As an architect, interior designer, or landscape architect, you use your education, knowledge, and talent to create safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing designs for your clients. However, you also are a licensed professional in Texas who must follow all professional and ethical standards that apply to your practice. When a current or former client complains about your services, your license may be at risk. In this situation, you should protect your license by enlisting the help of an experienced architectural examiner’s license defense lawyer.
Types of Complaints Before the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners
The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners (TBAE) has jurisdiction over only selected complaints about architects, interior designers, and landscape architects. They do not become involved in contractual or financial matters for which a client may be seeking financial damages. Instead, they handle complaints about the laws regulating the practice of architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture. For instance, all three of these professions are subject to separate professional rules of conduct. The TBAE has jurisdiction to investigate and discipline licensed professionals who violate these rules.
While there can be a wide range of complaints that come before the TBAE, some of the most common types of complaints include:
- Practicing without a valid license
- Improper or illegal advertising
- Professional code of conduct violations
- Misrepresenting the risk of using a particular design
- Offering services without a certificate of authorization
- Non-compliance with continuing education requirements
These violations can lead to disciplinary action against your architectural examiner’s license. Therefore, if you receive a complaint concerning these or any other violations, you should immediately take steps to protect yourself and minimize the risk to your license and your career.
The TBAE Complaint Process
When the TBAE receives a complaint, it will conduct a preliminary investigation within 30 days to determine whether the complaint falls within its jurisdiction, whether the target of the complaint has prior disciplinary history, and the priority level of the complaint. The total time that the TBAE takes to resolve a complaint varies from one case to another. This timeframe depends on the agency’s findings, the complexity of the case, and the right of the target of the complaint to exercise their due process rights throughout the proceedings.
If the TBAE finds probable cause that a professional has violated a rule or statute that it has jurisdiction to enforce, it can issue a warning or initiate a contested case. Although they are similar, each of the three professions – architects, interior designers, and landscape architects – are subject to separate statutory procedures that govern disciplinary proceedings. What follows is a description of the procedures that apply to disciplinary proceedings for architects.
Under 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 1.165, the TBAE may resolve a contested case informally at any time. For example, the parties can enter a settlement agreement for approval by TBAE, such as a consent order or a letter of reprimand. If the TBAE rejects the agreement, the parties can agree to alternative terms, or the case can go to a formal hearing for resolution.
If the parties cannot agree to a settlement, the TBAE refers the case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). SOAH will assign an administrative law judge (ALJ) to the case, who will hold an administrative hearing. After hearing the evidence, the ALJ issues a proposed decision in the case.
Possible Sanctions for Disciplinary Violations
Sanctions for violations of the rules and laws that pertain to architects can vary according to the severity of the violations, prior disciplinary history, and the number of violations. The following potential sanctions or penalties apply only to architects; interior designers and landscape architects have similar but separate statutory sanctions to which they may be subject.
The Executive Director of the TBAE may opt to issue a warning under 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 1.174(j) rather than initiate a contested case against a professional only in selected circumstances, as follows:
- The violation is the professional’s only violation of TBAE laws and rules,
- The professional has not previously been subject to a TBAE warning or order,
- The professional has provided a satisfactory remedy that has eliminated any harm or threat to the health or safety of the public, and
- The professional has committed one of the following violations:
- failure to provide or timely provide plans and specifications to TDLR under the requirements of Govt. Code Chap. 469 (Elimination of Architectural Barriers),
- Unauthorized use of the term “architect” or “architecture,”
- Failure to respond to a Board inquiry,
- Failure to provide a statement of jurisdiction,
- Use of a non-compliant seal by registrant,
- Failure to register or annually renew the registration of a business, or
- Creation of misleading impression by an architect advertising for services
The TBAE also may determine that an administrative penalty is an appropriate sanction for a rule or law violation, either alone or in addition to other disciplinary sanctions. Under 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 1.177, violations are classified as minor, moderate, or major. This statute contains a table of common violations and their classification by type. The following administrative penalties exist for each classification type:
- Minor – not more than $1,000
- Moderate – not more than $3,000
- Major – not more than $5,000
Individuals can face separate administrative penalties for each violation. Likewise, each sheet of architectural plans or specifications created or issued in violation of TBAE laws or rules is a separate violation. Continuing violations can result in separate penalties for each day that the violation continues.
Suspension or Revocation
In severe cases, professionals can face suspension or revocation of their architect examiner’s license. This sanction can leave you unable to practice as an architect for a period. If your disciplinary sanction includes suspension or revocation, you would have to seek reinstatement of your license under 22 Tex. Admin. Code 1.178 by doing the following:
- Demonstrating that you have taken reasonable steps to correct the misconduct or deficiency that led to the suspension or revocation,
- Demonstrating that the reinstatement or issuance of the certificate of registration is not inconsistent with the TBAE’s duty to protect the public by ensuring that professionals are qualified and fit for registration, and
- Paying all fees and costs incurred by the TBAE as a result of any disciplinary proceeding that led to the suspension or revocation, such as attorney’s fees, the costs of prosecuting the action at SOAH, and administrative and judicial appeals
Find Out More About Successfully Handling Your Disciplinary Proceedings
We want to help put you in the best position possible to protect your license. Contact the architectural examiner’s license defense attorneys of Bertolino LLP, for assistance with your case. You can reach our offices by calling (512) 515-9518 or contacting us online.