Licensing in Maryland
Free Enterprise, Maryland Style
Nearly fifty years ago, the present writer served as counsel to the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, an administrative agency which had just been immortalized in Barry Levinson’s The Tin Men. The agency then functioned under a statute that was more a self-certification than licensing statute. To obtain a license required payment of a nominal application fee and completion on the agency’s premises of a short ten or twenty question quiz on the agency’s statute, designed to impress on applicants that their license numbers were required to be included on contracts and that it was wrong to abandon jobs. The statute did not try to screen out applicants, save those with serious criminal convictions; it was designed to provide punishment after the fact.
Maryland’s enthusiasm for consumer protection has since transformed the statute into a bureaucratic steeplechase for unsophisticated applicants. They must now pay $54 for a third-party examination of several hours, but must first satisfy the Commission that they have two years of experience in home improvement work, a burden on those who have learned from relatives or by performing casual labor, perhaps in another country. On passing the examination, there is a $370 fee for a two-year license. The putative licensee must also submit a financial statement including real estate tax assessments, the blue book data on personally owned automobiles, a credit report, and three months of persona lbank statements. If the Commission finds, applying vague standards, that he is under-capitalized, he must post a $20,000 surety bond, also involving complexities and costs. He must also, in any case, prove that he has $50,000 in liability insurance. If he applies as a corporation, he must also prove good standing and is also subject to the $300 annual corporate registration fee. For those whose work occasions no complaints, this is surely over-kill, and makes a mockery of the claim that the State has a free enterprise system.