What Are Wisconsin Contractors?
Professional licensing in Wisconsin is handled by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), and this agency regulates more than 200 categories of licensees in the state through several boards, councils, and advisory committees. These licensees include professionals like architects, engineers, building inspectors, and land surveyors. The DSPS is also responsible for the maintenance of safe and sanitary conditions in both public and private buildings in the state.
A contractor in Wisconsin is any individual that performs home and property improvement work. Contractors in Wisconsin are required to obtain both business licenses in the form of dwelling contractor certificates and personal licenses in the form of dwelling contractor qualifier certificates issued by the DSPS. These certificates are mandatory for all contractors with the exemption of HVAC contractors, who are only required to register with the DSPS instead.
Note that contractors are not the only professionals that require licensing to operate in Wisconsin. Professionals like attorneys and educators are licensed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the state’s Department of Public Instruction respectively. It is estimated that Wisconsin has over 25,000 licensed attorneys currently practicing in the state.
Tips for Hiring a Contractor
Hiring the wrong contractor for home and property improvement can result in loss of money, more damages, and potential court cases. As such, it is important to take appropriate precautions before hiring any contractor to handle a project for you. Below are some useful tips to consider before hiring a contractor:
- Do not be in a haste to carry out a home improvement project. Take your time and decide in advance what the project will involve before contacting a contractor. You can make sketches or get pictures to show prospective contractors
- Get at least two to three estimates for the project and ensure that each contractor visits the job site before giving their estimate
- Ask the contractor for names and phone numbers of recent customers and call to see if they were satisfied with the contractor's services and performance
- Ask the contractor for a license or registration if the project involves HVAC work and find out if it is current. You can verify a contractor's license or registration from the DSPS by calling (608) 266-2112 or through the online license/credential search portal provided by the DSPS
- Ask the contractor for proof of insurance coverage and verify the information by calling the insurance company
- Ensure that the contractor informs you of all the required building or construction permits for the project
- Contact the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128 to find out if complaints have been lodged against the contractor in the past
- Get a written contract and ensure that it includes a list of materials to be used, the total project price, warranties, and the starting and completion date of the project
- Ask the contractor for a 'notice of consumer right to receive lien waivers before signing the contract. In Wisconsin, per state law, a contractor may request lien waivers from contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers at or before the time a payment is made on the home improvement project
- Make sure that any initial payments you make are clearly stated in the contract
- Do not make final payment or sign a completion certificate until all the work is done to your satisfaction
- Do not hesitate to request the services of an attorney in handling your home improvement paperwork. It is a good idea to get this attorney to help represent your interests during this project by performing actions like drafting and reviewing a contract for the job
Note that residents of Wisconsin have the three-days right to cancel a construction contract made at their homes or outside the contractor's business premises. To do this, the homeowner must write, sign, and mail a notice of cancellation to the contractor before midnight of the third business day after the contract in question was signed. Members of the public can also report unscrupulous contractors to the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128.
How to Search a Contractor’s License in Wisconsin?
The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) oversees the licensing of contractors in the state, and you can verify licenses issued by this department by contacting it at (608) 266-2112, via email, or in person at:
- 4822 Madison Yards Way
- Madison, WI 53705
- Hours: 7:45 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., Mondays to Fridays
This department also provides an online credential/license search portal that you can use to verify the licensing status of contractors in the state. You can conduct searches on this portal based on individual licenses, organizational licenses, or trade licenses. Note that you may be required to provide the contractor's credential or license ID and the contractor’s name to carry out these searches.
Per Chapter SPS 305 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, individuals that perform contracting work without obtaining an appropriate license from the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services may face several administrative penalties, including monetary fines of up to $2,000. Also, even though there are no explicitly stated penalties for hiring unlicensed contractors in Wisconsin, doing so may limit your chances of obtaining proper restitution if the contractor does not fulfill the terms of your agreement.
How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
The cost of hiring a contractor in Wisconsin is dependent on factors like the type of project and the amount of work required to complete the job. Expertise and reputation may also determine the cost of hiring a contractor in some cases. In Wisconsin, the average cost of hiring a contractor for an hour is between $17 - $80. Listed below are the hourly cost estimates for various types of contractors in Wisconsin:
In addition to the services of these contractors, you may also want to hire an attorney to protect your interests and help reduce the risk of you becoming the victim of a home improvement scam. Note that this attorney may also provide other services that are not construction-related. In Wisconsin, the cost of hiring an attorney for one hour is between $43 - $200.
What Are Home Improvement
Scams in Wisconsin?
