As a licensed building inspector, you've paid a high price to earn the public trust. You've spent time and money on your education, you've gained between 1-5 years of field experience, and you've gone through training and testing to gain your professional license. That license is now the key to your income.
Given all that is at stake, if a complaint or an allegation of misconduct or incompetence threatens your building inspector license, it can throw your whole world into uncertainty. What happens if you lose your license? What if you are fined more than you can pay? What impact could these allegations have on your career?
If you find yourself in this undesirable situation, the more you know about what to expect, the better you can prepare. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have extensive experience defending professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York whose licenses are being threatened. We have compiled the following key information to help you be better informed about disciplinary actions and what may be at stake for your building inspector license.
What accusations could cause me to lose my building inspector license?
Building inspectors can have their licenses jeopardized by various violations. Some common examples that could put your license at risk:
- Acting outside the scope of your license. Even within the domain of building inspection, most states have different technical tiers and specialty licenses with certain limitations attached to them. If you take actions outside the parameters of what you're licensed to do, or if you make false assertions to your clients as to your license, you could have your license suspended or revoked.
- Unprofessional conduct. If your behavior violates the state's professional behavioral standards or those of the licensing board, you could lose your license.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of certain crimes (especially felony offenses) can jeopardize your builder's inspection license, depending on the specific rules of the state in which you're licensed.
- Permitting an unlicensed person to perform licensed work. If you have unlicensed employees and you allow them to do work that they are unlicensed and unqualified to do, you could pay for it with your own license.
- Negligence and/or incompetence. If you sign off on construction projects that fail to meet local or state building code standards, you could put your license at risk.
- Falsifying records. If you inspect buildings that are out of code and certify them as being code compliant, for example, you could risk losing your license.
Could I face other disciplinary actions besides losing my license?
Yes. Not every offense will cost you your building inspector license. The regulatory board may opt for other types of sanctions against you that ultimately allow you to keep your license. These may include:
- License suspension. You may be temporarily prohibited from doing building inspections pending further review or meeting certain criteria.
- Fines. You may be penalized financially.
- Probation. You may be put on probation for a certain period of time and permitted to continue inspecting with conditions.
- Limitations on licensure. The board may restrict your license to certain activities or certain types of inspections.
- Continuing education requirements. The board may ask you to take continuing education courses to fill in any gaps in your learning.
- Formal reprimand. The board may issue a written reprimand that appears on your public record.
Can these disciplinary actions still hurt my career even though I get to keep my license?
Yes, they can. Although you may still be licensed by the state to conduct building or construction safety inspections, any disciplinary action is likely to be a matter of public record, accessible online by anyone who is thinking of hiring you. If someone looks you up and sees that you've got disciplinary actions against you, they may be less likely to work with you.
What can I expect with the disciplinary process?
Every state licensing board has its own procedures as to how it investigates complaints and makes decisions on discipline. However, most go through a process that similarly mirrors the following steps:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary actions begin with a complaint filed against you with the regulatory board in your state. This complaint can come from a colleague, an employer or former employer, a client, or someone else who works with you.
- Investigation. The licensing board will investigate the complaint to determine whether there is evidence to back the allegations. This process may include interviewing witnesses, issuing subpoenas for documentation and paperwork, and asking you to formally respond to the complaint.
- Consent order. If the board finds significant evidence to support the complaint against you, it may give you the opportunity to allow you to submit voluntarily to disciplinary action to avoid the hassle and embarrassment of a formal disciplinary hearing in the form of a consent order.
- Formal hearing. If no consent order is offered or agreed to, your case may go to a formal hearing, a legal proceeding to determine the future of your license and what disciplinary action may be taken. Depending on the rules for your state, this hearing may consist of you making your defense directly before the licensing board, or it may occur in court before an Administrative Law Judge.
- Determination and board action. At the end of the hearing, there will be a final determination to uphold or dismiss the complaint, and the board will decide on appropriate disciplinary action.
- Appeal. You have the right to appeal any adverse action to the appellate court system in your state. Bear in mind, however, that appeals courts rarely overturn licensing board decisions unless there was a gross mistake made in the disciplinary process.
It should be noted that many complaints never make it to the formal hearing stage. At numerous points during this process, you may have the opportunity to negotiate for dismissal of the complaint or to resolve the matter without taking it to court. A good license defense attorney can increase your chances of getting through the disciplinary process with little or no professional damage.
Should I agree to a consent order if one is offered?
It depends on the circumstances surrounding the complaint against you. If disciplinary action is likely based on the evidence, a consent order may afford you a more lenient penalty compared to having your license revoked. Even a voluntary surrender of your license via consent order stands a better chance of reinstatement down the road. However, if the evidence against you is sparse, or if you can provide sufficient evidence to disprove the complaint, you may be selling yourself short by taking a consent order. Always consult with an experienced license defense attorney before accepting the terms of a consent order.
I don't believe the investigation against me is valid. What happens if I just refuse to cooperate?
When you are licensed as a professional by the state, you agree to be accountable for your actions as a licensed professional—and that implies cooperation with any investigation. If you refuse to cooperate, refuse to respond to the complaint, refuse to provide requested documents, etc., the board is likely to rule summarily against you and probably revoke your license. You don't have to do or say anything to incriminate yourself, but you should cooperate in such a way that ensures your rights are still protected. The advice of a good license defense attorney can go a long way in this situation.
Will I be allowed to work during the investigation?
Yes, unless the licensing board says otherwise. If the allegations are egregious or the board has immediate concerns about your behavior or the safety of your work, it may issue a temporary suspension of your license until the matter is resolved. Until you receive that notice, however, you may assume it's okay to continue working as a building inspector.
