2017 Edition, Issue 2

Misrepresentation and Unlicensed Practice

These provisions of the Architects Practice Act (Act) are certainly worth reiterating. Most architects consider the "title" provisions of the Act as something that applies to unlicensed practice. There are other applications of these provisions that are important to practitioners.

The practice of architecture is defined as offering or performing, or being in responsible control of, professional services which require the skills of an architect in the planning of sites, and the design, in whole or in part, of buildings, or groups of buildings and structures (Business and Professions Code [BPC] § 5500.1).

However, individuals who are not licensed as architects or civil or structural engineers can design certain types of buildings or parts of buildings, which include:

  • Single-family dwellings of woodframe construction that are not more than two stories and basement in height;
  • Multiple dwellings containing not more than four dwelling units that are of 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;
  • 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; and
  • Nonstructural or nonseismic storefronts, interior alterations or additions, fixtures, cabinetwork, furniture, or other appliances or equipment, including nonstructural or nonseismic work necessary to provide for their installation (BPC §§ 5537 and 5538).

Local building officials may require plans, drawings, or specifications to be designed and prepared by a licensed architect or engineer, even if it is not required by state law.

Candidates for Licensure

Candidates are cautioned that offering or providing architectural services or using any form of the term "architect" (including "architectural," "architecture," or any abbreviations or confusingly similar variations) in their titles or to describe their services, prior to obtaining a California architect license, may result in enforcement action and/or the denial of their license.


Employers at architectural firms should also be careful when selecting job titles for their unlicensed employees. The use of any form of the term "architect" in an unlicensed employee’s job title or description is strictly prohibited.


Licensees should make every effort to renew their licenses prior to the expiration date. The failure to renew an architect license on time places a licensee in a delinquent or expired status, meaning he or she is "unlicensed" and cannot use the title "architect" or offer or provide any architectural services until the license has been renewed. An expired license that is not renewed within 30 days is subject to a $100 delinquency fee. Holders of an expired license may not legally practice architecture in California.

Filing a Complaint Against an Unlicensed Person

If you believe that an unlicensed person may be misrepresenting him/herself as an architect and/or offering or providing architectural services in California, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the Board by submitting a Consumer Complaint Form and any supporting documentation (i.e., copy of the advertisement, written contract, or drawings). You may remain anonymous.

Further information regarding the complaint process may be obtained by contacting the Board’s Enforcement Unit at (916) 575-7209.