Unpermitted construction after inspection


Looking for general advice and anecdotes.

Have you ever had a client cut things out of a project but you suspect they have the intention to build it in a different/cheaper way than you designed after inspection and the project engagement is officially over? Or, a client intending to do unpermitted construction in the future in general.

How did you handle your situation and has it ever resurfaced for you?

Sep 15, 23 11:09 pm
Wood Guy

Yes, many times. Just last week a client I'm designing a new home for asked me to remove everything from the large bonus room before they apply for the permit. They have tried to get me to do other somewhat shady things and I have been clear about how important honesty and integrity are to me. This client is a real estate developer which I have a rule about not working with, because in my experience they are always shady, but this guy convinced me otherwise before showing his true colors. In this case he worded his request in such a way that it will absolve me of responsibility, it's a small town where nobody will likely care anyway, and it's not a likely life safety issue as the structure is designed to be living space. But I still do my best to always be honest, even if it costs me a client or money. 

I've been in similar situations many times over the last 20 years of designing homes and I can't recall a time when it came back to bite me. But I still set expectations with clients at the beginning that I don't play games and remind them of that when necessary. As part of my client-vetting process I usually find a way to show them just how brutally honest I am, which has been fairly effective at setting expectations and screening out dishonest clients. 

Sep 16, 23 3:22 pm  · 
4  · 

Thanks I appreciate that. I think that's a good idea to be very explicit with clients about 'going by the book'. I'm going to do that in the future up front before working with them.

Sep 17, 23 11:41 pm  · 
1  · 

When a bad client starts reducing your scope, and it means your involvement with the project will end sooner, that can be good thing.  If you make reasoned arguments in favor of doing things the right way and the client still insists on another route, not much you can do there.  And there's quite a few "designers" and shady contractors out there who will step in and do whatever the client asks, legal or not.

It's happened to us and if the clients ever got busted for their activities, I've never heard about it.   Nothing as gossip or us being pulled into an investigation, legal preceding, or whatever.

We keep good records of what we did and didn't do on a project, including what it looked like when we left it.  By having those records, I hope that will be enough to clear if there is ever any situation where something bad was done post-completion without us.  And we have become a lot more attuned to screening out potential clients who may want to pull that kind of stuff. 

Sep 18, 23 9:16 am  · 

you're describing my situation to a T... thank you

Sep 20, 23 2:27 am  · 

Yes. Probably a little here and there on nearly every commercial project I've worked on. We called it "Day 2 Work." They'd say they want to make things a little different or change something, we'd tell them to just stop telling us what they want to do or how they'll do it. Keep us out of it and take care of it after we all leave the job site. 

It's their project. 

Sep 18, 23 10:26 am  · 
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In the end it’s their building, and if they want to do something illegal when you’re gone, that’s on them. You can’t really stop them… Just make sure you don’t do anything to involve or implicate yourself. Make sure to document changes to your scope…

I suppose in some cases having a suspicion or actual knowledge of the owner’s intent could be reason to fire them. Like… the owner is sending you emails about how the want you to just gut an office so they can have indoor bonfire raves or something insane…

Sep 19, 23 2:09 pm  · 

Do you maintain good relationships with these clients afterwards or do you just avoid their space after the project is over?

Sep 20, 23 2:29 am  · 

I’m charging additional fee to the client for deleting stuff atm, ironically.

Sep 18, 23 8:10 pm  · 
3  · 

As you should, all drawing & specs changes are changes. No matter if it's to add or delete scope.

Sep 19, 23 12:14 pm  · 

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