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What Are Iowa Contractors?

The regulation of contractors in Iowa is primarily handled by the state’s Division of Labor. These contractors are individuals and businesses that are involved in any form of construction in the state, such as the building of new structures as well as the alteration, reconstruction, addition, repair, and demolition of existing structures. It is estimated that there are more than 79,733 individuals employed in the Iowa construction industry, and this figure includes electricians, carpenters, painters, roofers, masons, and plumbers.

All contractors in Iowa that earn up to $2,000 annually from construction-related jobs are statutorily required to register with the Iowa Division of Labor. Note that certain contractors are also required to obtain specialty licenses from other state agencies, regardless of the amount of money that they earn every year. For example, electricians must be licensed by the State Fire Marshal Division’s Electrical Bureau, while plumbing, HVACR, hydronic and mechanical professionals must be licensed by the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board. Similarly, professionals in the legal industry that wish to practice law in Iowa are required to obtain a license from the Iowa Judicial Branch. As of 2020, there are estimated to be over 7,300 licensed attorneys currently practicing law in the State of Iowa.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor
in Iowa

Hiring a skilled and trustworthy contractor is important if you want to get the best out of any construction-related project that you wish to undertake. However, not all contractors are as skilled or professional as they claim to be. To ensure that you make the right choice when you want to hire a contractor in Iowa, you should consider the following tips:

  • Get several written bids or estimates for the project
  • Ask for references from the contractor whose bid or estimate you select. It is a good idea to insist on local references that you can easily contact
  • Make sure that the contractor is duly registered with the Iowa Division of Labor. If your project involves electrical work or plumbing, HVACR, and other hydronic or mechanical related work, then you can also verify the contractor's license via the State Fire Marshal Division’s Electrical Bureau or the Iowa Department of Public Health
  • Contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office at (888) 777-4590 to find out if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. You can also conduct an online search to find out if there have been any lawsuits filed against the attorney
  • Ask for proof of liability insurance from the contractor
  • Get a written contract for the project from the contractor. This contract should list terms of the project such as the work that is to be done, the types or brands of materials that are to be used, start and completion dates, post-job cleanup responsibilities, and any remedies if the contractor fails to meet the stipulated terms. You should consider getting an attorney to help you review this contract before you sign it
  • Avoid making a large initial deposit for the project. You should also never pay the full cost of the project upfront
  • Insist on getting a mechanic’s lien waiver. This protects you if the contractor fails to pay any material suppliers or subcontractors
  • Make sure that you are satisfied with the work done by the contractor before you make any final payments for the project.

How to Search A Contractor's License in Iowa?

All contractors, subcontractors, and handymen that earn more than $2,000 from construction activities over the course of a year in Iowa are required to register their business with the state's Division of Labor. In addition, contractors providing plumbing, mechanical, HVAC, refrigeration, sheet metal or hydronic systems services in the state are required to carry a state-issued license. Licensing for these trades are administered by the Department of Health, Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board. Similarly, electrical contractors in Iowa are mandated to obtain a license from the State Fire Marshal Division Electrical Bureau.

To determine the validity of the license of a plumbing and mechanical contractor, visit the IDPH Public Search webpage. Also, the State Fire Marshal provides the database of all licensed electrical contractors in the state on its website. For other contractors, you can verify their registration online via the Iowa Workforce Development website. The penalty for contracting in Iowa without registration begins with a $500 citation for first violation. Penalty for subsequent violations may amount up to $5,000.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
Iowa?

Contractors in Iowa generally charge an average of $50 - $100 per hour for their services. Note that this cost is influenced by factors like the contractor’s specialty and level of experience, the type of work involved as well as the types of materials required for this work, and your location within Iowa. Some average hourly estimates for common contractors in Iowa include:

Carpenters
$75 - $100
Domestic services contractors
$65 - $105
Electricians
$50 - $75
HVACR contractors
$95 - $130
Masons
$70 - $100
Painters
$40 - $100
Plumbers
$75 - $115
Roofing contractors
$65 - $150
Solar panel installation contractors
$75 -$130

When you want to undertake a construction-related project, it is advisable to also retain the services of an attorney to ensure that any paperwork involved in the project is prepared properly. Attorneys in Iowa charge an average of $150 – $250 an hour for their services. Similar to contractor costs, attorney fees are also influenced by several factors including the complexity of the service that the attorney will be expected to provide and the attorney's experience and reputation.

