Architect’s Plans Don’t Meet Code

Andrew writes: I hired an architect who drafted plans for a loft in our townhouse. My contractor brought the plans to the city and was denied a building permit because the plans didn’t fit the building code.

Now the architect is re-doing the plans, and billing me for this cost and for the time required to meet with the building and planning department to sort out the issue.

My question is: Should I have to pay the additional printing cost and hourly rate for the architect to figure out the codes with the city?  Also, does an architect have a responsibility to make sure the plans will be approved prior to giving them to me.

Steve Bliss, of responds: Misunderstandings between architects and clients, often involving money, are all too common. It’s my feeling that the architect is the expert here so that they have a responsibility to clearly explain to the client what they are and are not getting for their money.

In general, it is an architect’s responsibility to design a project that complies with building codes and other laws and regulations including setbacks, height restrictions, and other zoning laws.

In a full-service architectural services contract, such as the AIA B101, it is pretty clear that compliance with applicable laws is part of the architect’s responsibility. For example, Article 3.2, which defines the Scope of an Architect’s Basic Services, states that “The architect shall review the [design] program and…laws, codes, and regulations applicable to the architect’s services.”

If the architect was getting a fixed fee to provide a completed plan under this type of agreement, then you should not have to pay extra to get a plan that complies with code.

It gets a little more complicated if you have hired an architect by the hour to for a more limited scope of work. For example, if you hired the architect by the hour to just do schematic design, or just to draft a plan that you developed yourself, he may claim that he was simply doing what you asked for. In the absence of a written contract, it may be difficult to determine exactly what the two parties agreed to.

Legal issues aside, I think it’s reasonable for you to expect that an architect’s plan comply with the building code, unless he or she was hired for a very limited role that specifically excludes code compliance. Code compliance and structural integrity are part of the basic professional service an architect ordinarily provides. While it is not customary or practical for the architect to get the plans “approved” before presenting them to you, it is reasonable for you to expect that he modify the plans as needed without additional cost to you.

I would suggest sitting down in a face-to-face meeting with the architect and expressing your concerns. Hopefully you can reach a mutually agreeable solution.

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