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The AIA Project Delivery Knowledge Community (PD) promotes the architect’s leadership role in all project delivery methods by assembling and distributing knowledge and best practices for a variety of project delivery methods, e.g. design-build (DB), integrated project deliveries (IPD), and public-private partnerships (P3).

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Unpermitted Work

  • 1.  Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-10-2019 07:56 PM
    Over 2 years ago I prepared a set of working drawings for a remodel.  Last week the client called me because the building department sent them a violation notice of unpermitted work (my project).  They want me to submit the plans for a building permit application.  How should I handle this?  

    I visited the site, the project is built out!  Looks pretty good!  My drawings included demolition plans, electrical, structural, etc. None of this was inspected.  The new space is already occupied.

    Anyone had a similar experience?


    Timothy Mead AIA
    Timothy N. Mead, AIA, Architect
    Kihei HI

  • 2.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 05:55 PM

    Unless you had the obligation under your agreement with the Owner to file for the permit, it may be prudent to have the contractor that performed the work go to the city and obtain the permit. Should the Contractor not be a viable option, the Owner should apply for the permit. I often see agency personnel respond "friendlier" and more "helpful" towards homeowners than design professionals.

    Mark Savel AIA
    Mark H. Savel Architects, Inc.
    Los Angeles CA

  • 3.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 06:44 PM

    By filing the plans now, you assume responsibility the plans were 100% correct, there were no code changes, the work was built in compliance per the contract documents, which were never approved, and you have not seen nor inspected the work for compliance. Was the contractor and subcontractors licensed? You need to engage in a new contract, which will state any change in the contract documents will be billed as additional services, and/or changes of work due to noncompliance to code or original or revised contract documents will be the responsibility of the owner holding you harmless/non-liable. These are just a few of the many issues which could arise.





    Neil S. Schwartz, AIA

    Dimensions Inc.

    260 Newport Center Drive

    Suite 100

    Newport Beach, CA 92660



  • 4.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 07:00 PM
    I was going to say how do you now the work was performed correctly if it's behind a 1/2" gyp. bd. and I don't know about you guys but I am not about to certify an electricians work whether I can see it or not. Unless you really need the work I would do like you said and simply offer another set of construction documents with your stamp and a big disclaimer that you were not retained to inspect the work and then go get a big Pina Colada and enjoy the sunset Hawaiian sunset !!

  • 5.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 06:50 PM

    The first thing to verify is if Bidding Phase and Construction Administration were part of your contract. If they were then you have no choice. If not you should negotiate this as an add service. Once this is understood you can move forward with the submission but I would recommend a meeting with the AHJ to go over the actual project status before making any submission. The contractor that did the work without any permits is ultimately responsible so he/she should attend along with the client. Hopefully you will be able to negotiate a solution for providing the AHJ what is needed to sign off. You could use pictures of the construction or selective demolition to show what has been installed. Much depends on the credibility of the contractor with the AHJ. You are not responsible for what has happened but you can be instrumental in helping to facilitate a solution.


    E. Michael Stanley, AIA

  • 6.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 07:53 PM
    wow!1.  Only if submitting for permit was in your scope of work. 2.  Since work already done, I would not.  It was the owner or contractor responsibility to get permit, inspection and occupancy permit.  3.  If it were me, I would only assist by providing the original stamped drawings for their use to submit for a permit either by Owner or Contractor who did the work.  4.  Check with professional liability agent for exposure this incident might expose you to if you were to submit for permit at the Owner' Request and of course get additional services if you do.

    Elaine Bright, aia LEED AP
    Bright Ventures Architectural Consulting
    Nashville, TN

  • 7.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 08:01 PM
    You have omitted the most important facts:
    1 What were your contract obligations?
    2 Who performed the construction?
    3 Did they obtain a Construction Permit?

  • 8.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 08:09 PM

    The property owner that did the work without a permit would be responsible. The property owner could hire you to complete the permit processing or hire another firm to be responsible. If he hires another firm they would need your permission to use your construction drawings or do a set of as-builds that would be permitted of the work completed.

    This is not unusual of work being performed without a permit. I have taken over several projects where the work was done without a permit I was hired to process pulling a permit on the work done without a permit. I did as-builds an did not use the previous designers drawings.

    Review your architectural/owner contractional agreement for your liability with a lawyer. I write in my owner/architectural contracts that I am not responsible to pull the permit. Some projects I have a ready to issue permit letter but are never issued a permit for various reasons.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 9.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-12-2019 10:02 AM
    Hey Tim
    If I may...I would start be asking the client for all their paperwork, )electronic or other) re: the building department, 
    should be several things but you are in this case looking for: inspection reports, 
    any violations information and the certificate of occupancy. 
    (depending on the size) usually the power will not be turned on without CO.

