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Licensed CA architect consulting for unlicensed interior designer

arch0142

I'm a newly licensed architect in California. I have an opportunity to do some side consulting work with an interior designer that does small residential renovations, and hires a licensed structural engineer as his consultant as well. (In California, unlicensed individuals can legally provide construction documents for certain types of small-scope projects, and his projects fall into this category.)

The interior designer has a contract between him and his clients. I would only have a contract directly with the interior designer as his consultant. Furthermore, the interior designer will be producing a substantial part of the work not under my responsible control, so for obvious reasons, I am not willing to stamp the drawings nor is he expecting me to. For this reason, I am thinking that my name should be kept off of the drawing set entirely (not even listed as a consultant), as I am primarily helping with drafting work, and prepping sets for permit applications, doing renderings, etc. This is solely a side-job for me and a means to get a little bit of extra income.

My contract with him requires that I get liability insurance, which I will get. My question is, does anyone see a problem with this arrangement? Is there anything more I should be aware of, to cover myself legally and perform these consulting duties appropriately? Or does this all sound like a bad idea? Thanks for your input.

 
May 14, 19 12:48 pm
chigurh

just remember that if a project goes into a lawsuit everybody gets named and those with a decent insurance policy are a good target with deep pockets.  

May 14, 19 12:51 pm
SneakyPete

You could be opening yourself up for liability.

"All persons preparing or being in responsible control of plans, specifications, and instruments of service for others shall sign those plans, specifications, and instruments of service and all contracts therefor, and if licensed under this chapter shall affix a stamp, which complies with subdivision (b), to those plans, specifications, and instruments of service, as evidence of the person’s responsibility for those documents. Failure of any person to comply with this subdivision is a misdemeanor punishable as provided in Section 5536. This section shall not apply to employees of persons licensed under this chapter while acting within the course of their employment."

https://www.cab.ca.gov/act/bpc/division_3/chapter_3/article_3/section_5536.1.shtml

If someone can prove your input was sufficient to establish "responsible control" you'd be on the hook and that'd be bad.

Then again I am NOT a lawyer. So YMMV.

May 14, 19 12:55 pm
arch0142

Thanks everyone for the very helpful input. I agree that the CA Architects Practice Act clause 5536.1 is very important to understand in this situation. I am only going to be providing 4-8 hours of work total, on a variety of projects. I think I could argue that I was not involved enough, time-wise, to exercise responsible control?

However the wording of 5536.1.a is particular as it says “All persons preparing OR being in responsible control”. I also seem to remember learning, as I studied for the CSE, that if a licensed architect works on a drawing set in CA, they must stamp the drawings even if a stamp is not required for that project type. Even if I am minimally involved though? Is this what 5536.1.a means?

What if I put in my contract with the interior designer that I am only providing “drafting and rendering services”, would this help delineate my role?

Bloopox

You should check with your insurance carrier (who typically will provide free legal advice through the lawyers with whom they contract), but:  in most states a licensed architect is required to stamp permit drawings he prepares, even for projects that don't necessary require a licensed architect.  So I don't think you have the option to not sign and stamp at least the sheets that you work on, even though your contractual relationship is as consultant to the unlicensed designer.

May 14, 19 1:02 pm
thisisnotmyname

As above posters have mentioned, first make sure you do the work in a way that doesn't run afoul of your state's rules for responsible control and stamping or not stamping.

Liability is pretty much inescapable if you want to work.  However, you can limit it.  Make sure the designer has a proper license and insurance. Setting up a corporation to run your side work through is a good idea to separate your personal and business assets.   Again, incorporate in a way that complies with your state's rules for architects.   Also see if the designer has contracts with their clients that have limitations of liability and alternative dispute resolution clauses.  


May 14, 19 1:23 pm
archi_dude

From what a corporate lawyer told me, there is absolutely nothing you can do to protect your personal assets as a licensed architect from professional liability suits. Business related collections yes, but since you are consulting I’m assuming you aren’t taking out business loans and leasing a space. Also, keep in mind the true cost of insurance, you’ll be paying it for the 10 years after project completion so if you plan on doing this a lot it will pencil out, as a side thing, you might need to actually do a few projects before breaking even. It might just make more sense to just get a better paying day job. Also I toyed with the idea of retiring my license which can be “turned back on” with just the normal annual fee and just making an LLC. Consult with a lawyer though, I just opted for a better paying day job.



May 14, 19 2:01 pm
Bloopox

What's required for "turning back on" a license varies from state to state - I looked into if for a state where I let my license lapse many years ago, and was informed that in that state I'd have to pay all the back dues plus a new application fee - total of over $2000 at this point.

SneakyPete

There may be a max penalty. For the NCARB certificate there is, but do not know about license fees.

archi_dude

There’s a big difference between just letting a license lapse and officially retiring it. At least in California, letting it lapse results in possibly having to retake the CSE even, retiring I’m pretty sure is just a regular fee to turn back on.

arch0142

Follow up questions: Thanks everyone for the very helpful input. I agree that the CA Architects Practice Act clause 5536.1 is very important to understand in this situation. I am only going to be providing 4-8 hours of work total, on a variety of projects. I think I could argue that I was not involved enough, time-wise, to exercise responsible control?

However the wording of 5536.1.a is particular as it says “All persons preparing OR being in responsible control”. I also seem to remember learning, as I studied for the CSE, that if a licensed architect works on a drawing set in CA, they must stamp the drawings even if a stamp is not required for that project type. Even if I am minimally involved though? Is this what 5536.1.a means? 

What if I put in my contract with the interior designer that I am only providing “drafting and rendering services”, and the interior designer claimed liability for all the work (he is willing to do this), would this help delineate my role? Or I am I still on the hook simply due to the fact that I am a licensed professional?

May 15, 19 11:36 pm
thisisnotmyname

Is it possible to contact the state board and get clarification of how they would treat the working arrangement you are contemplating?

When the designer says they will "claim liability" does that mean the designer is willing to enter into an contract with you where they agree to defend you (pay for a lawyer) and pay any future judgments made against your actual or alleged work on the project?    Also, if they are "claiming liability", whey do they want you to have insurance?

Have you priced the insurance policy the designer is asking for?  I'm not sure 4-8 hours worth of work will cover the cost of the multiple years of insurance coverage you will have to maintain.

May 16, 19 11:41 am
G4tor

I honestly don't think it's a point of worry if you're keeping your name and stamp off the drawing set. Keep us informed anyways.

May 16, 19 1:13 pm

Lots of potential pitfalls here for very little gain. 

Your contract should be directly with the owner, who can elect to have the decorator administrate it. This way you are responsible to the client instead of the decorator and thus able to do your due diligence without interference. It also prevents the decorator from overcharging the owner for your services. If they balk at this arrangement you should walk away. 

Aside from that the very last thing you want to do is get a reputation as some decorator's bitch.

May 16, 19 1:28 pm
atelier nobody

Look at 5537(b). This is aimed at residential designers who need a couple beams calculated, but the principle can be applied in your case - you need to stamp the portion of the project that you are responsible for, which doesn't make you liable for any other part of the project.

May 17, 19 6:39 pm

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