Meaning of the Seal and Signature
The seal and signature of a landscape architect on a document indicates that a licensee has taken responsibility for the work and has been interpreted as an attestation that, to the best of the licensee’s belief and information, the work represented in the document:
- is accurate, and
- conforms with governing codes applicable at the time of submission, and
- conforms with reasonable standards of practice and with a view to the safeguarding of life, health, property and public welfare.
Application of the Seal and Signature
Section 7327 of the Education Law requires every landscape architect to have a seal and identifies when it must be applied. It does not specify the type of seal to be used, with an embossing seal, rubber stamp or electronic version all being acceptable to the State Education Department (the Department) and the State Board for Landscape Architecture (State Board).
Section 7327 also identifies when a landscape architect is required to sign and seal documents. In general, all working drawings and specifications, reports, or other landscape architectural documents required to be signed and sealed, prepared by the landscape architect relating to the setting, approaches or environment for structures or other improvements or under the supervision of such landscape architect, shall be stamped with such seal and signed on the original with the personal signature of the landscape architect when filed with public officials. In addition, Commissioner’s Regulations Section 79-1.4 requires that whenever a document is signed and sealed, a stamp is required with appropriate wording warning that it is a violation of this law for any person to alter any document that bears the seal of a landscape architect, unless the person is acting under the direction of a licensed landscape architect. For information on changing documents signed and sealed by a landscape architect, refer to Practice Guideline A.4.
Whatever the means of production, on all documents on which a seal is required, there shall be visible the required image, satisfying the provisions of Education Law Section 7327 and the Commissioner’s Regulations Section 79-1.4, and which clearly and legibly shows the landscape architect’s name and license number. The documents are to be signed by the landscape architect whose name appears on the seal in such a manner that neither the name nor the number appearing on the seal is obscured in any way.
The requirements of the seal to be used in the State of New York is described in the Commissioner’s Regulations Section 79-1.4. For those that are licensed on or after January 1, 1987, seals used by licensed landscape architects shall be circular in shape, approximately 1 3/4 inches in diameter, bearing the legend at the top of the outer band "Registered Landscape Architect" and at the bottom "State of New York". In the inner circle, the licensee’s name is placed above the Great Seal of New York and the license number, with no other letters or numbers, is placed below the Great Seal.
Electronic Seal and Signature (E-Signature)
New York allows the use of an electronic signature with the same validity and effect as the use of a signature affixed by hand. An electronic signature is an electronically generated identifier that is unique to the person using it. The Electronic Signature and Records Act (ESRA) defines what constitutes an electronic signature in New York and describes its specific uses and limitations.
There is currently nothing in State Education Law that would prohibit the use of electronic seals or signatures by landscape architects. A landscape architect’s electronic seal and signature may only be applied to documents by the landscape architect or with their direct authorization or supervision. The use of electronic signatures by both public and private entities is voluntary. A state or local municipality is not required to accept electronic signatures and may have specific requirements regarding signing and sealing of working drawings and specifications. The State Board for Landscape Architecture suggests that all licensees check with the particular municipality or Agency who has the responsibility for review and approval of such documents.
ESRA does not define a specific protocol to perform electronic signatures. It does describe the security level and performance requirements associated with the exchange and validation process. Therefore, before an electronic signature is transmitted, an agreement between both parties is required to permit a valid exchange of electronic information in a compatible manner.
The New York State Office for Technology Services has been designated by ESRA as the electronic facilitator responsible for promulgating rules and regulations for programs authorized by ESRA. Additional information related to ESRA may be found at https://its.ny.gov/electronic-signatures-and-records-act-esra
Alterations to Working Drawings and Specifications
As described in Practice Guideline A.2, all working drawings and specifications to which the seal of a landscape architect has been applied must also be stamped with appropriate wording warning that it is a violation of the law for any person to alter a document in any way, unless acting under the direction of a licensed landscape architect. If a document bearing the seal of a landscape architect is altered, the altering licensed landscape architect shall affix to the document their seal and the notation "altered by" followed by their signature and the date of such alteration, and a specific description of the alteration.