What Are Home Improvement
Scams in Iowa?

Embarking on a home improvement project always comes with the risk of hiring a contractor that is more interested in pulling off a scam than actually doing any work. Situations where a contractor fraudulently obtains money from homeowners are referred to as home improvement scams. In Iowa, these scams typically involve the contractors asking for substantial upfront payments and then doing little or no work, or deliberately doing subpar work so that the homeowner has to call them back for further repairs. In some cases, these contractors may offer an initially low price and then subsequently increasing the cost of the project as the job progresses.

Home improvement scams have consistently remained one of the top complaints filed with the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General's Office, and they were listed amongst the top ten complaints made to this office in 2017, 2018, and 2019. You can avoid falling victim to these types of scams by exercising caution and performing due diligence before hiring a contractor. This includes ensuring that the contractor is not only duly registered with the state’s Division of Labor, but also has adequate insurance and bonding. You should also always insist on getting a written contract for any project that you wish to embark on, and properly read and understand this contract before appending your signature to it. It is advisable to hire an attorney to help you review this contract or draft one if the contractor does not have a pre-prepared contract. Finally, you should never hesitate to report any suspected fraudulent contractors and home improvement scams to the Iowa Attorney General’s office via email or by calling either (515) 281-5926 or (888) 777-4590 if you live outside the Des Moines area.

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What are Common Home Improvement Scams in Iowa?

There are approximately more than 1.1 million Iowans that are 50 years or older. Unfortunately, these elderly Iowans are the main targets of fraudulent contractors, who take advantage of their age and generally trusting nature to try to pull home improvement scams on them. Note that fraudulent contractors target Iowan homeowners of all ages, not just the elderly residents of the state. These fraudulent contractors try to pull off their scams through various methods, and being able to recognize certain red flags can go a long way in protecting you against becoming one of their victims. Some signs that a contractor may be a home improvement scammer include:

  • The contractor claims to be in the neighborhood and noticed that you need work done
  • The contractor claims to have materials left over from another job and offers to use them for you at a discount
  • The contractor claims to have a huge discount for their services that is available for one day only
  • The contractor asks for full payment upfront or a huge initial payment
  • The contractor requests that check payments be made to another person or a different contracting company
  • The contractor receives payment and then claims to have a busy schedule that requires putting off your work for a while
  • The contractor claims to provide a lifetime warranty for any work done

Regardless of the method or scheme that a fraudulent contractor tries to utilize to pull off a home improvement scam, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of these scams by taking the following precautionary steps:

  • Never hire a contractor without doing proper research. This includes verifying the contractor’s registration status and ensuring that the contractor is insured and bonded. You can also call (888) 777-4590 to check if any complaints have been filed against the contractor with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and also utilize the Iowa Courts online search portal to find out if the contractor has ever been sued or been the subject of any lawsuits
  • Never make impulsive decisions when you want to hire a contractor. Always get at least two or three bids from different contractors when you want to carry out a home improvement project
  • Be wary of contractors that offer one-day-only deals and other types of special discounts in exchange for hiring them immediately
  • Never pay the full cost of your home improvement project upfront. Iowa does not stipulate the amount of money that a contractor can request and receive as an initial payment for a home improvement project. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to limit any advance payments that you make to a maximum of 20% - 30% of the total cost of the project
  • Always get a written contract for any home improvement project that you wish to undertake. Make sure that this contract contains start and completion dates for the project, details of the project as well as all promises, guarantees, and warranties made or offered by the contractor, any steps that may be taken if the contractor defaults on the contract. It is a good idea to get an attorney to vet this contract before you sign it
  • Never sign any contracts that you have either not read or properly understood.
  • Remember that you have the right to cancel any contract that you signed as a result of a door-to-door solicitation from a contractor. Note that this right only covers services that cost at least $25 and the cancellation must be done no later than three business days after the contract was signed
  • Be wary of contractors that offer you financing options for your project. It is always better and safer to go through a local and reputable credit union or bank if you need to get financing for your home improvement project

