Professional Conduct Committee erases Ealing architect after a finding unacceptable professional conduct (24/11/2016)
At a hearing of the Architects Registration Board’s Professional Conduct Committee in London on 7 and 8 November 2016, Mr Cristobal Mendoza Cruz of Menza Architecture, Ealing, London was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and erased from the Register of Architects.
Mr Mendoza was appointed to design an extension to a domestic property. It was alleged that his client mistakenly overpaid the Architect’s fees and, despite numerous requests for repayment, he did not reimburse her. It was further alleged that Mr Mendoza had stated to ARB that he would only repay any overpaid money to his client if she withdrew her complaint, and that he could not evidence that the client’s money was being held in a separately designated account.
It was also alleged that during the course of the ARB’s investigations, concerns were raised as to the promotion of the services via the firm’s website, in that it described the firm as having “a team of ARB registered Architects”, when in fact, Mr Mendoza was the only registered person at the practice.
Mr Mendoza attended the hearing and denied all the allegations.
He accepted that his client had overpaid him and that he confirmed at the time that he would repay her, but less any interest for time spent dealing with this issue. The PCC heard that despite the client requesting the repayment in September 2015, no payment had been made as of the date of the hearing. The Committee found that Mr Mendoza had therefore failed to make any repayment which was reasonably demanded he had failed to deal with the ensuing complaint appropriately or promptly.
Mr Mendoza accepted in evidence that he had said the overpayment would only be refunded if the ARB complaint was withdrawn, but denied that such an approach was wrong. The PCC found it was inappropriate to make the refund conditional on the complaint being withdrawn. It further found that the Architect lacked integrity in that he had given assurances that he would repay the overpayment yet refused to do so while his client pursued her complaint.
Mr Mendoza accepted that he did not hold a separate client account. He stated that the money paid by his client was kept in his business account which was used to pay the practice’s expenses. The PCC found that the Architect was untrustworthy in respect of this matter and that he had not looked after his client’s money properly.
Finally, the PCC heard that Mr Mendoza’s website suggests that the practice has more than one registered architect working there, suggesting to the public that that the firm is a larger organisation than is in fact the case. It was alleged that this was misleading and confusing. Mr Mendoza said in evidence that he would work with other architects on a freelance basis, and therefore, his website was accurate. He accepted however, that these individuals were “close friends”, that he “was not really sure if they were registered”, and that he was, in fact, the only registered architect at the practice.
In finding all the allegations proved, the PCC found that they were serious and that individually and collectively they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct. The public should be able to expect a professional person to keep to their word, and Mr Mendoza had deliberately failed in this regard.
In considering sanction, the PCC gave regard to the fact Mr Mendoza had engaged in the regulatory process but also identified a number of aggravating factors. These included a lack of remorse or insight into his failings. His conduct related to a wide range of shortcomings relating to his relationship with his client, his regulator, mismanagement of client money and potentially misleading the public through his firm’s website. Furthermore, despite accepting that his client is owed repayment of the overpayment, he had still failed to repay her and restated that he would not do so while the complaint against him was ongoing.
The PCC considered that Mr Mendoza had displayed an entrenched and severe lack of integrity and that his conduct was incompatible with continuing to be an architect. He was therefore erased from the Register of Architects.
A copy of the Committee’s decision can be found here.
Notes for Editors
ARB is the statutory body established by Parliament under the Architects Act 1997 to regulate the UK architects’ profession in the public interest. The Act requires ARB (among other things) to:
· Maintain the Register of Architects (Section 3)
· Prescribe qualifications for entry to the Register of Architects (Section 4)
· Deal with competence to practise (Section 9)
· Issue a Code which lays down standards of professional conduct and practice (Section 13)
· Regulate use of the title “architect” and prosecute those who use it unlawfully (Section 20)
The PCC is established under Schedule 1, Part II of the Architects Act and is required to consider any report referred to it. The Committee determines whether an architect is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence. Where a guilty finding is made, the Committee will consider whether to make a disciplinary order, which means:
· a reprimand
· a penalty order
· a suspension order (to a maximum of 2 years); or
· an erasure order
Money raised by fines imposed by the Professional Conduct Committee is paid to HM Treasury.