    Another investigating tool is to ask the contractor and (if any) the sub-contractors for their take on your question. in doing this try to get a few, to cross check.

    Hope that helps,
    Greg Smith

    Greg Smith Assoc. AIA
    Penhook VA

  • 10.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-13-2019 03:48 PM
    On this side of the world, the burden of submitting plans to Municipalities is not the Architect's; If the client is calling you now, it would be to hire you in a consulting capacity. He may have been deceived by his Contractor, or may have carried out the construction as Owner / Builder. In either case, it is important he understands that it is possible that the improvements need to be torn down, if there is no sensible way to inspect the structural components, but at a minimum, uncovered, so you or an professional engineer may perform inspections.
    As an Architect, in order to "legalize" you will need to record the existing as-built condition and prepare a demolition plan and / or directives of what and how will need to be uncovered, which may include extensive demolition.
    The Owner with the contractor should then submit your new plans to the City.
    Over here, the Owner is also imposed a per-diem fine, and the permit fees are doubled. For homeowners victims of fraud, there is a State recovery fund.
    It is important for the overall benefit of our beautiful profession, that we stop selling a set of plans, as a product, when in actuality we are selling services. We should not relinquish our duties to be involved in the administration of the contract for construction. thet we should be equally or more concerned with delivery than the quality of the plans. To hand a homeowner a set of plans and not even be curious as to how and when the execution is taking place is in my opinion, a terrible professional omission.
    Why don't more Architects start by asking their client, how they plan to deliver the project, inform the client of available options, and based on the Owner's preferences, prepare a contract that is consistent with this and places the Architect at the helm? Whether he was ignorant and taken advantage of, or decided to bypass the permitting on purpose, he now has no recourse; quite possibly does not carry builders risk insurance, and is now in trouble not just with the City but with the Financial institution for which this property is collateral. All things which could and should have been avoided by an Architect meeting the standard of care.
    I am sorry if it sounds like an attack. unless this is understood, we will never elevate our profession.

    Ivan Contreras, LEED AP, AIA
    Qualifier | Director
    Miami FL

  • 11.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-13-2019 04:42 PM
    Hi, me again.
    After further review...
    Unless you are contractually obligated...doesn't sound as though you are, this would be "additional services". Also if the building department wants to talk to you, they would have notified you directly.

    Personally, I would have offered Construction Management as a separate service on top of the architecture fee.

    Glad to help

    Greg E Smith, Associate AIA

  • 12.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-13-2019 08:14 PM

    It is not a big deal.  Simply assist your client with the permit application process as if the building was not built already.  There will be additional fees involved that are similar to paying a penalty or fine.  We call them "investigation fees" related to the time and effort of verifying that construction was performed without a permit.  After calling for inspection, then your client is at the mercy of the inspector.  He could require disassembly or x-rays to verify that conduit and rebar have been installed where necessary for compliance.  If a few spot checks determine that everything was completed in a code-compliant manner, then the investigation is closed.  The contractors will be under scrutiny of the inspection department until the contractors can rebuild a relationship of trust.

    As the architect for the project, you should be treated as an innocent bystander.

    Richard Burton AIA ncarb
    Registered Architect
    ICC Certified Plan Reviewer
    NFPA Certified Fire Plan Examiner
    402-441-6451 CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail message, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message.

  • 13.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 06:09 PM
    In this city any significant amount of work that is done w/o a permit can be ordered to be torn out and if it is covered up they can actually demand to have the Gyp. Board removed to see it. This would be extreme but they can do it.
    If this was a significant project with significant electrical and plumbing work the owner and his sub-contractors would have some wrist slapping problems in this city.
    Hope you get it resolved but I come down on the side of you cannot charge enough on something like that to make it worth your while.
    B Jones

    S. Jones AIA
    S Berry Jones - Architects
    Memphis TN

  • 14.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-15-2019 09:47 PM

    Did your contract include Construction Administration services?  If so, you may have a more challenging time avoiding being included in any subsequent litigation, which should be your primary objective.

    Either way, I recommend the following:

    1. Have your lawyer review your contract.
    2. Have your lawyer draft a letter to your client elucidating the limits of your contractual and legal responsibilities regarding permit application. In most jurisdictions the application requires the signatures of the Owner, sometimes the Contractor as well, but rarely the Architect's signature.  Plan review application, yes, but building permit, no.
    3. Fire the client.

    Alan Burcope, AIA, MBA, LEED-AP
    Senior Forensic Architect
    NV5, Inc.
    Orlando, FL