Architects & Building Design

Guide to the Law for Architects and Landscape Architects in California

Do you need a license to design a house or other building in California?

Photo by Urfan Hasanov on Unsplash

In general, to perform services related to designing buildings and other structures, you must have a license from the California Architects Board or be a licensed structural engineer1Sections 5537.1, 6731, and 6736 of Business & Professions Code or a licensed civil engineer2Section 129805 of Health & Safety Code Section 17302 of Education Code
Sections 5537.5, 6731, and 6735 of Business & Professions Code
. However there are some exceptions for basic structures.

Exceptions. A person may design certain basic types of the following without an architect or engineer license, if the local building department is OK with it:

  • Single-family dwellings of conventional woodframe construction that are not more than two stories and basement in height;
  • Multiple dwellings containing no more than four dwelling units that are of conventional woodframe construction, not more than two stories and basement in height, and not more than four dwelling units per lot;
  • Garages or other structures added to dwellings of woodframe construction that are not more than two stories and basement in height;

    Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

  • Agricultural and ranch buildings of woodframe construction, unless the building official deems that an undue risk to the public health, safety, or welfare is involved;
  • Nonstructural or nonseismic storefronts, interior alterations or additions, fixtures, cabinetwork, furniture, or other appliances or equipment, including nonstructural work necessary to provide for their installation; or
  • Nonstructural or nonseismic alterations or additions to any building necessary for the installation of storefronts, interior alterations or additions, fixtures, cabinetwork, furniture, appliances, or equipment, provided those alterations do
    not change or affect the structural system or safety of the building.

Are there any types of buildings that architects are not allowed to design?

Yes, the structural portion of a hospital.3Health & Safety Code 129805

Are there any types of buildings that structural engineers are not allowed to design?

No.4See Building Design Limitations guide; Sections 5537.1, 6731, and 6736 of Business & Professions Code

Are there any types of buildings that civil engineers are not allowed to design?

Yes, hospitals or schools.5See Building Design Limitations guide; Health & Safety Code 129805; Section 17302 of Education Code

What about designing building interiors?

For interior design related issues, see our Guide to the Law on Interior Design.

Is it illegal to call yourself an architect if you are not licensed?

Yes, it is illegal for someone to use the title of “architect” or to advertise to provide “architectural services” unless they have a license from the California Architects Board.6Business & Professions Code Sections 5500.1 and 5641.3

What do consumers need to know about architects?

The California Architects Board has a handy guide for consumers.

Do you need a license to design or plan a landscape project?

In general you need a license from the California Landscape Architects Technical Committee (LATC) to perform professional services for the purpose of landscape preservation, development, and enhancement, such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, planning, design, preparation of drawings, construction documents and specifications, and responsible construction observation.7Section 5615 of the Business and Professions Code However there are some exceptions.

Exceptions.

  • Licensed professional engineers may perform professional landscaping services, as long as the work is incidental to an engineering project8Sections 5615, 5641.3, and 6701 et seq. of the Business & Professions Code
  • Licensed landscape contractors (with a C-27 license) may design systems and facilities for work to be performed and supervised by that contractor9Section 832.27 of the California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 8 and Section 5641.4 and 7027.5 of the Business & Professions Code
  • Licensed Nurserypersons who hold a license to sell nursery stock may prepare planting plans or drawings incidental to merchandising nursery stock and related products10Section 5641.2 of the Business & Professions Code and Section 6721 et seq. of the Food and Agriculture Code
  • Unlicensed persons including Landscape or Garden Designers, etc. may prepare plans, drawings, and specifications for the selection, placement, or use of plants for single family dwellings; and may prepare drawings for the conceptual design and placement of tangible objects and landscape features.
    HOWEVER: Unlicensed persons may NOT prepare construction documents, details, or specifications for tangible landscape objects or landscape features, or prepare grading and drainage plans for the alteration of sites.11Sections 5641, 5641.1, 5641.5, 5641.6 of the Business & Professions Code
  • Property Owners may prepare any plans, drawings, or specifications for any property owned by that person.12Sections 5641, 5641.1, 5641.5, 5641.6 of the Business & Professions Code
  • Irrigation Consultants13Sections 5641, 5641.1, 5641.5, 5641.6 of the Business & Professions Code
    • May engage in the practice of, or offer to practice as, an irrigation consultant
    • May perform professional services, such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, design, preparation of drawings and specifications and responsible supervision, where the dominant purpose of such service is the design of landscape irrigation, in accordance with accepted professional standards of public health and safety

Do I need any other license or permits for my architecture or landscape architecture firm?

Possibly. See our Guide to Professional and Business Licenses.

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