You can report unregistered contractors to the Iowa Division of Labor via email. This report should contain details like the contractor’s name, phone number, and address, as well as a picture of the contractor’s company vehicle and present worksite if possible. You can also report fraudulent contractors and home improvement scams in Iowa to the state’s Attorney General’s Office via email, by calling (515) 281-5926 or (888) 777-4590, or by completing and mailing a Consumer Protection Complaint Form to:

  • Office of the Attorney General of Iowa
  • Consumer Protection Division
  • Hoover State Office Building
  • 1305 E. Walnut Street
  • Des Moines, IA 50319-0106

In 2019, the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office received a total of 231 home improvement-related complaints from residents of the state. That year, this office banned a Des Moines contractor from performing any construction and home repair-related projects after it was discovered that the contractor had obtained over $50,000 from Iowan homeowners without providing the expected services. The previous year, a landscaping contractor had been similarly barred from doing business in the state and ordered to repay consumers more than $25,000 after admitting to violating several state laws including receiving payments without performing the required labor.

What are Disaster Scams in Iowa?

The possibility of falling victim to a scam after a disaster occurs in Iowa is an unfortunate reality. This is because many disreputable contractors take advantage of these confusing and tumultuous situations to fraudulently obtain money from Iowans that are in desperate need of construction and repair services for their homes. If your home has been affected by a natural or manmade disaster, you can reduce the chances of losing your money to a fraudulent contractor by taking note of the following:

  • Never be in a rush to commence any repairs. Take note of the parts of your home that were affected by the disaster, the extent of work that will be required to fix the damages, and the types of contractors that you will need for the job
  • Get estimates from several contractors
  • Always remember that the cheapest estimate does not equal the best contractor. An estimate that is considerably lower than the rest may mean that the contractor is not skilled enough to know what the job entails or that the contractor is only interested in getting an upfront payment without doing any work
  • Be wary of out-of-state contractors
  • Verify the contractor’s registration status with the state's Division of Labor. Also, request a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate
  • Contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to find out if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. You can do this via email or by calling either (888) 777-4590 or (515) 281-5926
  • File and negotiate any details of your insurance claim directly with your insurance company and not the contractor
  • Always get a written contract that contains estimated start and completion dates for the project, the cost of the project, the party that will be responsible for any cleanup after the project, and remedies if the contractor fails to meet any of the contract’s stipulations
  • Properly read and understand any contracts before signing. Remember that you have the right to cancel contracts that are signed outside the contractor’s regular place of business within three business days. However, it is always a good idea to get an attorney to review any contract that you are offered before you sign it
  • Always deal with a reputable local bank or credit union if you are considering getting financing for your project. Be suspicious of contractors that claim to have good or relatively cheap financing options
  • Pay the contractor only after the job has been completed to your satisfaction. If you have to make any initial payments, make sure that it does not exceed 20% - 30% of the project’s cost and avoid making any payments in cash
  • Insist on getting a mechanic's lien waiver when you make the final payment for the project
  • Report all suspected disaster scams and fraudulent contractors to the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office

What are Common Legal
Work Scams in Iowa?

A legal work scam is a fraudulent scheme that utilizes law or court-related means to defraud unsuspecting individuals and deceptively obtain money, sensitive information, and other things of value from these individuals. In Iowa, con artists that carry out legal work scams generally do so by impersonating attorneys or other court and law enforcement officials. In many cases, these con artists utilize spoofing technology to disguise their phone numbers and email addresses or go as far as creating fake or look-alike websites to deceive their victims into thinking that they are legitimate attorneys, law firms, and court or law enforcement officials.

A common example of legal work scams in Iowa is the jury duty scam where the con artist pretends to be a courthouse official, contacts an Iowan and claims that this person missed a jury duty summons and must pay a fine or face possible arrest. A variant of this scam involves the con artist pretending to be the legal representative of a debt collection agency and asking the potential victim to pay a bogus debt. Another example of an Iowa legal work scam involves the con artists charging Iowans a fee in exchange for providing legal services that they are neither licensed nor authorized to give.

