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Illegal Practice and Act Enforcement

The Architects Act defines architecture and sets out which types of buildings in Ontario require an architect by law—this includes most public-use and large buildings. The Act also establishes legal liability for the protected practice architecture (or enabling of it) by non‐architects. This liability extends to Authorities Having Jurisdiction who elect to process applications in contravention of the Act.

The OAA is responsible for administering the Act to serve and protect the public interest. The Act restricts the practice of architecture to licensed members of the OAA providing professional services through a Certificate of Practice issued by the OAA. This includes:

• the preparation or provision of a design to govern the construction, enlargement, or alteration of a building;
• evaluating, advising on, or reporting on the construction, enlargement, or alteration of a building; or
• a general review of the construction, enlargement, or alteration of a building.

It is an offence for an unlicensed person (including a corporation) to use the term “architect” or any derivative—you can learn more below. It is also an offence to hold oneself out as engaging in the practice of architecture without a licence issued by the OAA.

Misrepresentation of the protected title “architect” and misleading claims or advertising (inadvertently or purposely) could lead the public to conclude they would be receiving architectural services from a licensed and regulated professional.

This page answers Frequently Asked Questions about illegal practice and act enforcement from the perspective of both OAA members and the public.

What is the OAA’s role in enforcing the Architects Act?

Under the Act, the OAA is tasked with ensuring:

projects requiring an architect must have an architect (the OAA works regularly with architects, professional engineers, planners, building officials, and owners to assist in determining when this is true for a project—or project stage, such as a formal application to a local government);
• only those who appropriately trained, qualified, and licensed with the OAA use the occupational designation of “architect;" and
• only through a Certificate of Practice can architectural services be offered or provided to the public. (Certificates of Practice are listed in the OAA Directory.)

The OAA’s regulatory mandate includes taking action against those unlawfully providing architectural services. The Architects Act and its Regulations outline specific exceptions, but outside of these, the OAA may take legal action. In most cases where illegal practice is identified, the OAA will contact the project’s owner and advise the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) that permits should not be issued to projects proceeding illegally.

Here is what the Act says:

46. (1) Every person who contravenes Section 11 is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable for the first offence to a fine of not more than $25,000 and for each subsequent offence to a fine of not more than $50,000. R.S.O. 1990, c. A.26, s. 46 (1).

Idem

(2) Every person who is not a holder of a licence, certificate of practice, or temporary licence, and who,

(a) uses the title “architect” or “architecte” as an occupational designation;

(b) uses,
(i) an addition to or an abbreviation of the title “architect” or “architecte”,
(ii) an occupational designation, or
(iii) a term, title, addition or description,
that will lead to the belief that the person may engage in the practice of architecture; or

(c) uses a seal that will lead to the belief that the person is an architect,

is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable for the first offence to a fine of not more than $10,000 and for each subsequent offence to a fine of not more than $25,000. R.S.O. 1990, c. A.26, s. 46 (2).

 

What is the process of Act enforcement? How do members of the OAA or members of the public take action?

Anyone can report a potential breach of the Architects Act. Members of the OAA are required to report unauthorized practice—failure to do so could result in a finding of professional misconduct. If you are aware of a possible infraction:

1. Determine if the individual or practice is registered with the Association by searching the OAA Directory. In most cases, if the individual or practice is not listed, it is not affiliated with the OAA. However, the OAA issues temporary licences to out-of-province architects who work on specific projects in collaboration with OAA architects. Temporary licence holders are not listed in the directory. Please contact complaints@oaa.on.ca if you have specific questions.

2. Collect as much information and documentation as possible. Photographs of a project sign, copies of permit applications, business cards, title blocks, articles, relevant correspondence, and/or drawings are very useful. Include contact information for the alleged contravener, if possible.

3. Submit the collected information. You can email enforcement@oaa.on.ca or mail the package to:

Act Enforcement
Ontario Association of Architects
111 Moatfield Drive
Toronto, ON
M3B 3L6

The OAA will investigate when a possible infraction is brought to its attention.

Please note: OAA staff members are prohibited from providing any updates or information about complaints relating to the breach of the Architects Act. Once the information has been received, all persons engaged in the administration of the Act are required to preserve the confidentiality of all matters relating thereto.

 

What actions does the OAA take if it appears as if illegal practice has taken place?

If it appears illegal practice has occurred, the OAA may:

• send an inquiry letter advising of the concerns, and request specific corrective action (this is a common first step in the case of misrepresentations);
• request the individual sign an undertaking and covenant agreement, which includes an acknowledgment of the Act breach and agrees to compliance in the future; and/or
• pursue financial damages or injunctive relief through the courts.

 

What happens in cases where there is a breach of the act? How many instances happened this year?

While confidentiality is maintained about individual instances of act enforcement, the OAA releases information in the aggregate. The graphic below summarizes the OAA’s enforcement activities for 2023.

Of the 287 investigations in 2023, which includes both new matters as well as active ongoing investigations:

- 234 were resolved by the Office of the Registrar (i.e. no further action was required due to the OAA’s enforcement hierarchy matrix, that there was no breach, or changes were implemented); and 
- one resulted in a now-resolved injunction.

As of January 2024, there are 52 that remain ongoing.

 

 

Can I use the word “architectural” in my title or use "architecture" to describe the work I do if I am not licensed with the OAA?

The Architects Act expressly prohibits those who do not hold a licence with the OAA to use an addition to or an abbreviation of the title “architect,” an occupational designation, or a term, title, addition or description, that will lead to the belief the person may engage in the practice of architecture.

Read broadly, it would be prudent for individuals working in the building and construction industry to refrain from using titles that includes the word "architectural" or similar derivatives, or to use the word "architecture" when describing services, to avoid confusing the public.

Where the OAA believes a job title or description of services could be viewed as misleading to the public, it may take regulatory action against the company or individual.
If you have questions about existing advertising or how to advertise your services to the public, please feel free to reach out to enforcement@oaa.on.ca.

 

I’m a foreign trained architect, but not yet licensed by the OAA. Can I call myself an architect?

The short answer is no, you are not permitted to use the title ‘architect’ in Ontario if you are not licensed by the OAA. You are permitted to list your credentials and indicate the jurisdictions where you are currently authorized to practise architecture—however, if you choose to do so, you must make it clear you are not a licensed architect in Ontario.

If you are registered as an Intern Architect, please consult the OAA Memorandum, Use of the Title ‘Intern Architect.’

Can a business that does not hold a Certificate of Practice state that it offers architectural services?

An architect has regulatory requirements and ethical obligations to the client receiving the architectural services. To avoid misleading the public, descriptions such as “architectural services” and “architecture practice” should only be used by those licensed by the OAA. Suitable replacements include “design,” “design/build,” “drafting services,” and “design services.”

Some engineering, consulting, or project management companies work with architects and will coordinate these services with their existing clients. While doing so is not expressly prohibited by the Architects Act, it is important that these companies do not advertise or provide services in a way that may lead the public to believe they offer architectural services or are, in any way, practising architecture in Ontario. Doing otherwise may attract a regulatory response from the OAA.

 


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