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Dispute architect/client

Sitthakim

Hi there and thank you!

I engaged an architect for a remodel/addition project. We did not have a written contract. She invested many hours designing the structure before she did the research regarding the city code compliance for the structure. When she did finally go with me to meet with a land use attorney and then she met with the city, it turned out the the structure we had designed was not legal in any way, shape, or form. In other words, her design is useless and all of the time we invested was for nothing.

I am not clear what payment I owe her. Her invoice for this non useable structure details the hours she spent in design (14.5h - she stopped spending time on design once she learned about codes), meeting with me (3.5h), meeting with attorney (1h), meeting with city (3.5h), and code review (7h). 

Please do not misunderstand, I am not trying to get out of paying her. I simply feel that she should have done all of the research regarding code  compliance prior to investing time on our designing something that is not possible (not even with tweaks can this design be made to work). Had we known the code we would have stopped immediately. There would have been no need for multiple meetings with me or design.

I appreciate your input. Thank you

 
Oct 10, 19 11:06 am
Non Sequitur

what was your agreed upon deliverables?  Did you ask for design concepts/ideas or did you ask for permit/construction docs?

Likely you've hired a fresh grad on the cheap if they went so far without considering reality.  I say, pay them for their time at whatever hourly rate you've already agreed to THEN request that design time be credited towards the remainder of the project's fees.

BTW, 14hrs is not that much time and you should have discussed a flat fee for the design portion of the project.  This makes the architect more vigilant with how they spend their time.  

Oct 10, 19 11:15 am
Sitthakim

Good to know. Thank you

citizen

14 hours is too many in that context, but not outrageous.  I'd cut that in half, since a few hours to do some concept work is reasonable.

Oct 10, 19 11:17 am
Sitthakim

Thank you!

senjohnblutarsky

Projects tend to go one of two ways for me.  A client wants a pretty picture very quickly, then deal with the requirements after.  Or, the client wants met to figure out all the implications of the project, then proceed with developing.  

Were you the former? 

If you pushed for the pretty picture, then you got what you asked for.  Obviously, some care and knowledge should have been applied in making it work.  So, I wouldn't be keen on paying for the entire design.  

If you were the latter, then the architect? botched this. 

Either way, I always start projects with the basic code requirements to make sure we don't have problems.  This architect needs to do the same, regardless of what the client wants.  Time is valuable, and time spent on what you describe is just... wasted. 

Oct 10, 19 11:19 am
Sitthakim

Prior to hiring her, I had already found that there were some code issues in my particular neighborhood which I had reviewed with a land use attorney so I knew that there might be issues; however, I had no idea what the actual codes would be. I told her all of this.

Non Sequitur

what exactly were the code issues? Seems odd that any architect would ignore show-stopper code items.

Sitthakim

I wanted to enlarge an existing garage into a 1400sf structure that would include a bathroom and kitchen. The particular area I am in does not allow an ADU greater than 400sf. Nor does it allow an accessory building (which itself would not allow a kitchen) greater than 800sf. To create the 1400sf structure with a bathroom and kitchen the structure must be physically connected to my existing house/structure by an 8ft common wall. Given the current property plan, this is not feasible (nor is it aesthetically pleasing)

Non Sequitur

^Thanks for the info. This is certainly something that should have been researched by the designer before making progress on design.

joseffischer

If I'm experienced in designing the type of building you need in your area, then I'm probably charging $300/hr, and if you came to me I'd be able to say without research "you can't do a 1400 SF ADU" or something similar. If I'm fresh out of school and charging $20/hr, and haven't walked your type of project through the 'authority having jurisdiction', then it may take me 3.5 hours meeting you, 1 hour with your attorney (who by the way, should have also told you), 3.5 hours with the city and 7 hours with code to eventually arrive to the same conclusion. My total bill as a fresh grad would be... oh wow, look at that, $300. Ultimately, I think you should pay the fresh grad, but think long and hard on whether or not you wish to continue with someone inexperienced.

Sitthakim

She is not a fresh grad. She is not charging $20/h. The attorney did tell us (thus the process came to a halt). No one is attacking the architect, including me. I see this experience as an opportunity for everyone - the architect and me - to learn and prevent future missteps. I am not sure why this would be the case but I feel hostility in your comments. Despite this, I appreciate your input.