When contracting for home improvement work in Wisconsin, there is every likelihood that the contractor is a con artist that is trying to steal your money through deceptive methods such as:
- Not showing up to complete the job once payment is received
- Using inferior materials that would require you to need their services again
- Unnecessarily increasing the cost of the project as it progresses
- Diverting construction materials that you paid for
- Stealing valuables in your home during the home improvement work
A home improvement scam is the use of any of the aforementioned methods to steal from citizens of Wisconsin. While it is not possible to eliminate home improvement scams, you can avoid falling into one by doing the following. First, decide the scope of the project and make a budget for it. Home Improvement work can be expensive so you must plan for it. Also, ask family and friends to recommend contractors for the job. Do not hesitate to speak with individuals who have done a similar home improvement project in the past and do not hire any contractors without seeing proof of their license or registration. In Wisconsin, general contractors are required to obtain state-issued licenses from the DSPS while HVAC contractors are required to register with this agency. You can verify a contractor’s license or registration from the DSPS by calling (608) 266-2112. You should also request proof of insurance coverage. Hiring a contractor who does not have insurance coverage may lead to additional costs if an injury or accident occurs at your home improvement site.
Finally, you can report unscrupulous contractors to the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128.
What are Common Home Improvement Scams in Wisconsin?
Home improvement scammers are always looking for ways to steal money from unsuspecting citizens. These scams are targeted at elderly people who do not typically know how to do a thorough background check on contractors. Common tactics used by home improvement scammers in Wisconsin include:
- Introductory offers: home improvement scammers may claim they are new to your neighborhood and that they would like to work for you. In many cases, these scammers are transient contractors who hit an area, take money from homeowners for home improvement jobs, and leave without doing the job.
- Door-to-door solicitations: home improvement scammers show up in front of your doorstep offering to provide services such as painting, installing lightning rods, backstopping driveways, and yard work at a discount. In some cases, scammers may drive marked trucks and wear tags to appear legitimate. These scammers typically exaggerate their skill level to convince you.
- Free home inspection: home improvement scammers offer to inspect your home or property for free. In most cases, scammers search for valuables to steal or lie about a fault in your home to make you require their services.
- Cheap rates: home improvement scammers offer to do your work at very low rates. It is always a good idea to be wary of contractors offering home improvement services at ridiculous rates.
- Scare tactics: home improvement scammers may use pressure tactics or intimidation to make you pay for services you do not need. In some cases, scammers may exaggerate the urgency of getting a repair done to make you hire them.
- Increased home improvement price: home improvement scammers tell you the construction price has increased due to some unforeseen circumstances. In many cases, they claim that the price increase is a result of a new structural issue they did not identify earlier.
- Significant upfront payment: home improvement scammers often try to convince you to pay more than half of the construction price as upfront payment. Once you make the payment, scammers may never return to do the job.
Wisconsin does not have any laws that state whether or not, or how much a contractor can demand down payment for home improvement work. However, if any payment is required before the work is done, both the homeowner and contractor should reach an agreement on the amount of money the contractor will receive as the down payment for the job. This agreement must be contained in the construction contract. Note that you can hire an attorney to help you handle your home improvement paperwork including the payment agreement. This will reduce your chances of falling victim to a home improvement scam.
In Wisconsin, a contractor scam may result in payment of restitution fees and the withdrawal of the contractor's right to do business in the state. In 2018, several complaints were filed against a roofing and exterior home repair business for demanding unfair construction prices and the use of deceptive representations to convince homeowners. Consequently, the business was required to make full restitution to consumers who were victims of their fraudulent schemes. The business was also banned from continuing its unlawful practices in the state. Residents of Wisconsin can report fraudulent contractor-related scams to the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128. Alternatively, residents may file a complaint against a contractor using the DSPS online complaint form. To file a complaint, you must choose the complaint category and the profession of the person you are reporting. You will also be required to provide all the details of the complaint before submitting the form.
What are Disaster Scams in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin disaster scams are scams targeted at residents of the state whose homes and property were affected by a natural disaster. After a disaster, you may want to carry out home repairs immediately. The desire to immediately get things back together is understandable but you have to ensure that you hire the right contractor for the job. This is because scammers are always ready to prey on those trying to recover from a natural disaster. Scammers often visit affected areas, offering quick and cheap home repairs and requesting upfront payment for the job. Contractor-related disaster scams include price gouging, diversion of materials, and poor services. You can avoid these scams by doing the following:
- Do not rush home repairs after a disaster
- Be wary of individuals offering quick and cheap repairs after a disaster
- Get recommendations on contractors from family and friends
- Get at least two to three written estimates for the home repairs
- Ask the contractor for a license. If the job involves home installations, ask for a registration certificate. You can verify if the contractor is registered or licensed by calling the DSPS at (608) 266-2112
- Request to see the contractor's insurance coverage and verify the information by calling the insurance company
- Get a written contract for the project
- Always request a receipt for every payment or purchase made
- Do not make full payment until the repair is completed
Members of the public can report Wisconsin disaster-related scams to the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128.
