New empirical study on regulation of landscape contractors

March 13, 2018 | By CALEB TROTTER

More and more people are becoming aware of the expansive and burdensome legal barriers that nearly a third of Americans encounter when seeking to earn a living in the profession of their choice. The most onerous of these barriers is the occupational license. Occupational licensing is typical in professions with serious health and fraud risks (e.g., doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors), but since the 1950s the number of licensed occupations with little to no public health, safety, or fraud risks (e.g., florists, hair braiders, and casket sellers) have proliferated. I recently completed a study in which I took a deep look into how one profession with little risk to the public (landscape contracting) is regulated and licensed across the United States. The results of my study were published by the South Texas Law Review. I found that about half the states specifically regulate landscape contractors, with 11 states requiring an occupational license.

Arizona is one of the 11 states that requires landscapers to be licensed. There, landscapers are licensed as a subset of construction contractors. That means that those who install plants around a home are subject to the same licensing requirements as those who built the home. And in Arizona those requirements are hefty.

Before one can lawfully work as a landscape contractor in the Grand Canyon State, he must first have four years of experience in the trade as an apprentice or employee under a licensed landscaper. Then, he must pass two exams and pay $850 in fees. In other words, before an enterprising new landscaper can lawfully strike out on his own, he must first work for one of his future competitors for four years! And only after those four years will he be allowed to show the State he is capable of performing the work on his own after paying a handsome fee.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Arizona (as well as Hawaii and Nevada) also restricts the advertising of landscapers who are exempt from licensure. For example, even though many lawn maintenance workers are exempt from needing a landscape contractor license unless they perform a substantial amount of landscaping work in addition to their primary business of mowing, edging, weedeating, etc., the government prohibits them from using any form of the word “landscape” in their business advertisements. As a result, instead of using one of the most common terms for the work they do, the government has singled out their speech for limitation.

Since 39 states don’t require landscapers to be licensed, and nearly half of the states see fit to not regulate landscapers at all, it leaves one to wonder why it is necessary for Arizona to take such a hard line. The good news is that perhaps the landscape has developed in Arizona such that lawmakers may be willing to reconsider the burdensome license for green-thumbed entrepreneurs. If so, we’d be happy to help.