Earlier this month a story broke out of California from Fox News on two people who posed as licensed engineers and using stolen software, drew up plans for homes, apartments, commercial properties and strip malls in at least 56 cities in Southern California since 2003. These two men worked for a Professional Engineering firm and were “moonlighting” and were even poaching clients of the firm that employed them, which is what eventually led to the demise of their illegal actions. “There has never been a case involving alleged engineering fraud of this magnitude”, was a quote from the Detective on the case, who further was quoted saying,“ we just don’t know if the houses are safe, unsafe or suitable for habitation”.
I have spent many of my years as the Chair of the Licensing Subcommittee on the AIANJ Legislative & Government Affairs Committee, and throughout that time received communication from many members about people practicing architecture illegally in their community and what AIANJ would do about it. When I explained that it was their individual responsibility as a Registered Architect in NJ to report to the State Board of Architects of said illegal practice, the members were not willing to act. Why? Well in most cases they were afraid of some kind of repercussions. What repercussions could be worse than the effects that illegal practice has on our profession? Cheaper fees, sub-par services including construction without supervision, etc. I have said to each and every person who talks to me about this subject that it is OUR responsibility to police OUR industry. I personally submitted a complaint against a “designer” who proudly displayed their lawn sign, proudly marketed their services on their Facebook page with testimonials from clients and proudly presented themselves as an Architect. It was the lawn sign that told me the person was not a registered architect and led me to check with the State Board of Architects website and voila, no license! The designer gave all the necessary evidence through their Facebook page and website for me to use against them. I submitted a complaint to the State Board of Architects and a couple months later received a copy of the findings of the Board, which resulted in over $9,000 in fines. But the fines were not only levied against the designer, but against the registered Architect who signed and sealed the plans.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars lost to the illegal practice of architecture here in NJ. The people practicing illegally are employees who are moonlighting, designers who went to architecture school but just don’t want to commit to the licensing process, design-builders, contractors, the list goes on. AIANJ is committed to take this problem on by way of educating the public about illegal practice and the dangers of those people who are posing as registered Architects. This subject is very important to the organization, but we cannot do this alone. We need our members to act vigilantly and report illegal activity to the State Board of Architects by filing a complaint. The form is very simple and takes 15 minutes to complete. I am also providing a link to a AIANJ Blog article on this subject providing more detailed information on filing a complaint.
We must all understand that the real repercussions by not filing a complaint are allowing those who are practicing illegally to continue to do so and to have a direct impact against our businesses and livelihoods. Once we take this seriously, we will begin to elevate the Value of the Architect.
Justin A. Mihalik, AIA
AIA New Jersey 2016 President