Are You Breaking the Law? – What Every Landscape Architect Should Know About the Profession

Are You Breaking the Law?

What Every Landscape Architect Should Know About the Profession

Are you unknowingly breaking the law when you talk to friends, colleagues, and clients? According to California law, only a landscape architect licensed in the state can legally represent themselves as a “landscape architect” and perform services reserved for license-holders.

The law that governs the profession of landscape architecture is Section 5615 of the Business and Professions Code (BPC) and declares:

“A person who practices landscape architecture within the meaning and intent of this article is 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 architects are exclusively entitled to practice the full spectrum of activities associated with landscape architecture. Our practice is protected by state law. The title of “landscape architect” is also protected by law.

We are protected for a good reason. This snippet from the Business and Professions Code reveals why landscape architecture is regulated and protected through licensure:

“Protection of the public shall be the highest priority….Whenever the protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests sought to be promoted, the protection of the public shall be paramount.” – Business and Professions Code 5620.1

Unlicensed people who perform the same tasks as landscape architects without the same qualifications may pose a threat to the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

Penalties for Practicing Without A License

What happens to those unlucky fools who dare misrepresent themselves as landscape architects and practice without a license?

If you practice landscape architecture without a license, you can go to jail for six months.If you are caught practicing landscape architecture without a license, you may face brutal penalties.

The Landscape Architect Technical Committee (LATC) strictly enforces California’s landscape architect licensure laws. Like most state agencies, they are merciless when it comes to enforcing the law.

If you are charged and convicted of illegal practice without a license, you could be brutally fined and fritter away up to six months in a wretched county jail.

That’s right; six months in jail with hard-core gang members, child molesters, and drug offenders!

Here are some recent examples of regular people who were caught on the wrong side of the law (all names have been abbreviated for legal reasons):

  • J.G was fined $1,500 in civil penalties for practicing without a license in 2008
  • S.L. was forced to pay $2,000 for two counts of practicing without a license
  • B.M. was directed to pay $3,000 for multiple violations of practicing without a license.

…and the list goes on and on. For a full list of administrative actions, check out this latest enforcement actions page on LATC’s website.

I’m pretty sure that you would rather follow the law and work on getting your landscape architect license. Publicity is good, but I’m sure you don’t want to end up on the LATC enforcement list.

When you represent yourself and your work, let others know that your are an unlicensed landscape architect candidate or a landscape designer (which is an unlicensed profession). If you are working under the direct supervision of a landscape architect, you  are covered by the supervising landscape architect’s license for all work supervised by that landscape architect.

Final Thoughts on the Legalities of Practice

Keep it legal and don’t misrepresent yourself and keep your design work legal. The fine and possible jail time just are not worth the hassle.

California’s title and practice laws vigorously defend licensed landscape architects from illegal and fraudulent competition. Licensing laws protect the public’s safety and keep illegitimate practitioners from infringing upon the profession. This legal protection is just one benefit you get with a landscape architect license in the Golden State.

Read more about the California Business and Professions Code here.

Pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for Landscape Architects e-book study guide

More information about the laws and regulations that affect landscape architects can be found in Pass the California Supplemental Exam for Landscape Architects study guide e-book.


John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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