such as exterior painting, wallpapering, repairing existing decking and similar jobs). Larger projects, such as building a deck or an addition to an existing home or any project that includes structural work, such as a kitchen renovation to an existing single- to four-family, owner-occupied home, will require both a CSL and an HIC registration.

However, the license and registration may not necessarily be possessed by the same person. For example, a registered contractor could subcontract larger projects to another individual and/or company as long as that individual or company possesses both a license and registration to perform the work. However, the contractor who signed the contract with the homeowner must have an HIC registration.

If your business activity is not listed among the exemptions and you or your business is typically involved in performing home improvement work to one- to four-family, owner-occupied homes, it is likely that you will need to obtain and possess a current Home Improvement Contractor Registration.

Additional Resources

How do I know if the work I perform is "residential contracting?"

Residential contracting is defined in the law as: "The renovation, repair, improvement, demolition or construction of an addition to any pre-existing building containing at least one to four dwelling units."

If the work you do fits this description then you need to be registered unless you fall into an exempted category. 

Who is exempt?

  • Contractors who build new homes only
  • Contractors who work on commercial buildings only
  • Homeowners doing their own renovations
  • Workers who do construction-related labor or services for a home improvement contractor or subcontractor for wages or salary but who are not doing the job of a home improvement contractor or subcontractor
  • Licensed professionals or tradesmen, such as electricians, plumbers, or architects, who are properly licensed and who are working within the scope of their license 
  • The Commonwealth or its subdivisions
  • Schools offering vocational education courses or training in home construction or improvement
  • A contractor or subcontractor who is enrolled as a full-time student in a secondary school or college with degree granting authority from the government of the state in which the school is located, enrolled for the preceding and next academic term in the same or equivalent school, and provided that at least 2/3 of whose employees are also so enrolled, and whose gross revenues are, or are anticipated to be, less than $5,000 from residential contracting work
  • Any contractor or subcontractor who works on one residential contracting project or undertaking, by one or more contracts, where the total price to the owner is less than $500
  • Part time contractors or subcontractors whose gross revenue in the previous 12 months was less than $5,000
  • People who sell goods or materials relating to construction who neither arrange to perform, nor perform directly or indirectly any work or labor in connection with the installation of or application of the goods or materials
  • People who install central heating, A/C systems, energy conservation devices, provide conservation services on behalf of a public utility, landscaping, interior painting, wallpaper hanging, finished floor covering, tile, fencing, free standing masonry walls, above-ground swimming pools, shutters, awnings, patios, driveways

Why do I need to register?

Registered contractors must follow certain rules regarding contracts, payments, advertising, business practices, etc. These laws and regulations provide standards throughout the industry and provide protections for homeowners from being taken advantage of by a bad contractor. 

For instance:

  • Any contract with an owner for work above $1,000 must have a written contract and must contain certain required provisions as specified in the law
  • Building permits, contracts, and advertising for residential contracting must contain the registration number of the contractor. In order to protect the integrity of your business, our Office recommends that HIC registrants add language to their websites or advertisements that warn consumers not to engage with fraudulent companies and imposters. For instance, explicitly stating “this is the official website” on your page will help customers avoid hiring phony contractors that may be impersonating your business.
  • A contractor or subcontractor is responsible for the conduct of employees, salespersons, and subcontractors within the scope of their contract with the owner
  • All building permits shall clearly state that persons contracting with unregistered contractors do not have access to the Guaranty Fund
  • Provisions can be made in the contract for contractors to use alternative dispute resolution through a private arbitration services program approved by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
  • Action to enforce provisions of this law or to seek damages can be brought in superior court, the district court or in a small claims court
  • Contractors/subcontractors cannot act as mortgage brokers or represent lenders

Is there a fee for registration?

Yes. There is a new HIC registration application fee of $150 together with a one-time payment to the Guaranty Fund.  The Guaranty Fund payment is determined by the size of your company as follows:

Zero to three (3) employees$100.00
Four (4) to ten (10) employees$200.00
Eleven (11) to thirty (30) employees$300.00
More than thirty (30) employees$500.00

The renewal cycle for the HIC registration is every 2 years with a renewal fee of $100. 

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation does not accept payment over the phone. If you are registering or renewing a registration online using our registration portal, you may pay by credit card. Otherwise, we only accept payment by certified bank check or money order. Any other form of payment, including cash, or personal or business checks, is not accepted.

What are considered to be violations of the HIC Rules and Regulations?

Please read carefully to make sure you are following the law!