Non Sequitur

^Don't confuse experience with hostility. We get a few angry client posts in the forum and Joe's point is spot on for a vast majority of them.

Sitthakim

No matter what, I do appreciate everyone's input. Thank you

won and done williams

Was there any documented correspondence regarding compensation? If not, particularly without a contract, it's unlikely you legally owe her anything. You can be the judge whether you ethically owe her anything.

Given the number of missteps this person made, I think it's unlikely that she is a licensed architect.

Oct 10, 19 11:20 am
Sitthakim

No, nothing documented at all. She is definitely licensed

SneakyPete

Oral contracts are still binding. If one is violated, legal action could result.

Sitthakim

Absolutely! As I said, I am not trying to get out of paying her. I am trying to determine what is fair and reasonable in this situation

won and done williams

Any architect making oral contracts is a damn fool.

Billing 7 hours for "code review" and complete failure to meet code is not fair and reasonable. Neither is billing you for work you cannot use.

Even with a contract this is blatant non-performance and you do not owe payment for services that you have not received - specifically a design that meets code.

You can offer up some go away money if the "architect" makes an issue, but you might want to check their registration status first. Based on your side of the story I would not pay anything.

Before hiring anyone you need to check their credentials and get referrals. You also need to have some kind of document that records the terms of the agreement.

Oct 10, 19 11:44 am
Non Sequitur

All good points, as usual, but you're giving the OP a little too much credit here. There is also the chance that the OP showed the "architect" a few Instagram pictures and some napkin sketches and said "draw this".

Sitthakim

Thank you!

Sitthakim

Non Sequitur - I definitely gave her some terrible drawings but I also told her prior to hiring her that I had already found that there were some code issues in my particular neighborhood which I had reviewed with a land use attorney so I knew that there might be issues; however, I had no idea what the actual codes would be. I told her all of this.

joseffischer

You need to be clear, you told the person "there are some code issues" and that person did research, while also continuing coordination with you, and after the end of less than 2 days, let you know that you can't build a 1400 SF ADU? Sounds like they did their job, and now you're just haggling how much to pay them for that. As I said above, if they're experienced, they shouldn't have needed 15 hours to figure that out, so you should be paying for "inexperienced" rates.

Sitthakim

No, to be clear. I told her there were code issues but I did not know the specifics. She then proceeded to design the space over the course of 4 weeks. Only after she looked into codes during that 4 weeks did she identify that there might be a problem precluding an acceptable design (IE given the size) at which point I had us consult with an attorney. She then went to consult with the city who explained the codes to her. This was absolutely NOT a 2 day venture.

joseffischer

If the architect is only billing for less than a week, either your project was on the back burner, or they legitimately took way too long designing something before getting around to doing a code check and realizing they couldn't build what you wanted. If the latter, it sounds like they're already reducing the billable hours and removing the design work from the invoice.

Side note, have you thought about connecting the building to your existing building, calling it an addition, and not putting in a second kitchen, but only a 'kitchenette' to skip the whole ADU discussion?  I know that's done around here for people wanting a deluxe "garden shed" or "man cave" who are never actually trying to create a separate dwelling unit and never plan to rent it out.

BulgarBlogger

Why in the world would you have hired someone so inexperienced? Did you vet who you hired?

Oct 10, 19 1:05 pm
Sitthakim

She has a good reputation. Prior to this delightful experience, I had no idea that someone with her reputation and experience would be so woefully unversed in something that is SUPPOSED to be her field. It is not my field.

joseffischer

No architect can know every requirement on every building type in every jurisdiction. 2 days doesn't seem like a unreasonable amount of time for a competent architect inexperienced with your specific building type to get "caught up". I'd focus on how long, now that the architect knows the scope of what's possible and only if you're ok with a 400 SF ADU, will they take to knock out a permit set and what cost that will be.

Sitthakim

Once I realized that she did not know the code requirements I looked them up and read them - they are online. Took me less than 2 hours. And no, a 400sf building is absolutely not ok. If I had known this was my limit at the outset we would have been able to stop immediately

joseffischer

Repeating from above... 400-sf is probably not the limit if you expand/flex your scope of what you're trying to build. The architect, for the hours completed, should provide a deliverable that includes maximum FAR among other things, not just a yes/no to one ADU question, so that you know your full options. Ask for that (at no further cost).

