Unlicensed designer prosecuted in the Tauranga District Court
Licensed building practitioners (LBPs) can be held to account by the Building Practitioners Board if they have breached any of the grounds for discipline referred to in Section 317 of the Building Act.
However, if a non-licensed person carries out restricted building work (RBW) or holds themselves out to be licensed when they are not, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) can investigate and prosecute them through the District Court.
MBIE has successfully prosecuted a Tauranga designer for forgery and carrying out restricted building work while his building practitioner licence was suspended.
Earlier this year, the Tauranga District Court convicted and sentenced Matthew John Biddle to six months home detention for forgery and ordered him to pay $7,564 penalty to his two victims for carrying out work as a licenced building practitioner whilst suspended.
Biddle, the sole director of Inception Design Limited, held himself out as a person who was licenced to carry out restricted building work and used forged documents. He submitted several Certificates of Work to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Tauranga City Council using the name and details of another LBP designer. This LBP did not supervise his work, had no knowledge of the work undertaken, and did not authorise Biddle to use their details.
Why was he suspended?
Biddle was initially assessed and granted a Design licence in May 2012. The Building Practitioners Board investigated and heard a complaint against him in June 2017 and imposed a fine, and in June 2018 the Registrar of Licensed Practitioners suspended his licence for failing to adhere to the agreed payment plan for that fine. He subsequently paid the fine and completed his outstanding skills maintenance requirements, and his licence was reactivated in September 2018.
Further history with the Board
Following the hearing into another complaint, the Board decided to cancel Biddle’s licence in mid-December 2018 and ordered that he may not apply to be relicensed before the expiry of 18 months. It was also ordered that he pay $3000 towards the costs of, and incidental to, the Board’s inquiry.
In this case the Board found that he had been incompetent under Section 317(1)(b) of the Act. They did not consider the design, which Biddle claimed was ready for lodgement for a building consent, was competently developed or that it would have obtained a building consent. The documents also lacked site specific detail which would have been available to him had he carried out a competent site investigation, and there were aspects that would not have met compliance requirements and/or were not buildable.
The Board also found that Biddle had conducted himself in a manner that brings, or is likely to bring, the regime into disrepute in that he took funds without an intention to complete the agreed services, and in the way he has dealt with his client. The Board also noted that he was not a reliable or truthful witness.
The negligence and disrepute findings were similar conduct to those found in the earlier complaint to the Board.
Restricted building work must be carried out or supervised by an LBP
Multiple homeowners who engaged Biddle for building alterations and renovations were not aware that his licence was suspended. Property owners were only alerted to the offending when the Tauranga City Council rejected plans submitted by Biddle on the grounds that he was not an LBP.
One of the aims of licensing is to increase and maintain consumer confidence and provide a choice of competent practitioners. Charges under the Crimes Act are not brought about lightly – MBIE will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute people who commit these types of offences.
Following multiple complaints to MBIE from those affected property owners, the investigation and subsequent prosecution was launched, resulting in the above District Court decision.