Working without a permit


I have an ethics question I thought I would run by everyone.

The company I work for has agreed to provide drawings for a repeat client who will be doing the work without a permit and the finished product will not meet code. This is an interior remodel to an existing commercial structure. I know this is wrong since the principal and project manager know this is going to be done without a permit and wont be code compliant. My question is what should I do in this situation? Should I tip off the municipality or just let it be? I have no involvement in the project or with the client but any consequences could effect me because I do work for this firm. I dont feel right about letting it go, knowing everyone who frequents this particular store when complete will not have the amenities to code benefits them. What do you think I should do or what would you do in this situation?

Thanks in advance for any advice.

Apr 16, 13 11:12 pm

Though no doubt shady, there is a substantial difference between illegal work which violates zoning ordinances versus those that threaten life-safety.  If it is the latter, you are obligated to send an anonymous note to your local building authority.  You might want to do this after construction has begun to minimize suspicions.  Truth is, in most municipalities the consequences for the owner are minimal (stop work, obtain a permit, modify plans) and virtually nil for your employer.

Apr 17, 13 12:13 am

My professor told me many a story about the red tape that you get when your not in with codes, but I wouldn't care lol. I'd do my job and get the heck out of there to the next project as long as your not doing any harm to the environment.

Apr 17, 13 7:16 am
vado retro

architects don't  usually pull permits. that is the contractor's job. if you design something that isn't to code, well, you will either have the owner come back to you to design to code after the work has been stopped, or you will have a courtcase when the firm is sued by someone who has been injured by the non code conforming work or nothing will happen.,

Apr 17, 13 7:33 am

what part of the code is in violation here?  a step that's 7.25"?  toilet is 16.5" from the wall? 

if it's an ada violation,  you might want to tip off a lawyer for a finder's fee.  otherwise, i think it's an interesting dilemma.  since you're not involved in the project and are under the employ of someone else, i don't think you have any direct legal responsibility, but i could be wrong.  do you have a license?

in my opinion, an architect does have a responsibility to understand the code and because of that i think they have a responsibility to tell the client their project does not meet code and they can't do what they're doing.  this conversation probably already happened, and the client decided they don't really care what they are or are not allowed to do.  rugged individualism and all that; damn gov.t is interfering in his business and should just get out.

your boss can still do preliminary design and schematic design and that sort of thing.  if i were them, i would not produce a full cd set.  what the owner or contractor does with those schematic designs is outside the purview of your company. 

Apr 17, 13 9:30 am

Your employer has rocks in their head for doing documents for work that they KNOW is a code violation, particularly on a commercial job that is subject to periodic routine visits by the fire marshall, etc.  They definitely have legal exposure.  Not to mention financial exposure, since if and when the violation is caught by the authorities, the client is going to use the gee-I-just-built-what-the-architect-designed defense, and they may try to stick your employer with the cost of the corrections.

Assuming you aren't licensed and aren't working on the job, you're probably in the clear.  If you are licensed, you could theoretically have exposure in a major lawsuit since you would be deemed by the court as a "learned professional" who is held to a higher standard.  Probably not likely since lawyers go after people who they think have the ability to pay.

Don't rat them out.  It's not your job and could come back to bite you if they find out.  Just avoid working on the project and make a mental note to yourself to find another job if possible and practical.

Apr 17, 13 10:28 am

^ ++ except rat them out of it's a safety violation. From the comfort of your new job, of course.

Apr 17, 13 11:24 am

Thanks for the insights everyone, it is an interesting situation.

To clarify some of the questions that have been asked:  I am not licensed and we only have  licensed architect in the firm.  The code violation is centered around the number of toilets being provided in the space.  Basically the owner wanted an office for himself in this C-Store so he is eliminating one of the restrooms and turning it into an office along with other work in the whole store.  The project is currently under construction and currently has no restroom facilities due to the construction for either employees or customers.  Our drawings do say "not for construction, for pricing only" and are drawn without meeting code, but there is an understanding between all parties that these are the CDs.  Now that it is under construction the PM is signing off on shop drawings ect, as if this was a legit CD set.  There is no contractor involved.  The owner is acting as the contractor, something he has no experience in.  

Not sure if any of these other details matter.  I would be curious to hear other opinions.  Thanks to all who have replied

Apr 17, 13 1:37 pm

lol.  i wouldn't sign off on shop drawings.  i wouldn't even review them.  i would stay as far away from it as possible.  if the owner wants to operate at his own risk that's one thing, but for the architect to get involved is just dumb.  especially with owner acting as contractor.  also, not meeting code is going to effect the resale value.  i wonder if your client owns the c-store or is leasing?

not your problem.  the PM doesn't sound too bright though.

i can't help but think you're off the interstate in the sticks somewhere in montana or maybe western nebraska where noone ever travels anyway, so i'm sure noone will notice the lack of restrooms.

Apr 17, 13 2:00 pm

The client owns the C-Store and property

and as surprising as it sounds this is taking place in a large suburb outside of Chicago

Apr 17, 13 2:07 pm

curtkram - I've had clients who learned the hard way that not meeting code doesn't necessary affect the resale value - something like that may not come up at all in the inspection, or be noticed at all until they buy the place, move in, and someone else cites them and now they are screwed and responsible.  Unless they want to try to hunt down the original parties who did the non-compliant work, which is usually some LLC long disbanded or some local yokel who has skedaddled without a forwarding address. 

mardix, this is pretty shady biz and I'm guessing you are already looking around for another place to work.  If not, you should be.  However, as this particular issue is not actually a health and safety issue, just leave it alone.  Yeah, it's crappy to have one fewer toilet, but remember, municipalities vary widely on toilet requirements anyway and it's not like it's going to kill someone to have to wait 5 minutes to pee till the single toilet is free.  Half the stores in Boston have no toilets at all.  They seem to have the least stringent toilet requirements of any place I've ever seen.  Anyway, this is the kind of violation that, if anyone ever notices it, they will be forced to pay a fine for off-permit work and they will have to renovate to bring the building into compliance.  So the client will be on the hook in the long run.  Just keep looking for a new job and try to stay away from working on that project.  It doesn't sound like it's that huge of a deal though.  I'd be more worried about other things they may be installing incorrectly since they're working off-permit already.

Apr 18, 13 1:28 am

Working without a permit is not at all advisable, since anything that goes wrong with the project that you have worked without permit can directly effect you in the future.

Apr 18, 13 7:44 am

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