BulgarBlogger

Unfortunately, without a contract, there is no way to enforce anything. This goes both ways. 14 hours of work is really not that much anyway.

Nevertheless, if you did have a contract, it may be possible that the owner hires an architect for design services only, and pay a separate architect for all the permitting and CD's. 

In such a relationship, the design architect usually becomes a "design consultant" and per the AIA doc's the architect of record needs to coordinate the work of the owner's consultants.

Oct 10, 19 1:17 pm
Sitthakim

It is not 14 hours. It was 29 hours. I think that is considerable and excessive to determine what is legally allowed

BulgarBlogger

If I were hired to do this work I would have started with understanding the code/zoning/legal parameters governing the design.

atelier nobody

You owe her for the work completed; she owes you a free re-design to comply with all applicable Codes, Regulations, and Ordinances.

Do not proceed any further without a written contract.

Oct 10, 19 1:28 pm
Sitthakim

Thank you!

Why would anyone rehire someone who performed so poorly?

Sitthakim

Actually, that was my thought too!

joseffischer

I hear a lot of people throwing this person under the bus, perhaps rightly.  I ask, how much do you all think is a reasonable flat fee for a 400-SF ADU, through permits, no construction administration or help with bidding/finding a contractor?  

Imagine any of  your clients calling you up the 2nd day after they hired you and demanding what you had thus far and an invoice for your work and then going online complaining about how you hadn't provided a complete set...  Like some others have already said, 14 hours is a pittance of time, and if this owner is already complaining about that amount of fee, clearly they need to get a wake up call on how much this should cost them.

Oct 10, 19 1:54 pm
Sitthakim

No one is throwing the architect under the bus. You have decided that this was a two day situation. No, emphatically, no. It was FOUR WEEKS. And no, it was not 14 hours. It has been 29 hours. The 14 hours was for design of a structure that is completely unusable. And, this is not for a 400sf ADU. And no, I am absolutely NOT complaining about the amount of the fee. 

Perhaps I was not clear in my original post but I am asking for advice regarding an architect who took FOUR WEEKS to determine that the codes would not allow a structure all the while designing an unusable building for which I am being invoiced. 

Let me tell you how that looks, as a professional myself, if you were my patient who wanted a diagnosis and I was diddling around for four weeks and wasting your time because I was not knowledgeable about the disease you might be a bit miffed when I presented you with a bill for full services. And you know what, I bet you would throw me under the bus.


SneakyPete

Generally speaking a Doctor is never a good analogy for an Architect.

Non Sequitur

I sorta was throwing the architect under the bus.

But medicine =\= architecture. Also, my doctors (I have several) don't bill me because I live in a place that values medical care.

Sitthakim

Sadly, I am a doctor so that is all I can firsthand compare it to. However, you get the drift. If I am mucking around then I am mucking around - doesn't matter if it is with a floor plan or with a benign medical issue.

Non Sequitur

Fair enough. May I send you a bill then for the time spent here?

Sitthakim

;-)

joseffischer

In the US, doctors typically see you for 5-20 minutes, bill you astronomically, make you wait in their waiting rooms, and have multi-week waits for appointment availability... so no, I wouldn't compare. If you decide to continue with a project on your property, with whatever architect you go with, get a contract in writing that includes price, deliverables, and deadlines (most likely phased) I'm still stressing that 14-29 hours does not add up to the 40-60 hours/week * 4 weeks. If you expect an architect to work on only your project, also expect a premium cost. Shop around and get quotes from at least 3 architects or design-builders (you don't really need an architect for a house). It sounds like this experience has provided you with the necessary judgement to suss out whether potential. Depending on your tastes, shoot for $200-350/SF (though confirm regionally with some contractors) for a construction budget and expect an architectural fee of 10-15% of that. Good luck

tintt

First step is to always find the restrictions, especially the big important ones that start a project off like what can you build and how big. It doesn't sound like this person is licensed nor experienced.

Oct 10, 19 2:17 pm
Sitthakim

Thank you.