Sealing and Signing of Work Prepared by Others
Unprofessional conduct in all professions regulated by the Board of Regents is addressed in the Rules of the Board of Regents Section 29.1. Unprofessional conduct within the design professions of landscape architecture, architecture, engineering, land surveying and geology is specifically addressed in Section 29.3. Paragraph 29.3(a)(3) specifically addresses the sealing and signing of work prepared by others and states that it is unprofessional conduct for a design professional to certify "by affixing the licensee's signature and seal to documents for which the professional services have not been performed by, or thoroughly reviewed by, the licensee; or failing to prepare and retain a written evaluation of the professional services represented by such documents in accordance with the" requirements specified in Paragraph 29.3(a)(3). This paragraph also states that “nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as authorizing the practice of a design profession in this State by persons other than those authorized to practice pursuant to the provisions of Article 145, 147 or 148 of the Education Law”. Essentially, sealing and signing of work by others should not be misconstrued as allowing non-licensees to practice the profession of landscape architecture.
Situations where sealing and signing of work by others might be considered appropriate would include, but not be limited to:
- Documents prepared by an owner where the proposed project is to be built for the owner, not for a third party, and
- Documents prepared by or procured from an incapacitated or deceased practitioner
In those instances where an unauthorized individual or firm may have rendered or offered to render landscape architectural services in this state to a client, and a New York landscape architect subsequently becomes aware of the fact, such landscape architect should report the incident to the Department such that an investigation might be conducted. Pursuant to Paragraph 29.3(a)(1), practitioners must be aware that being associated in a professional capacity with a project or practice known by the licensee to be fraudulent or dishonest in character may be grounds for professional misconduct in New York.
Paragraph 29.3(a)(3) requires that when a licensee reviews work prepared by others, a thorough written evaluation of the work must be prepared and retained by the licensee for a period of not less than six years. This report shall include and address:
- A thorough written evaluation of working drawings and specifications; reports; design calculations and references to applicable codes and standards against which the work was checked.
- The evaluation shall identify the name of the project; owner of the project and/or the client; the preparer and source of the documents; date of evaluation; documents reviewed, and listing of dates of issue.
- Conformance with applicable codes including, but not limited to: building, state, town, city, federal, and zoning codes; appropriate professional standards within the profession.
In signing and sealing work prepared by others, the licensee may correct, alter, or add to the existing documents or prepare additional documents to address items found inappropriate or missing. When the documents meet the appropriate standards, they may then be sealed and signed by the licensee. A licensee who seals and signs the documents may be seen as accepting all responsibility for the work as though the licensee had personally prepared all documents.
Paragraph 29.3(a)(4) states that it is also unprofessional conduct if a licensee fails "to maintain for at least six years all preliminary and final plans, documents, computations, records and professional evaluations prepared by the licensee, or the licensee's employees, relating to the work to which the licensee has affixed his seal and signature".
When the scope of review is limited to individual aspects of the work, the licensee should indicate this by noting such on the sealed and signed working drawings or specifications. Refer to Practice Guideline A.4 for additional guidance.
Nothing prevents the public officials, to whom the documents are being submitted, from requesting a copy of the written evaluation of the landscape architect.
When a Landscape Architect Might “Pull” or Remove the Seal
Situations may arise when a landscape architect, having signed and sealed working drawings and specifications for a project and having submitted them to the local authority having jurisdiction, may wish to "pull" or remove the seal in an attempt to either disassociate himself/herself from the project, to delay the progress of the project.
As is stated in Practice Guideline A.1, the seal and signature on documents may be viewed as an attestation to the accuracy and appropriateness of the work represented therein making the landscape architect responsible for the work shown.
Attempting to withdraw a signature or seal from already completed and submitted working drawings and specifications is a serious matter. In many ways the seal of a design professional on documents can be compared to giving expert testimony in a court of law under oath. One might change testimony if one had made a mistake earlier, but not for payment disputes, to delay the progress of the project, or some other disagreement developed with the party involved.
If circumstances justify a landscape architect having to “pull” or remove the seal, the licensee should contact the local authority to which the documents had been submitted and request that they be returned. Again, this might be warranted if the licensee determines that there was the possibility of an error in the documents or that they did not reflect appropriate or correct landscape architectural work. Another possible justification for the request might be if the client has put the project "on hold" for an indefinite period, and the site conditions or laws, regulations, or building code have changed so as to render the drawings obsolete or inaccurate.
Citations of Pertinent Law, Rules or Regulations:
- Education Law, Section 6509 – “Definitions of professional misconduct”
- Education Law, Section 6512 – “Unauthorized practice a crime”
- Education Law, Section 7321 – “Definition of practice of landscape architecture”
- Education Law, Section 7322 – “Practice of landscape architecture and use of title ‘landscape architect’”
- Education Law, Section 7327 – “Special provisions”
- Regents Rules, Section 29.1 – “General provisions.”
- Regents Rules, Section 29.3 – “General provisions for design professions.”
- Commissioner’s Regulation, Section 79-1.4 – “Seals.”