Eight Barfoot & Thompson real estate agents have had their unsatisfactory conduct findings and fines quashed by the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal in a case that has redefined who or what an architect may be.
The tribunal heard an appeal by Kai Herman, Joyce Wang, Jack Howatt, Sau Li, Ian Thornhill, Philip Gilchrist, Paul Barnao and Judith Watson, who had all separately been found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct and received various fines.
Their cases were joined together for the appeal.
The tribunal said it was worried people might be induced into buying residential or commercial property on the basis of its particular architecture when the designer could be someone at a much lower level of prestige and status (and ability) than was to be expected from a person registered with the NZ Board of Architects.
But it also found designers could be described as an architect even if they were unregistered or did not have a degree in architecture.
It was disturbing that people who were no more than architectural designers or draftspeople were being held out as prominent architects.
“The issue has been given quite some publicity over the past year or so and we expect real estate licencees to be aware of it and to be very careful in their representations about property designers.
“It is very concerning that members of the public may not be buying what they expect about the design of buildings.”
The tribunal said a misconception that a person at a much lower level of prestige and status than an architect could lead to a buyer paying a much higher price than otherwise for property had to be eliminated.
Nevertheless, it said the NZ Registered Architects Board did not accept that an academic qualification necessarily entitled a person to be registered as an architect.
Although the board generally required that an application for registration must have a recognised academic qualification and suitable work experience, a long interview between an application and two architect assessors were key to their acceptance.
The tribunal found a qualification such as a degree in architecture was not a necessary prerequisite to being an “architect” and the Registered Architects Rules 2006 did not make a degree in architecture a requirement of obtaining registration.
In all eight cases, seven were architectural designers and one held a degree in architecture from Germany but was not registered here.
The tribunal found there was no evidence to suggest people referred to in the ads as architects did not possess the necessary skill and knowledge to perform the work that they actually undertook.
Nor was there any suggestion that the properties were not designed with proper regard to aesthetic or practical considerations.
“The real issue is whether the person is good enough at what they do to be properly described as an architect.”
It said that none of the appellants were guilty of unsatisfactory conduct but there could be a misleading element to the conduct. “Certainly, we would take no action against any of them in all the circumstances.
“Simply put, the designers were technically architects so the public was not misled about that. But we feel that the public would expect an architect to hold a university degree in architecture and also be registered.”
The judgment hinted that the onus of proof of definition of an architect lay with complainants at the complaints committee stage under the act, which may leave room open for a different approach in future cases.