Exactly, establish the parameters before starting design. A good doctor would not prescribe or operate without first examining the patient.

Sitthakim

Exactly. Thank you

Formerlyunknown

What state is this in?  In some states a licensed architect isn't allowed to start working on any project without a written contract, and because of that the courts often just refuse to hear cases like this, because the architect's invoice is an admission of illegal activity - it's the same reason courts don't get involved in disputes over illegal drugs.

But assuming that you're someplace where the architect was allowed to start this project with only a verbal contract, it depends what exactly was said - and what can be substantiated. Did you authorize her to start the design work?  Did you discuss who was going to verify zoning requirements? You said that you told her that you had a land use attorney investigate this already.  It's possible that her understanding of the work to be done did not include looking into zoning issues, because you contracted somebody else to do that. What you've written here leaves open the possibility of that misunderstanding.

If she did work that you authorized her to do, you owe her for that work - you don't have the legal authority to decide what portion of her invoice you pay.  If you can prove somehow that she was contracted to verify zoning, and that she was not authorized to start design work until she had verified zoning, then you might not owe for the design work - but how are you going to prove that with no contract?

Oct 10, 19 2:26 pm
Sitthakim

Thank you!

GridBubbles

Sounds like there is two sides to this story, but it seems like the architect proceeded to do work without a contractual agreement. Could be a he said she said situation if there was no written agreement on deliverables and expectations.

To this day, I am still amazed at the number of self called "professional" architects who are doing work for free without proper contracts in place and due diligence. We get news all the time of blatant incompetence by these so called licensed "professionals".

Oct 10, 19 3:04 pm
Sitthakim

Thank you!

eeayeeayo

To the original poster: be careful about what you post on a public forum.  There have been several posts here in the recent past about architect/client disputes, in which the client has inadvertently posted enough information for the peanut gallery to identify the architect, and sometimes the client.  I think you've already included enough for that to happen here.  These threads also sometimes draw out information that undermines the original poster's position.  Particularly if you have any inkling that this may end up in court or any intention to take it there, you might want to email the site administrator to have the thread removed.

Oct 10, 19 3:47 pm
Non Sequitur

shhhhhhh-shutup.

Sitthakim

Thank you! I appreciate your caution and kindness. I have absolutely no intention of this escalating to a legal situation - there is no animosity or unfriendliness in my relationship/dealings with said architect. My goal was to ask knowledgeable professionals for input about a situation I have found myself in in a field about which I am not educated. Just going to the source, as it were. I had hoped to hear neutral, unbiased comments. Perhaps I conveyed a negativity that I do not feel. If so, I apologize to all of the kind, generous posters and wish to extend my thanks to everyone has taken the time to reply!

Chad Miller

So if you're not here to escalate the legal situation, blame the architect, or dispute their fees why are you posting?

Koww

14 hours is nothing

Oct 10, 19 7:24 pm
joseffischer

To quote the OP "Thank you!"

Interesting reading. I would tend to agree with the others that are pointing out that this architect doesn't really seem like an experienced professional ... and probably bit off more than they could chew ... licensed or not.

The good news, for the OP, is that they now know better. If it was me, I'd discuss paying them for the value they brought me. In this case, the specific knowledge that the project isn't really feasible. Call it a feasibility study and move on to the next thing. Next time, if there is one, get a written agreement in place before authorizing them to proceed. 

I'd also go to the state's licensing board to look up the architect to see if they are actually licensed to practice.

Oct 10, 19 7:47 pm
whistler

Why would they even bother to invoice you for shit work.  They would have been better off to do more work to come up with a scheme that is workable and then bill you and bury the 14 hrs of in the "exploratory / concept" development.  That way they wouldn't have revealed that they don't know what they are doing.  14 hrs is minimal but sound like very much like a newbie with little experience and nervous. If you appreciate what they are trying to do then 14 hours isn't much but you should get to a point of something workable and desirable conceptually before paying... other wise no value or service has been delivered. 

Sometimes we'll do work just to show clients that certain ideas don't actually work ( usually their own ideas ) but it's important to test out multiple strategies so that you can assess the most desirable direction based on set objectives and goals, ie design, cost, functionality etc.

Oct 11, 19 1:58 pm

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