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Performing architectural services without license

przemula

I've been working as an architectural designer for about 3 years, I'm not licensed yet; I've been also moonlighting for past few years, doing mostly interior design or furniture drawings. 

I have been offered to do some drawings for a guy who got caught doing work without a permit. I'm planning to turn down the offer since I don't feel like it's a 'quick fix' - but what got me thinking is, am I allowed to do that sort of work while not having license or professional practice? I did 99% of my work in large city (Chicago to be precise), that client who asked for my help is located in suburb about 40-50 miles away from Chicago. I checked their BD website but it looks like other IL suburbs, where any sort of architectural work needs to be performed by licensed architect.

I was told by my older colleagues that in certain rural areas (?) of US they don't have such requirements, and you can submit plans drafted by anyone and they'll let you build whatever you want, as long as it's 'not something crazy'. Is that true?

 
May 12, 21 12:59 pm

It depends on the AHJ.  If permit drawings aren't required to have an architects stamp then you can do them. 

It isn't a good idea though.  

Any drawings you submit still need to meet the zoning and building codes for that area.  You're liable for everything shown on the drawings.  

May 12, 21 1:04 pm  · 
3  · 
rcz1001

Sometimes, you can get entangled in the legal mess when they deviate from the plans and do something stupid.

May 12, 21 2:54 pm  · 
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Yup. If the design fails because the GC changed things you have to prove they did so without consulting with you. A real pain in the . . .

May 12, 21 3:37 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

There's not a place in the US that isn't covered by at least the state building code, and states have practice acts. Just because nobody finds out doesn't mean it's legal, and if you get busted you could lose any chance of becoming licensed in the future. You're moonlighting, is the money worth killing off your nascent career?

May 12, 21 1:09 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

"The practice of architecture within the meaning and intent of this Act includes the offering or furnishing of professional services, such as consultation, environmental analysis, feasibility studies, programming, planning, aesthetic and structural design, technical submissions consisting of drawings and specifications and other documents required in the construction process, administration of construction contracts, project representation, and construction management, in connection with the construction of any private or public building, building structure, building project, or addition to or alteration or restoration thereof" 

May 12, 21 1:11 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

Technical submissions are the designs, drawings, and specifications that which establish the scope of the  architecture to be constructed, the standard of quality for materials, workmanship, equipment, and construction systems, and the studies and other technical reports and calculations prepared in the course of the practice of architecture.

May 12, 21 1:13 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

Go read the illinois practice act, my friend.

May 12, 21 1:18 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Pete, many rural areas have no building codes at all, including most of Maine where I live. That's about to change here, with statewide compliance required but not enforced. I don't know about other places.

May 12, 21 1:18 pm  · 
2  · 
SneakyPete

Building codes adopted at the state level frequently percolate down to everyone, depending on state law. Knowledge of that is required for a professional. The fact that OP doesn't know means they're likely unprepared to be offering professional services.

May 12, 21 1:20 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

I am not a lawyer. :)

May 12, 21 1:22 pm  · 
1  · 
Wood Guy

I spend too much time answering questions at greenbuildingadvisor.com, where people who can't afford architects (or don't want to pay for them) often go for free advice. I've been surprised at how many places have no enforcement at all. I agree that if you have to ask the question you're probably not prepared to do the work.

May 12, 21 1:25 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

An interesting seemingly gray area when a state has building codes and the local jurisdiction has no method or intention of checking on or enforcing them.

May 12, 21 1:29 pm  · 
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tintt

I did a project in a rural area recently. No permit. Followed the state building code. Tax assessor stopped by to check it out, but no building official. It is the easiest type of work you can do.


May 12, 21 1:48 pm  · 
3  · 
SneakyPete

Seems like one of those places in human existence that works perfectly until someone gets physically hurt or damaged financially, then the lawyers come at you with nukes.

May 12, 21 1:49 pm  · 
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tintt

They come at you no matter what.

May 12, 21 1:52 pm  · 
1  · 
rcz1001

SneakyPete is right about knowing the rules like codes. It doesn't matter if the OP is licensed or not. If you are a professional, be it licensed as an architect or otherwise, knowing the codes is one of them and designing to a reasonably safe standard (meeting state building codes at the very least) even if there isn't outright building codes enforced as you may be subject to liability to such projects.

 In Oregon, you are subject to liability for the period of statutes of repose and one needs not be licensed as an architect or engineer or as a construction contractor to be held liable. I think that law is fair and reasonable.

If there isn't any outright building codes, meeting the unamended I-code standards at the very least would be better than not designing to any standard.