What are Common Legal
Work Scams in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin legal work scams are deceptive attorney-related services that aim at stealing money from unsuspecting citizens. These scams may be done by imposters or attorneys that are licensed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Common legal work scams in Wisconsin include:
- Living trust scams: this scam involves unscrupulous individuals posing as estate planning attorneys and financial advisers selling unnecessary living trust packages to unsuspecting citizens. These unscrupulous individuals promise to manage your assets and ensure a smooth transition of your estate and property to your beneficiaries but never fulfill any of the promises. In many cases, these unscrupulous individuals may deliberately misrepresent the advantages of a living trust to make you purchase the living trust package. Living trust scam artists also steal confidential information from unsuspecting individuals to facilitate identity-related scams. These scams are typically targeted at senior citizens in the state.
- Inheritance scams: this scam involves calls or emails from unscrupulous attorneys or solicitors informing you about an inheritance that was left for you. In many cases, you are asked to provide personal information or pay upfront fees before you can claim the inheritance. If you are contacted concerning an inheritance from a previously unknown or unexpected source, it is advisable to speak to trusted friends and family or a trusted attorney and get their opinions on how to proceed.
Some ways you can avoid falling victim to legal work scams in Wisconsin are:
- Explore all your living trust options with an experienced and licensed estate planning attorney. You can find licensed attorneys on the Wisconsin State Bar attorney referral page.
- Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics
- Hang up on calls promising you an inheritance from someone you do not know
- Be wary of anyone asking you to send money as inheritance tax fees
- Find out about probate laws from your county's Register in Probate
- Do not forget that you have the three day right to cancel the living trust agreement if you purchase a living trust in your home or outside the seller's business premise
Contact the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) if you suspect a legal work scam. You can report grievances against an attorney to this office by calling (608) 267-7274 or by downloading, completing, and submitting an attorney grievance form, along with any other necessary additional documents via email or mail-in to:
- Office of Lawyer Regulation
- 110 East Main Street
- Suite 315
- P.O. Box 1648
- Madison, WI 53701-1648
Once a grievance form is received, the OLR conducts a preliminary evaluation to determine the following:
- Whether the complaint should be forwarded to another state agency
- If it is a minor issue that can be reconciled
- Whether the matter requires formal investigation
- If the complaint lacks adequate information to support a potential ethical sanction
Note that the attorney grievance process may take 30 to 90 days. However, more complicated cases may take as long as two years.
On the other hand, citizens of Wisconsin can report non-attorneys that carry out legal work scams to the Wisconsin consumer protection unit by calling (800) 422-7128.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor in
The processing time for completing the license application process and obtaining a license in Wisconsin is dependent on factors such as the current workload of the DSPS and when the application was submitted. Processing a contractor license may take up to 21 days from the date the application was submitted. Contractors may complete an application for licensure online via the eSLA portal or by sending a completed dwelling contractor certificate application form, along with any applicable fees and additional documents, to the DSPS at:
- Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
- 4822 Madison Yards Way
- Madison, WI 53705
Note that a complete dwelling contractor certificate application form should contain proof of workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, financial responsibility, and license application fee.
How to Maintain Contractor License in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin contractors are allowed to update and maintain the information on their licenses like emails, addresses, and phone numbers by calling (608) 266-2112 or sending an email to the DSPS trade credential center. Interested persons will be required to provide their social security number and credential number. To change the names on a contractor license, interested persons are required to send a written notification to the DSPS within 30 days of getting the new name. This notification should be signed and mailed to:
- Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
- 4822 Madison Yards Way
- Madison, WI 53705
Wisconsin contractors are also required to complete continuing education courses applicable to their profession for each licensing period. Each contractor must ensure that the continuing education courses that they complete are recognized by the DSPS. Queries related to approved continuing education courses can be directed to (608) 266-2112.
Similarly, attorneys are also allowed to update the names on their licenses by downloading and mailing a notarized petition for name change form to the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners at:
- Wisconsin Board oF Bar Examiners
- P.O. BOX 2748
- Madison, WI 53701-2748
The state’s Board of Bar Examiners typically notifies certain offices whenever it receives a petition for a name change so that they can also update their records. These offices are:
- Clerk of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin (Roll of Attorneys)
- Office of Lawyer Regulation (disciplinary records)
- State Bar of Wisconsin
Finally, Wisconsin attorneys are required to complete up to 30 credits of continuing legal education each year. These credits must include three legal ethics and professional responsibility credits. Attorneys are required to electronically file their CLE reports online via the CLE reporting website.
How to Renew a Contractor License in
Wisconsin contractor licenses are valid for one year. Note that renewal fees and dates may vary across trades. Applications for renewal of contractor licenses can be done online by logging into the eSLA portal, selecting the renewal option, and providing any necessary information as well as paying all applicable renewal fees. Contractors can also renew their licenses by contacting the DSPS via email to find out their renewal dates as well as all necessary renewal steps and then submitting a written renewal application, supporting documents, and applicable fees via mail-in to:
- Department of Safety and Professional Services
- Trades Credentialing Unit
- P.O. Box 78780
- Milwaukee, WI 53293-0780
Finally, Wisconsin attorneys renew their licenses by paying annual attorney dues. Queries related to attorney license renewal can be directed to the State Bar of Wisconsin at (608) 257-3838.