St. Louis Suburbs Strict on Contractor Licensing

Joshua Palmer
Written by Joshua Palmer
Updated June 15, 2021
contractor with hammer on roof
When hiring a contractor, make sure they have the proper licenses to work in your county. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

When hiring a contractor in greater St. Louis, make sure they're licensed to work in your area.

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When Julia Mariani decided to remodel the kitchen in her newly purchased University City home in late 2008, she quickly found there were few contractors willing to serve her area. "I learned to ask them, 'Do you work in University City?'" Mariani says. "Most would say 'no,' because the inspectors have such strict requirements."

Mariani wanted a licensed contractor who could obtain the necessary building permits for her kitchen's gut rehab. She already learned the hard way about permits when she couldn't get an occupancy permit to move into her home before installing a missing bathroom exhaust vent flagged as a violation by a city-required inspection.

"I think University City inspectors are well known for being thorough and that's a positive thing," says University City building commissioner Lehman Walker, adding that thorough inspections preserve housing stock and ensure home values don't decline.

Mariani eventually hired Robert Lay Contracting, who held a University City license, and subcontracted work to plumbing and electrical contractors with proper licensing. "I could have gotten it done cheaper with unlicensed contractors, but I didn't want inspection problems down the line when I sell the house," Mariani says.

University City homeowner Julia Mariani, shown here with son Sam, says finding a contractor with the proper municipal license was important when she remodeled her kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Julia Mariani)

Checking a St. Louis Contractor's License

Licensed contractors say they often lose jobs to unlicensed competitors who claim to offer skilled work at a cheaper price. "I say this all the time: Make sure the guy is licensed," says Terry Shanfeld of Shanfeld Electric in St. Louis. "You can get a cheap price, but when things go wrong, it's not cheap."

In St. Louis proper and St. Louis County, trade contractors like plumbers or electricians must hold a city or county license, which requires bonding and insurance, minimum experience, passing an exam, and paying a $100 to $200 annual fee. At a minimum, most metro municipalities require the county license before a trade contractor can pull permits. Some areas also require contractors, including general contractors, to be licensed with their respective building departments, which requires proof of bonding or insurance.

Kelli Unnerstall says completing several remodels in her 120-year-old Webster Groves home taught her the value of municipal licensing. She hired St. Louis County-licensed plumber Dan Flynn for basement repair work. When Flynn started work installing an ejector pump and drainage tiles, Unnerstall says she noticed the required lime green 8.5-by-11 Webster Groves plumbing permit wasn't in her home's window.

She says Flynn told her he had gotten the permit. When she contacted Webster Groves, Unnerstall says they told her otherwise. "They weren't licensed with the city," Unnerstall says.

At that point, the city building department issued a stop-work order and flagged a code violation for improper venting in the ejector pump. Webster Groves building commissioner Michael Harney says Unnerstall's situation isn't uncommon; his office issues at least three stop-work orders a month for this very reason.

Flynn eventually bought a $75 municipal plumber's license, obtained a permit and corrected the code violation. He contends the work hadn't progressed to the point that a permit was required. "I don't do work without permits," he says.

Unnerstall says she's now more vigilant. "After that last experience, there's not a situation where I wouldn't get a permit," she says.

You can check the licensing status of St. Louis-area companies online or by phone. Log in to for details.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 20, 2009.

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