You can avoid falling victim to an Iowa legal work scam by taking the following actions:

  • Always make sure that any individual that offers you legal advice is an attorney that has been licensed to practice in Iowa. You can verify an Iowa attorney’s license status via an online search portal provided by the state’s judicial branch
  • Always remember that caller ID information can be spoofed
  • Never divulge sensitive information to an unknown caller
  • Contact your local courthouse to find out if you may have missed a jury duty summons or any other court-mandated appearances
  • Never wire money or gift cards to any individual that claims to be a court, law enforcement, or government agency official or representative
  • Hang up immediately a caller threatens you and report the call to your local law enforcement authority. You can also file a complaint concerning any suspected legal work scams with the state’s Attorney General’s Office

How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor License in
Iowa?

It takes the Iowa Division of Labor approximately 30 days to process a complete and properly submitted contractor registration application. Applications can be done online or in writing by filling out a Contractor Registration Application Form and submitting it along with any required attachments to:

  • Iowa Division of Labor
  • Contractor Registration
  • 150 Des Moines Street
  • Des Moines, IA 50309-1836
  • Phone: (515) 242-5871

Note that certain contractors like plumbers, HVACR contractors, and electricians may also be required to obtain a specialty license before they can work in Iowa, and the processing time for obtaining these licenses depends on the agencies that are responsible for issuing them. Queries related to Iowa contractor registration and licensing can be directed to (515) 242-5871 or via email.

How to Maintain Your License in Iowa

Contractors in Iowa are required to inform the state’s Division of Labor in writing if any changes occur to their registration information. This division can be contacted via phone number (515) 242-5871, fax number (515) 725-2427, email, or in-person at:

  • 150 Des Moines Street
  • Des Moines, IA 50309-1836

Contractors with specialty licenses may also have additional license maintenance requirements like procedures for reporting contact information changes and continuing education obligations. Contractors that belong to this category can contact the agency that issued them their specialty licenses to find out whether there are any license-specific maintenance requirements that they have to meet.

Likewise, attorneys in Iowa are required to complete and report 15 hours of accredited continuing legal education annually to maintain their licenses. These hours must include at least one hour of attorney wellness or diversity and inclusion. Attorneys can file their continuing legal education reports through the online portal provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch’s Office of Professional Regulation and the payment of an administrative fee is usually required for filing these reports. Queries concerning Iowa attorney continuing legal education requirements and reporting procedures can be directed to the state's Commission on Continuing Legal Education at (515) 348-4670.

Finally, attorneys that wish to report name changes may do so by sending a letter describing the new name along with a copy of an official document evidencing the name change to:

  • Office of Professional Regulation
  • Iowa Judicial Branch Building
  • 1111 East Court Avenue
  • Des Moines, IA 50319

Note that the payment of a fee may be required for issuing a new attorney license that reflects the name change. Queries on Iowa attorney name changes can be directed to (515) 348-4670.

How to Renew a Contractor License in
Iowa

Iowa contractor registrations have to be renewed annually. Contractors are typically sent a Contractor Registration Renewal Form one month before their registration expires either via mail or email. The completed form along with any required renewal documents and fees can be submitted to the Iowa Division of Labor at:

  • 150 Des Moines Street
  • Des Moines, IA 50309-1836

Iowa contractor registration renewals can also be done via the Iowa Workforce Development’s online portal. Queries concerning contractor registration renewals can be directed to the Iowa Division of Labor at (515) 242-5871 or via email. Note that contractors with specialty licenses may be required to contact the relevant licensing agencies to find out their license validity periods as well as the procedures for renewing these licenses.

On the other hand, while Iowa attorneys are not required to pay annual license renewal fees, these attorneys must file their annual CLE reports and pay any fees associated with this filing. Payments can be made by the 26th of December every year via the online attorney portal provided by the state’s judicial branch’s Office of Professional Regulation. Payments for the previous year must be done no later than March 10th, and failure to do this can attract late fee penalties. Queries concerning the payment of attorney CLE reporting fees can be directed to (515) 348-4670.