Planning Departments and Unlicensed Practice Issues

In the 2011 Strategic Plan, the California Architects Board directed the Regulatory and Enforcement Committee to develop a strategy for informing local planning departments, the League of California Cities, and the California Chapter American Planning Association of the Architects Practice Act requirements for non-exempt project types.

One specific enforcement issue the Board wanted to be communicated relates to unlicensed practice. The Board is aware that unlicensed individuals are often hired to design non-exempt project types that require a licensed design professional. The unlicensed person might provide design services through planning department approvals; however, these plans cannot be permitted because they were not designed by a licensed design professional. It is only when plans are submitted to the building department that the consumer learns that their project required a licensed architect or registered engineer to be in charge of the design.

At its September 15, 2011 meeting, the Board reviewed a draft letter to planning departments prepared by staff. The Board members opined that planning departments need to take responsibility to validate that a licensed architect is providing design services for non-exempt project types subject to their review. Board members also stated that applicable sections of the Architects Practice Act should be included with the letter.

At its December 7, 2011 meeting, a revised letter was presented and approved by the Board. Staff was directed to contact allied professionals, such as California Building Officials (CalBO) and the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (BPELSG), to ascertain their interest in participating in sending this letter. BPELSG voted to join as a co-signer on the letter, and the final letter (PDF, 261K) was approved by the Board at its March 2012 meeting. Letters were sent in April 2012.