Here is another pertinent case study to capture your attention. Yes, times change but many things remain the same or are repeated. Take noncompliance actions for instance. The following case study occurred 10 years ago. WHAT...you say! Well these law breaking scenarios are still happening today, more than you may think. Amanda Kolson Hurley, Senior Editor, CityLab and former editor at ARCHITECT originally authored this article September 10, 2009. The following is a case study excerpted from the original article.
Michael Angelo Gideo owns a small business in Plano, Texas, that specialized in custom-designed backyards. His company installs swimming pools, builds outdoor fireplaces and patios, puts up decks, and tackles landscaping projects. The company, Backyard Architect, has a website at backyard architect.com. A fitting name, right? The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners doesn't think so: Gideo is not, and has never been, a registered architect in the state of Texas; nor is his company affiliated with a registered architect. By Texas law, one of these conditions must be met if the term "architect" or "architectural services" is used in a business name.
Early this year, after Backyard Architect came to their attention, board staff sent Gideo warning letters, notifying him that he was violating both the state Architects' Practice Act and the Landscape Architects' Practice Act. He didn't respond. In March, board staff met informally with Gideo to tell him that his continued use of the term "architect" in his business name was illegal. "He gave us no legal reason why he was [still using the term]," recounts Michael Shirk, the board's managing litigator. Gideo's website stayed live, the name unchanged.
Rule-Breakers and Fakers
If Texas Board of Architectural Examiners v. Mike Gideo stands out, it's for the jaw-dropping penalty recommendation, not for the fact that someone without a license to practice architecture touted himself as an architect or offered architectural services. That part is all too common. Unlicensed practice is nothing new, and neither are attempts to curtail it. Many states have had laws on the books for decades stipulating that architects stamp drawings of all structures above a certain square footage. The intent is to safeguard the health and welfare of the public: An office building or day care center with major design flaws poses an obvious risk to people inside, as does an unsound or barely habitable home.
In any given year, hundreds of complaints about unlicensed practitioners are filled with state boards by members of the public; by bona fide licensed architects; and by building officials (alerted, perhaps, by a set of unstamped drawings). Who are the offenders?
They include an architecture school professor who used the phrase, "as an architect, I..." In a newspaper article she wrote (Iowa 1997, cease-and-desist order, no penalty). and a licensed architect who was found to have published his business website -- with multiple variations on the verboten title "architect" -- before he had obtained his license (California, 2006, $500 civil penalty). There are respected architects, already licensed in one or more states, who obtain a license in another -- but only after starting work on a project there. At the other end of the ethical spectrum are the people who steal dead architects' seals and fraudulently stamp drawings with them.
In between the shoulda-known-betters and the downright crooks are a lot of overreaching drafters and builders like Gideo. Almost always, a state board's first step after investigating a complaint is to send a letter explaining the protected nature of the terms "architect" and "architectural".
Do the violators really not know that what they're doing is illegal? "A decent number" of cases are due to ignorance, confirms Douglas McCauley, executive officer of the California board: "Folks are genuinely not knowledgeable" about the law. However, he adds, "You also get a fair number who know the law, and ... are operating on the edge." Joseph Vincent, administrator of Washington state's board, estimates "right off the top of [his] head" that about 75 percent of these violators don't understand the legal protection of the title or how they've infringed on it. The other 25 percent "are more deliberate --- and then we pursue appropriate actions."
What's in a Name
Reached by phone in late July, Michael Angelo Gideo was happy to talk about his dealings with the Texas board, though his reactions see-sawed between defiance and bewilderment. Backyard Architect, he says, is "just a play on words," which he compares to "Lawn Doctor" --- "and I don't see anybody getting harassed on account of Lawn Doctor."
When asked if he would change his company's name, Gideo responded that he wouldn't. A few minutes later, he backtracked, saying he might change it to Michael Angelo II. Gideo acknowledges that he could see why the state wanted to regulate use of the title "architect" --- "I can see their side, too; they're trying to protect the people" --- and claims that he'd like to find an architect to affiliate with, and thereby satisfy the law, but it will take time.
Will he pay the $200,000 penalty? "How would I pay that? How would you do that? It's ridiculous." He says he has stopped opening mail related to the case and hasn't retained an attorney.
Just before this issue went to press, the governor-apponted board members (they do not include Shirk, a staffer) voted to adopt the judge's proposal. "Respondent's ongong and purposeful disregard of the laws within the Board's jurisdiction indicates that a significant sum of money must be imposed to deter future ... illegal behavior," reads a passage in the final order.
If Gideo fails to pay the penalty in full or to appeal within 50 days of the order's issuance, the board will seek an injunction against him in district court. After that happens, he could end up with the attorney general's office seizing his assets.
No doubt Gideo's behavior was "extremely serious," as the board found, but $200,000 --- that's a lot of money. In response to this observation, Shirk e-mailed, "Big State--Big Penalty." The e-mail had a photo of the Texas state flag, with a legend in large-point, red type:
"Don'tMess With Texas Architects."
The question arises...did Gideo pay the $200,000 fine or not? To follow this case study 10 years later we contacted the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners to learn the disposition of the Michael Angelo Gideo non compliance issue. Glenn Garry, Communications Manager confirmed the agency has not heard from Gideo since 2010. No penalty dollars have been received. The case was referred to the State Attorney General's office and a suit was filed in 2010 with a judgement total of $208,131.50.
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