Do I have to disclose that my license is under investigation?
Generally speaking, no, you don't. Many investigations do not result in disciplinary action, so unless you are mandated not to work anymore, you are under no legal obligation to talk about the investigation. The exception might be if you work for a firm or agency that requires you to disclose this information as part of the terms of your employment.
What do I tell people if they ask about my license being investigated?
If word spreads that you are under investigation, you might be asked about it by employers or clients. If so, it's okay to be honest without being detailed. Simply acknowledge that an investigation is ongoing, assure the person that you are cooperating fully, and that you intend to continue providing quality service until the matter is resolved. Avoid delving into details in an attempt to tell your side of the story, as this may actually work against you.
Why is it important to have an attorney defend my building inspector license? Can't I just resolve the complaint informally with the board?
While you always have the right to act as your own representative before the licensing board, you have a lot greater chance of a positive outcome if you allow an attorney to represent you. Three reasons why:
- The licensing board is not your ally. Don't make the mistake of assuming you can simply “explain yourself” to the board to get them to drop the matter. The board exists for the benefit of public safety, and they are not your friend. Once a complaint is filed, the board's job is to look for evidence against you—not to find a way to exonerate you. Anything you say to the board, informally or otherwise, can be used against you. In situations like this, it's best to let an attorney represent you.
- You do not have the advantage. Despite anyone's intentions to be “as fair as possible,” the licensing board has the “home field” advantage in any disciplinary investigation. Having an attorney puts you on equal footing, so your defense carries more weight.
- A license investigation is a legal proceeding. Your professional license constitutes a legal agreement with the state, so any review of your license becomes a legal matter. In legal proceedings, it makes sense to get legal representation.
I've been told the complaints against me are minor and probably won't result in having my license revoked. Should I still hire an attorney?
It's in your best interests to hire an attorney for any complaint or investigation into your license, no matter how “minor.” Here's why:
- Even so-called “minor” offenses could cost you your license. It's dangerous to make assumptions about the board's intentions toward you. If you're being investigated for a violation, just assume that license suspension or revocation is on the table and that you need an attorney to help avoid that outcome.
- “Minor” offenses can still damage you professionally. Remember, any disciplinary action against you can reflect badly on your professional record. If the offense is truly minor, hiring an attorney may give you a better chance of having the complaint dismissed without any marks on your record. That's still a better outcome than getting a lesser penalty for a minor offense.
If an investigator from the licensing board shows up at my home or place of business, do I have to let them in or answer their questions?
No, you don't. In fact, doing so could be a huge mistake. You are expected to cooperate with an investigation, but that doesn't mean you have to jeopardize your own defense. An investigator is there to look for reasons to penalize you, not to exonerate you, and accommodating the investigator basically bypasses your right to have an attorney involved. If an investigator shows up, we recommend that you politely ask for their contact information and let them know your attorney will be in touch. This constitutes cooperation without forfeiting your rights.
Do I need a special kind of attorney to help defend my license?
Any attorney who is licensed to practice in your state can legally serve as your representative in a license defense case. However, not every attorney understands administrative law or how the disciplinary process works with licensing boards. To give yourself the best chance of a good outcome, look for an attorney who has specific experience and a track record of success in license defense cases.
How can a license defense attorney help me?
Having an experienced license defense attorney almost always results in a more favorable outcome than if you attempt to “go it alone.” A good attorney can do the following for you:
- Provide clear insights as to what is at stake with the complaint against you and how you need to prepare;
- Work with you to decide on a clear strategy for defending your license;
- Act as your official legal representative in all interactions with the licensing board;
- Procure witnesses and gather evidence to support your defense;
- Negotiate with the board at various points in the disciplinary process to resolve the complaint with the best possible outcome (including dismissal of the complaint, if possible); and
- Defend your license in formal proceedings if the case moves forward.
Can a license defense attorney help me get my license reinstated if it has already been revoked?
Yes. Every state has policies in place by which you may be able to apply for reinstatement of your building inspector license. You may have to go through some or all of the following steps:
- Formally applying for reinstatement of your license
- Providing a written explanation of why the board should consider reinstating you
- Paying any application fees and outstanding fines
- Provide a work history that details all jobs you've held during the time your license was revoked
- Completing any/all prior mandated actions by the board, and providing appropriate documentation to confirm it (e.g., continuing education requirements)
- Agreeing to a plan of action prescribed by the board as a requisite for reinstatement
As you can see, the process of reinstatement can be complicated and involved. A good attorney can help you by coordinating your paperwork and fees, communicating with the board to follow up as they consider your request, and negotiating for the best possible terms for reinstatement of your license.
I just got notified of a complaint against me. How soon should I contact an attorney?
The sooner, the better. Some licensed professionals wrongly assume the time to hire an attorney is to represent them in the formal hearing; but by that time, the board has usually already formed an opinion about you, which puts you at a disadvantage. Hiring a license defense attorney early in the process affords more opportunities for the attorney to intervene on your behalf throughout the disciplinary process. Quite often, this results in a resolution of the complaint before it ever gets to the formal hearing stage—and in many cases, you can avoid permanent marks on your record by having the complaint dismissed.
You've worked hard to get where you are today, and the last thing you need is for your building inspector license to be jeopardized by a misunderstanding or a simple lapse in judgment. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience with license defense cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. He understands the laws in these states, and he knows the disciplinary processes and how best to defend you. Don't risk your professional future by facing these allegations alone. Let the Lento Law Firm work to save your license and your career. Call (888) 535-3686 to learn more.