The following list identifies violations of M.G.L. c. 142A, Section 17 and 201 CMR 18.00:

  1. Operating without a certificate of registration issued by the administrator;
  2. Abandoning or failing to perform, without justification, any contract or project engaged in or undertaken by a registered contractor or subcontractor, or deviating from or disregarding plans or specifications in any material respect without the consent of the owner;
  3. Failing to credit the owner for any payment they have made to the contractor or his salesperson in connection with a residential contracting transaction;
  4. Making any material misrepresentation in the procurement of a contract by making any false promise of a characteristic likely to influence, persuade or induce the procurement of a contract;
  5. Knowingly contracting beyond the scope of the registration as a contractor or subcontractor;
  6. Acting directly, regardless of the receipt or the expectation of receipt of compensation or gain from the mortgage lender, in connection with a residential contracting transaction by preparing, offering, or negotiating or attempting to or agreeing to prepare, arrange, offer or negotiate a mortgage loan on behalf of a mortgage lender;
  7. Acting as a mortgage broker or agent for any mortgage lender;
  8. Publishing, directly or indirectly, any advertisement relating to home construction or home improvements which does not contain the contractor's or subcontractor's certificate of registration number or which does contain an assertion, representation, or statement of fact which is false, deceptive, or misleading;
  9. Advertising in any manner that a registrant is registered under this chapter unless the advertisement includes an accurate reference to the contractor's or subcontractor's certificate of registration;
  10. Violations of the building laws of the Commonwealth or of any political subdivision thereof;
  11. Misrepresenting a material fact by an applicant in obtaining a certificate of registration;
  12. Failing to notify the administrator of any change of trade name or address as required by Section 13;
  13. Conducting a residential contracting business in any name other than the one in which a contractor or subcontractor is registered;
  14. Failing to pay for materials or services rendered in connection with his operating as a contractor or subcontractor where he has received sufficient funds as payment for the particular construction work, project or operation for which the services or materials were rendered or purchased;
  15. Failing to comply with any order, demand or requirement lawfully made by the administrator or fund administrator under and within the authority of this chapter;
  16. Demanding or receiving payment in violation of clause (6) of paragraph (a) of section two which states: "a time schedule of payments to be made under said contract and the amount of each payment stated in dollars, including all finance charges. Any deposit required under the contract to be paid in advance of the commencement of work under said contract shall not exceed the greater of one-third of the total contract price or the actual cost of any materials or equipment of a special order or custom made nature, which must be ordered in advance of the commencement of work, in order to assure that the project will proceed on schedule. No final payment shall be demanded until the contract is completed to the satisfaction of the parties thereto;"
  17. Violating any other provision of M.G.L. Chapter 142A.

Additional Resources

What happens if a complaint is filed against my HIC registration?

OCABR notifies HIC registrants whenever a complaint is filed against them by a homeowner. Enclosed with the notification, you should have received a copy of the HIC Complaint Application Form completed and signed by the homeowner, as well as any documentation provided by the homeowner which claims to support the complaint. You have 30 days in which you may respond to the complaint. All responses should be in writing to OCABR.

Once you are notified of the complaint and the complaint has been reviewed by the HIC Program Coordinator or a hearing officer to confirm OCABR's jurisdiction, a hearing will be scheduled before a hearing officer. Due to the volume of complaints received by OCABR, the hearing officer will only reschedule a hearing in extenuating circumstances and only after a written request is submitted and received at least 10 days before the scheduled hearing date. From this point forward, any and all communication must be directed to the Program Coordinator and a copy of the communication must be forwarded to the homeowner making the complaint at the same time the communication is sent to the Program Coordinator. The homeowner owes you the same obligation in communication with OCABR.

The hearing generally last for one and one-half hours and are held in Boston. During the hearing, both the homeowner/witness making the complaint and the contractor/respondent will be given an opportunity to present their evidence and testimony. The contractor may, but is not required, to obtain an attorney for representation during the hearing. Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer will make a determination of what, if any, violations occurred and what sanctions are appropriate. Possible sanctions may include:

  • A reprimand;
  • Suspension or revocation of the contractor's registration; and/or
  • Fines.

The Hearing Officer generally issues a decision within 30 business days. Contractors aggrieved by the decision may appeal the Hearing Officer's decision to a court of competent jurisdiction.

What happens if my HIC registration is suspended following a hearing decision?

If a registration is suspended by a Hearing Officer, it shall remain suspended for the term of suspension and until such time as the registrant formally requests in writing that it be reinstated. The registrant must also demonstrate that they have complied with all conditions imposed on them during the term of their suspension and that all fines assessed to the contractor have been paid in full. OCABR reserves the right to deny any application for registration where the applicant has failed to meet or has violated any of the requirements for residential contractors under M.G.L. c. 142A.

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