California Architects

Newsletter Logo for California Architects

2021 Edition, Issue 3


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

Use Of The “A” Word

Misrepresentation and Unlicensed Practice

The Board is keenly aware of the importance of the correct use of the “A” word—architect or architecture, and that architects have worked hard to obtain the license.  Additionally, the Board recognizes your comments and frustration regarding other professions using the “A” word too.  The Board continues to advocate for the architecture profession, and to protect the term architect as allowed by the Architects Practice Act.  
The Board can’t control other professions, and California law defines the practice of architecture as the planning of sites, and the design, in the whole or in part, of buildings or groups of buildings and structures. Any person who uses the title of "architect" (or any term confusingly similar) or advertises to provide architectural services in California must be licensed as an architect by the Board. The Board has a helpful Design Limitations Chart for Professionals that specifies the types of projects that may be designed by an unlicensed individual. It also specifies the limitations placed on other licensed design professionals.

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 important 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 section 5500.1. (BPC) However, individuals who are not licensed as architects or civil or structural engineers can design certain types of buildings or parts of buildings [BPC 5537 and 5538], which include:

  • Single-family dwellings of conventional 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 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.


  • 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
  • In the case of 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.


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 the Board bringing an enforcement action and/or the denial of a license.


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 timely. The failure to renew an architect license places a licensee in a delinquent or expired status meaning they are "unlicensed" and cannot use the title "architect" 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

Filing a Complaint Against an Unlicensed Person

If you believe that an unlicensed person may be misrepresenting themselves 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.

We need your help to catch people misusing the “A” word!