Written Contract Requirement


Architects must use written contracts when contracting to provide architectural services in California. Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 5536.22 requires an architect to ensure that a written contract is in place prior to commencing any architectural work, unless the client authorizes the architect, in writing, to start work before the contract is executed. The law specifies minimum required items to be in the contract, including services to be provided, amount and method of payment, information on the architect and client, and procedures for additional services and termination of the contract. The legislation exempts certain types of work arrangements.

An architect must use a written contract when contracting to provide architectural services. The architect must provide the contract or use a written contract provided by the client (many public agencies and corporations use their own contracts).

The written contract has to be executed prior to the architect’s commencing work, unless the client authorizes the architect, in writing, to start work earlier. For example, a client may wish the architect to begin preliminary analysis or initial design before the final scope of the project is established, or to begin work before the legal department has completed the lengthy contract review process.

Minimum Contract Contents

Clients or architects may add to the contract, but at a minimum it must include the following five items:

  1. A description of the services to be provided by the architect
  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 of the architect and the name and address of the client
  4. A description of the procedure that the architect and client will use to accommodate additional services
  5. A description of the procedure to be used by either party to terminate the contract

Exempt Work

The law provides exemptions for the following:

  • Pro bono work
  • Work for clients with whom the architect has an ongoing professional arrangement
  • Work when the client states in writing that he or she does not want a written contract, after being informed of the statutory requirements
  • Professional services rendered by an architect to a registered professional engineer or a licensed land surveyor

The exemption for work done by an architect for a client with whom the architect had done similar work allows the architect to continue working with the client without negotiating separate agreements.

The law does not preclude the architect or client from using or insisting there be a written contract for pro bono work or under an ongoing relationship; it simply gives the client or the architect the option not to use one.