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When is a Landscaper or Garden Designer Required to be Licensed as a “Landscape Architect” in California

California State Professional Licensing Laws create a special license requirement for persons who work as “Landscape Architects”.

The law is broad enough and sufficiently obscure to ensnare by surprise may persons and entities in the landscape and garden design and construction or building site or park planning businesses.

The practice of being a “Landscape Architect” is defined in the law to include:

“A person . . . who offers or performs professional services, for the purpose of landscape preservation, development and enhancement, such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, planning, design, preparation of drawings, construction documents and specifications, and responsible construction observation. Landscape preservation, development and enhancement is the dominant purpose of services provided by landscape architects. Implementation of that purpose includes: (1) the preservation and aesthetic and functional enhancement of land uses and natural land features; (2) the location and construction of aesthetically pleasing and functional approaches and settings for structures and roadways; and, (3) design for trails and pedestrian walkway systems, plantings, landscape irrigation, landscape lighting, landscape grading and landscape drainage.

. . . .

The practice of a landscape architect may . . . include: investigation, selection, and allocation of land and water resources for appropriate uses; . . .; preparation review, and analysis of master plans for land use and development; production of overall site plans, landscape grading and landscape drainage plans, irrigation plans, planting plans, and construction details . . . field observation and inspection of land area construction, restoration, and maintenance.” (Underscoring added)

(Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5615.)

There is a legal exemption from the licensing requirement for some work on Single Family Homes (Bus. & Prof. Code § 5641), for Golf Course Architects (Bus. & Prof. Code § 5641.5), and for licensed Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors. Bus. & Prof. Code § 65641.3.

There is also an exemption for planting designs etc in other cases where you are licensed to sell plants:

“Every person who holds a valid license issued by the State of California under the provisions of Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 6721) of the Food and Agricultural Code, authorizing engagement in the business of selling nursery stock in this state, may engage in the preparation of planting plans or drawings as an adjunct to merchandising nursery stock and related products, but may not use the title of landscape architect. That activity is exempt from licensure under the provisions of this chapter.” (Underscoring added)
(Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5641.2.)

And there is another exemption if you hold a Landscape Contractor’s license in that you can design for projects that you will construct as a licensed Landscape Contractor holding a C-27 Speciality contractor’s license from the Contractors State License Board:

“A landscape contractor licensed under the statutes of this state, insofar as he or she works within the classification for which the license is issued, may design systems and facilities for work to be performed and supervised by that landscape contractor and is exempt from the provisions of this chapter, except that a landscape contractor may not use the title “landscape architect” unless he or she holds a license as required under this chapter.”(Underscoring added)
(Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5641.4.)

And there is also an exemption for someone who works as an “Irrigation Consultant”:

“(b) As used in this section, “irrigation consultant” means a person who performs professional services such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, design, preparation of drawings and specifications and responsible supervision, where the dominant purpose of such service is the design of landscape irrigation, in accordance with accepted professional standards of public health and safety.” (Underscoring added)
(Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5641.6.)

There are really no published appellate case law precedents on these statutes in published Court cases, so likely one should read the words of the statutes conservatively, to try to keep you out of possible future difficulties.

If you can’t shoehorn your general business operations into one of these exemptions, it might be useful – and perhaps even a legal requirement or a business advantage - to get licensed as a Landscape Architect.

It doesn’t require a regular architect’s license or formal degree or anything (although that can make licensing easier) to become licensed as a Landscape Architect, and appears to just require one to take and pass an exam in the subject, which exam is different from a general architect’s license exam and the years of apprenticeship required as an “architect-in-training” for that:

“Subject to the rules and regulations governing examinations, any person, over the age of 18 years, who has had six years of training and educational experience in actual practice of landscape architectural work shall be entitled to an examination for a license to practice landscape architecture. A degree from a school of landscape architecture approved by the board shall be deemed equivalent to four years of training and educational experience in the actual practice of landscape architecture. . . .” (Underscoring added).
(Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5650.)

For further information on License Requirements, and to verify Landscape Architects’ licenses, etc, see.

Landscape Architects are required to have written contracts with their clients meeting certain requirements (Bus. & Prof. Code § 5616), and it is a misdemeanor to claim you are a or to do the work of a Landscape Architect unless you have a proper license. Bus. & Prof. Code § 5640.

Licensees may be disciplined or licenses revoked or suspended for those reasons or for fraud, gross incompetence, negligence, stamping an unlicensed person’s plans, assisting an unlicensed person, certain convictions, unreported judgments, failure to pay a judgment against a licensee for related work, or other misconduct. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 5666 et seq.

While the law is not clear in the case of Landscape Architects, in other areas of licensure (e.g. contractors, architects, engineers, attorneys, etc) Courts have held that doing work in those areas practice without the statutorily required license meant that their contracts were void and unenforceable, and they could not sue to collect money owed for their work unless they had a proper license in good standing while doing the work, as a matter of “public policy”!!

More generally, you should carefully consider the legal issues raised above, and consider whether there is any legal need or requirement, or any business or promotional advantage, for you in getting a Landscape Architect’s license.

N.B. The contents of this Article do not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship, and you may NOT rely on it without seeking legal advice regarding your particular situation from a competent California Insurance lawyer or Construction Contracts attorney.

Please also note that factual situations vary, and statutes, regulations and case law as well as the terms of insurance policies, endorsements and exclusions are frequently and constantly changing and evolving, and these written materials thus also may now be or may become outdated or incorrect.

For further information on this topic and how the current law and policies may apply to your unique project, contract, job, claim or issues, Contact Us via email, phone (415)788- 1881 or visit our website for other contact information.

© 2019, George W. Wolff, all rights reserved.