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Compensation to Unlicensed Architects

The purpose of the legislature in requiring the license determines the effect of the failure of an architect, or one posing as an architect, to procure a license to practice architecture on the validity and enforceability of a contract for services or on the right to recover for services rendered.  Where a license is prescribed by statute for the protection of the public as a requisite to engaging in a particular trade or business, such as practicing architecture or professional engineering, and it is made penal to carry on such trade or business without a license. Contracts violative of such statute because of lack of the license, are void.  Moreover, recovery cannot be had by a person for his/her services performed while pursuing such business or calling notwithstanding a contract providing therefore.[i]

An unlicensed architect’s contract is not rendered enforceable by virtue of the fact that the employer is informed that the architect does not have a license, or that the public authorities have never enforced such a requirement.[ii]  Where a statute prohibits the practice of architecture by unlicensed persons, a contract by a firm of builders who are not registered architects and who do not employ a registered architect, to prepare plans for the construction of a dwelling is not enforceable by the builders.[iii]

However, if a statute allows the furnishing of plans where there is full disclosure that the one doing so is not a licensed architect, a nonresident architect who informs his/her employer of the fact that s/he lacks a certificate is not barred from recovering for services rendered.[iv]  The architect licensing statute, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, § 122(a)(1), itself does not authorize recovery of fees.  The licensing statute further provides that a person who violates the statute is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not more than $ 5,000.  However, the statute does not specify other penalties, nor recovery of design fees from violators.  Recovery of payments is not necessary to effectuate the policy of the licensing statutes.[v]

Moreover, a firm of nonarchitect contractors who do not represent themselves to be architects is not precluded from recovering for architectural services performed by a registered architect [vi]  Likewise, an architect partnership, with one unlicensed architect, is not precluded from contracting to furnish architectural services.[vii]

[i] Johnson v. Delane, 77 Idaho 172 (Idaho 1955)

[ii] Clark v. Eads, 165 S.W.2d 1019 (Tex. Civ. App. Fort Worth 1942),

[iii] Marshall-Schule Associates, Inc. v. Goldman, 137 Misc. 2d 1024 (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 1987)

[iv] Medak v. Cox, 12 Cal. App. 3d 70, 90 Cal. Rptr. 452 (2d Dist. 1970).

[v] Howard v. Usiak, 172 Vt. 227 (Vt. 2001)

[vi] Madison v. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 20 Wis. 2d 361 (Wis. 1963)

[vii] Haynes v. East St. Louis Council, 258 Ill. App. 38 (Ill. App. Ct. 1930)

Inside Compensation to Unlicensed Architects