Are complaints against architects falling on deaf ears?February 9, 2019
In the past decade, the registration board has completed 22 inquiries – finding against architects in half these cases. The board did not deregister an architect in this period, despite having the power to do so.
And in 2012, the board stopped reporting complaints it received by phone from the public – despite previously averaging more than 50 calls a year.
“I have seen so many people complain and it just stops instantly,” said Phil Dwyer, a registered builder and president of the Builders Collective of Australia, a group that lobbies for better consumer protection in the construction industry.
“Architects simply won’t take complaints [and] appear to be immune from any sort of accountability in this state,” he said.
Many complaints, however, come from consumers enraged over a contractual dispute, which is not part of the board’s responsibilities.
Adam Toma, chief and registrar of the board since December, said the board, along with the disciplinary actions it did take, provided guidance and support to consumers concerned with their architect’s performance.
He also said architects were regularly suspended for not having insurance. In the past six months, 39 architects were suspended for this.
Architects Registration Board of Victoria chair David Islip, an architect, defended the organisation, saying it upheld “the highest standards of integrity” in the industry.
The board of the registration board is made up of five architects, a building industry representative and two consumer advocates. This board decides which complaints about architects are investigated.
Architects investigated are not named in inquiry reports although it is possible – with some difficulty – to find out if an architect has been investigated.
The situation is at odds with the practice in New South Wales, where architects found guilty of shoddy work by the registration board are publicly named.
Lawyer Sean Barrett, whose complaint against the architect who oversaw his renovation project was dismissed, queried the transparency surrounding the board’s inquiries.
Mr Barrett said he was “open to a reasonable explanation’’ about the board’s decision to dismiss his complaint. But he was ‘‘concerned about the lack of transparency and the manner in which these inquiries are conducted”.
Before November’s state election, Mr Barrett took his case to Planning Minister Richard Wynne. The board, he wrote to Mr Wynne, was ‘‘operating more like an exclusive club that is disproportionately focused on protecting the interests of its members’’.
The Architects Registration Board also refused to investigate a complaint from Margaret Wallin. In 2004, Ms Wallin and her partner engaged architect Craig Chester to design a redevelopment of their Kew property.
The development went wrong, and the couple’s relationship with the architect…