May 12, 21 2:46 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Przemula, in many places you don't need a license to design single family homes. I'm not licensed and have worked all over New England, and also designed projects in Cleveland, Virginia and other places--only where it's legal to practice without a license. But I have studied building codes extensively, understand construction from multiple angles, and always start with a thorough review of zoning ordinances. Although I prove that it can be done, I would recommend focusing on getting your license before getting distracted by side projects.

May 12, 21 1:23 pm  · 
4  · 
przemula

Thank you all for responses. Like I said I was planning to turn it down anyway, and you all only reinforced me that it is a right thing to do. I haven't stated that I have enough expertise to take this project, and even though I thought for a moment it would be a good challenge to see what it's like to work on a project without any supervision, the whole situation is too sketchy for me. FYI, this isn't the first time I received offer like that, usually it was a roof, dormer, or an addition, but I turned all of them down because of the shady nature of people asking for help (avoiding obtaining permits, assuring me it's a quick job, and having an audacity to tell me that they'll do what they want anyway and won't follow my plans). My question was more regarding designing/working without license in general.

May 12, 21 2:05 pm  · 
1  · 
rcz1001

"...because of the shady nature of people asking for help (avoiding obtaining permits, assuring me it's a quick job, and having an audacity to tell me that they'll do what they want anyway and won't follow my plans)." 

Perfect reasons to say NO to such clients because they put you in trouble and if their is a flaw, they'll be suing you and the contractor and causing you trouble and even not pay you. More trouble than they are worth.

May 12, 21 2:52 pm  · 
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rcz1001

First, you can't legally practice "Architecture", offer "architectural services", or represent yourself as an "architect" in regards to services of designing buildings intended to be built in the United States without being licensed in the respective state where the project is intended to be built. There is no national architectural license in the U.S. 

Having said that, many states do allow some types of buildings to be designed by a person not licensed as an Architect but they will need to use titles such as building designer, home designer, and in most states... the title residential designer, designer, etc. but not "architect" or "architectural designer" and services would need to be word smithed as to not use the words, "architect", "architecture", "architectural" or similar altered spellings of those words which phonetically sounds like or similar to the aforementioned three words. It doesn't matter if the project is exempt or not, you must not represent yourself in any manner where a reasonable person would presume you are licensed as an Architect. You need to however, be otherwise legally able to conduct such business activities and services. That's another topic. 

Other countries are outside jurisdiction of U.S. laws and are subject to their respective laws.


May 12, 21 2:42 pm  · 
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bennyc

Its all dependent on local jurisdiction, For example in nyc, no chance you can do anything without an architect/engineer and permit even for a backyard shed. In new jersey, some smaller towns allow for plans for basements and other smaller structures of single family homes to be drafted by homeowner and not required to have an architect. 

Also, just because a local building department might be lenient on requirements, doesn't mean that state requirements are. Once health, safety of occupants is in question, you should have someone licensed perform services and never assume responsibility unless you are qualified to do so. 

May 13, 21 7:44 am  · 
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rcz1001

Of course with the argument of 'once health, safety of occupants is in questions"..... it is always in question. If you aren't competent to do anything without someone licensed to perform the services, you might as well not even offer services at all. If you are going to offer ANY service, you have to be competent to deliver the services you offer or you don't do the project and leave it to someone that is to do the services. 

In other words, get the *bleep* out of the business of offering any services relating to designing any structure of any size from a birdhouse to any size you can imagine. If you can't perform the services of those not legally required to be designed by a licensed architect or engineer then you don't belong in the business of designing structures as an independent practice. 

While it is true that there are some places in the U.S. where there is no exemption for a person to design buildings independent of an architect/engineer, in most states it is. However, just because something is exempt in a state like houses in most states, you need to be competent to perform those services. You should be competent enough to design houses that are of conventional construction. 

Now, that is not to say you need to be competent to design some odd roof design of non-conventional construction requiring advanced engineering or other such situations where the design requirements exceed your area of competence but that doesn't mean you can't do the parts you are competent in. In which case, you augment your knowledge & skillset with an individual(s) that have competency in the knowledge & skill set you don't have and form a project team that can deliver the project. In which case, someone who is licensed such as an engineer may be needed in such a project, such as a structural engineer. There may be the possibility of needing engineers in other disciplines. 

In any case, if you are a professional (licensed or unlicensed), you are responsible for your actions and the services you provide. You can mitigate your scope of responsibility and liability. The only way you are not liable or legally responsible is if you are not offering or performing any service to any client OR you are an unlicensed person working purely as an employee of your employer in which case licensed individuals and the owners of the business that employs you as an employee would be responsible and liable.

May 15, 21 1:44 pm  · 
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