Ex licensed building practitioner Matthew Biddle forged certificates to hide suspension

Matt Biddle was convicted of forging certificates to hide his suspension as a licensed building practitioner, which meant his working drawings were unable to be used by homeowners. Photo / Google

An architectural designer who forged the signature of a licensed building practitioner (LBP) to hide his own licence suspension, has been ordered to pay back two homeowners $7564.

The LBP suspension meant Matthew John Biddle was not permitted to do the restricted work he was hired to do, making the plans he drew invalid and unusable for homeowners.

However, he still invoiced them and was paid for the work, knowing he was suspended.

The 50-year-old Papamoa man was convicted of two charges of holding himself out as an LBP and one of carrying out restricted building work, in the Tauranga District Court in February.

He pleaded guilty to two charges of using forged documents during the judge-alone trial and was sentenced to home detention in April.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which took the prosecution, said Biddle submitted a Certificate of Work using the name and contact details of another LBP.

He not only used the other LBP’s number without the person’s knowledge, but he also signed the document purporting to be that person.

Biddle told the judge at his trial this was “pretty much standard in the industry” but Judge Thomas Ingram said Biddle was not 21 anymore and should have known better.

Biddle is the same architectural designer ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay a former employer more than $100,000 for taking home files and deliberately deleting others.

He initially told Open Justice he didn’t know his licence was suspended at first and that he was hired in some cases when his licence was still current, but later he said he did not want to comment because the matter had been dealt with through the courts.

The Building Act 2004 is designed to protect consumers against shoddy work by restricting certain types of work to licensed practitioners.

In his decision Judge Ingram said when Biddle represented to his clients that plans he had drawn were ready to go to council, he was holding himself out to be a licensed building practitioner, and acknowledging the drawing of the plans to that stage was restricted building work.

Biddle had been an LBP since 2012, when a complaint against him in 2016 to the Building Practitioners Board resulted in a $3500 fine and costs of $2000 in June 2017 for negligent work.

He narrowly avoided a six-month suspension by submitting it would be detrimental to his business and children.

A licensed building practitioner is certified to carry out or supervise restricted work. An LBP public register lists the names of those who are certified in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
A licensed building practitioner is certified to carry out or supervise restricted work. An LBP public register lists the names of those who are certified in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

However, in November 2017 Biddle’s licence was suspended for not paying the fines. It was reactivated in late January 2018 when Biddle worked out a payment plan.

Open Justice has seen a list of half a dozen clients who claim on a private Facebook page that Biddle ripped them off.

One of those homeowners told Open Justice she wouldn’t have hired Biddle if she had known he was suspended, and his company was in liquidation.

Laura Faulconer and her husband Andrew Leslie checked the Licensed Building Practitioners register before getting Biddle to draw plans for an alteration to their Tauranga home in March 2018.

She saw no warning Biddle had been suspended and Biddle’s website Residential Designs gave no indication the company had gone into liquidation in February that year, owing creditors $263,500.

Faulconer told Open Justice she complained to the Building Practitioners Board after she paid Biddle several thousand dollars for drawings that he failed to submit to Tauranga City Council.

“We tried to submit without him and the council had too many push-backs … and so we had to pay again and start all over with somebody new.”

On June 1, 2018 the board notified Biddle in writing he was suspended again after he failed to adhere to the fines payment plan.

Biddle gave evidence he did not receive the letter and was unaware of his suspension until June 25 when Tauranga City Council rejected some of his work because he was not licensed.

The judge accepted that defence and dismissed four charges against Biddle for work carried out in early to mid-June.

However, he said Biddle led one client to believe he was licensed through retaining the LBP logo on his Residential Design website and telling her he would submit the plans to council, despite knowing he was suspended.

The judge found Biddle also failed to inform another client of his suspension in July that year and that client later brought a successful claim against Biddle in the Disputes Tribunal.

A further client also took Biddle to the Disputes Tribunal where he acknowledged liability for a full refund, Ingram wrote.

In that case, relating to work Biddle did in August 2018 for a property in Papamoa where the plans were never submitted to council, the judge found Biddle carried out restricted building work when he knew his licence was suspended.

In sentencing Biddle, Ingram said he found the forgery the most serious of the charges.

He said Biddle was an experienced designer who knew it was wrong to forge someone else’s signature.

Ingram said this was serious because a house was usually the most expensive asset a person would ever own and if building work was “not up to snuff because a mistake has been made then somebody needs to be liable for the error”.

MBIE occupational regulation national manager Duncan Connor said the board’s 2017 penalty was listed on Biddle’s licence record on the LBP register.

He said Biddle’s licence was cancelled by the board in December 2018 for 18 months due to another disciplinary offence and he was removed from the public register.

In that case Biddle was found incompetent, with the board noting it needed to ensure the public was protected from unscrupulous conduct.

Connor said Biddle not only deceived the homeowners who hired him to undertake building work, but he “fraudulently used another person’s details for his own benefit, not considering the impact this would have on them”.

“Tauranga City Council flagged to Mr Biddle that his licence had expired when he submitted a Certificate of Work for a property in Mt Maunganui.

“Subsequently, Mr Biddle submitted a Certificate of Work using the name and contact details of another LBP.”

He did this without the other LBP’s knowledge and then signed the certificate in that person’s name, Connor said.

“These charges under the Crimes Act are not brought about lightly. MBIE will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute people who commit these types of offences.”

Biddle has not reapplied for a licence but told Open Justice he is working for another firm.

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