California Architects

Newsletter Logo for California Architects

2018 Edition, Issue 3


A Publication of the California Architects Board ■ Public Protection Through Examination, Licensure, and Regulation

Common Violations of the Practice Act

As a consumer protection entity, the Board has an active Enforcement Program designed to ensure the laws and regulations governing the practice of architecture in California are enforced in a fair and judicious manner. The Enforcement Program is charged with investigating all complaints received by the Board and taking action against licensees and unlicensed individuals, including candidates, who have violated the provisions of the Architects Practice Act (Act).

The majority of the complaints received are filed by consumers for allegations such as unlicensed practice, professional misconduct, negligence, and contract violations, or initiated by the Board upon the failure of a continuing education coursework audit. The table below depicts the number of complaints received by the Board and dispositions during fiscal year 2017/18.

The Board strongly urges licensees and candidates to become familiar with the Act and avoid the potential of a complaint being filed. The following are some common violations of the Act (with links to further information) that often result in the issuance of a citation with an administrative fine or disciplinary action by the Board:

FY 2017/18 Complaints/Dispositions

Complaints Received 380
Complaints Closed 337
Letters of Advisement Issued 157
Citations Issued 54
Fines Assessed $36,000
Disciplinary Cases Initiated 4
Referrals for Criminal Action 1

Misrepresentation and Unlicensed Practice

The term "architect" is a protected title in California. Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 5536(a) prohibits an unlicensed individual from: 1) practicing architecture in this state; 2) using any term confusingly similar to the word architect; 3) using the stamp of a licensed architect, as provided in BPC section 5536.1; or 4) advertising or putting out any sign, card, or other device that might indicate to the public that he or she is an architect, that he or she is qualified to engage in the practice of architecture, or that he or she is an architectural designer.

Candidates are cautioned that offering or providing architectural services or using any term confusingly similar to the word architect (including "architectural," "architecture," or any abbreviations or variations) in their titles or to describe their services, prior to obtaining a California architect license, may result in 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 term confusingly similar to the word architect in an unlicensed employee’s job title or description is prohibited; e.g., architectural designer or project architect.

Additionally, licensees should make every effort to renew their licenses timely. The failure to renew an architect license 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. The 30-day grace period after a license expires applies only to the delinquency fee and does not permit the holder of an expired license to continue practicing architecture after the expiration date has passed.

Negligence and Willful Misconduct

Licensees are required to perform within established rules of professional conduct. Negligence and willful misconduct in the practice of architecture are grounds for disciplinary action, as stated in BPC section 5584. Negligence arises when an architect fails to meet the standard of professional care by, for instance, designing a project in violation of the applicable laws, codes, or regulations.

Willful misconduct is a more serious violation of the Act because the architect is knowingly violating the law. Examples of willful misconduct include: 1) signing and stamping knowingly deficient design plans; 2) accepting payment for services that are not rendered; or 3) abandoning a project after receiving payment.

Therefore, licensees may wish to consult with necessary experts who are qualified by education, training, and experience in specific technical areas if they are unsure of the legal requirements and the intent or meaning of a law, or lack the technical knowledge required for a design project.

Architectural Exterior
Architectural Exterior

Coursework Regarding Disability Access Requirements

Licensees are required to complete five hours of continuing education coursework on disability access requirements within the previous two years and certify to the Board, as part of the license renewal process, that they have completed the required coursework, as outlined in BPC section 5600.05. The coursework regarding disability access requirements must include information and practical guidance concerning requirements imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101–336; 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12101 et seq.), state laws that govern access to public facilities, and federal and state regulations adopted pursuant to those laws. Additionally, the coursework must be presented by trainers or educators with knowledge and expertise in disability access requirements.

Licensees are also required to retain records of completion of the required coursework for two years from the date of license renewal and to make those records available to the Board for auditing upon request. The records should include information such as the course title, subjects covered, name of the provider and trainer or educator, date of completion, number of hours completed, and a statement about the trainer’s or educator’s knowledge or expertise in disability access requirements.

In many instances, licensees have certified false or misleading information regarding their compliance with this requirement when filing their license renewal applications with the Board. Specifically, the Board’s ongoing audit has revealed instances where licensees have: 1) completed the required coursework after submitting their license renewal applications to the Board and being notified of a Board audit; 2) completed the required coursework more than two years prior to license renewal; 3) completed coursework that was not regarding disability access requirements; 4) failed to maintain records of completion of the required coursework for two years from the date of license renewal; or 5) failed to provide the Board with records of completion of the required coursework upon request.

Written Contract Requirements

The Board’s investigations often find that licensees fail to obtain an executed written contract prior to commencing work on a project, or that one or more of the required contract elements are missing. BPC section 5536.22(a) requires an architect to use a written contract when providing professional services to a client, and that contract must be executed by all parties involved prior to commencing any work, unless the client knowingly states in writing that work may commence before the final contract is executed. An architect’s written contract must contain the following required elements:

  1. A description of the services to be provided by the architect to the client;
  2. A description of any basis of compensation applicable to the contract and method of payment agreed upon by both parties;
  3. The name, address, and license number (often omitted) of the architect and the name and address of the client;
  4. A description of the procedure that the architect and the client will use to accommodate additional services; and
  5. A description of the procedure to be used by either party to terminate the contract.

A contract that contains the elements listed above will comply with BPC 5536.22. However, good business practices may warrant additional terms and conditions be included, especially on more complex design projects.

Exceptions to the written contract requirement may apply when: 1) pro bono professional services are rendered by an architect; 2) the architect has provided services to the client previously that are the same general kind of services and compensation; 3) the client knowingly states in writing, after full disclosure of BPC 5536.22, that a contract is not required; or 4) professional services are rendered to a registered engineer or licensed land surveyor.

Business Entity Reporting Requirement

Many licensees have not filed the proper and current name and address of each business entity through which they provide architectural services with the Board, as required by BPC section 5558. Additionally, licensees often fail to immediately notify the Board of any changes to the name or address of the business entity through which they provide architectural services.

Licensees should comply with this requirement by completing a Business Entity Report Form and mailing, faxing, or emailing it to the Board. Additionally, the Board must be immediately notified of any changes to the name or address of the business entity, giving both the old and new business names or addresses. This reporting requirement provides the Board and the public with a means to determine if a business offering or providing architectural services does in fact have an architect in responsible control of those services.

Failure to Respond to a Board Investigation

The Enforcement Program seeks to thoroughly investigate each complaint received by the Board in an expeditious manner. However, the investigation process is often delayed when subjects do not promptly provide the Board with requested information or evidence or fail to respond to the Board’s written requests.

Whenever the Board is conducting an investigation, licensees and candidates are required to respond to the Board’s requests for information and/or evidence within 30 days, as stated in California Code of Regulations, title 16 section 160(b)(2).

The full text of the Act is available on the Board’s website under "Publications".