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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 05:22 PM
    Buy a stamp that says, "Not for Construction". Use it on drawings that haven't been submitted for permit.

    In this case, you have the option to charge them whatever you like to get a permit for this.You could go to the city and ask what would be required to get, not only a permit, but a final inspection. My guess is that it would entail uncovering now-hidden electrical and plumbing work.

    Or, you could say, "No thanks."

    Judith Wasserman AIA

    Bressack & Wasserman Architects
    751 Southampton Drive
    Palo Alto CA 94303 
    ph: 650 321-2871  
    fx:  650 321-1987

  • 3.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 06:43 PM

    Over the years, along with other more glamorous projects, I have had the dubious pleasure of helping clients legalize work done without a building permit by them or by previous owners, such as finished basements, attics, decks, and even a few additions.  This has become critical for those wanting to sell their homes, since lenders for the buyers will not provide a mortgage for a house that does not have a "clean" title, meaning  a certificates of occupancy for any improvements.  In this area, it means an as-built permit application by the client together with an increased permit fee, including as-built plans.  Granting of the permit requires inspection by licensed electrician and plumber.  The work may need to be brought up to current code, depending on the local regulations.  There is a final inspection by the building inspector and an issue of the C of O soon after.

    It sounds like you should meet with the building inspector to determine how much work this is going to be for you, after which you can send a proposal to the client for the required architectural services, for which you should be well paid.

    Feel free to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

    Best regards,
    Bob Zumwalt

    Robert Zumwalt AIA
    Robert Zumwalt, AIA Architect
    Chappaqua NY

  • 4.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 06:55 PM
    I would agree with Timothy. I have had this happen also.
    Depending on the building department they could throw the book at them and require selective demo to inspect, or if the contractor was a good one that they know and trust them, the city may just have a meeting and sigh off, with a monetary fine of course.
    I would recommend that you addend your contract with a healthy non refundable retainer to work on it with an hourly fee. Then go have your meeting with the city and find out what can of worms and hurdles they plan for your past client to jump through.
    A few years ago I had someone with and addition project where the construction was never permitted, no real drawings, and the city has them remove it completely and start over. The home owners come running to me to "bail them out".
    I like working on commercial projects better.

    Paul Richards
    Lynnwood WA

  • 5.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 07:02 PM
    Yes. I have had that happen before. I handled it by providing the revised documents as additional services. The code had changed and the municipality requested that the project get inspected under the newer, current code. I educated the owner about the necessity of hiring a quality and licensed general contractor. The client was not happy, but got their plans and inspections done.
    To avoid this for future projects, I now hold the initial payment until I receive a final inspection notice. I also require construction services as part of the contract so that I'm paid to check on the progress of the project. It protects me and also protects the owner.
    AIA Contracts say the initial payment is credited at the final invoice. I now include a statement that the final invoice is defined as the completion of architect services which is when construction is completed and a final inspection form is submitted to the architect.

    Jennifer Kretschmer, AIA
    Principal Architect
    J. Kretschmer Art & Architecture

  • 6.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-11-2019 07:51 PM
    Hi Timothy,

    You have received excellent recommendations.  I am assuming you didn't have construction administration services as part of your contract.  Either way, the client seems to be asking for your services now, after the fact.  I suspect that whoever completed the work is not licensed.  I'd recommend explaining to the client how the permit process is intended to work, with inspections throughout construction. Give them the bad news up front - they're going to incur costs working the project backwards. This will include your time, demolition and repair and permit fees. Best of luck, Timothy.

    Gregory Holah, NCARB
    HOLAH Design + Architecture
    Portland, Oregon 97232

  • 7.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-12-2019 10:08 AM

    I have included in my standard owner-architect agreements a clause that specifically states that if a permit, variance, etc. is required for the project, that the Owner agrees to such permits.  This is to avoid the situation where an Owner has spent considerable money and time re: design services and at the beginning of construction you find out there is no intent for a are then in a very difficult position of refusing to issue drawings or in some way becoming complicit with the non-permitted construction.  If they proceed w/o the permit then "the agreement shall be terminated and the Architect will no longer provide services for the Project."  My agreement further states the Owner will indemnify my firm for claims, losses, etc. related to non-permitted work.  I also make this clear as part of the negotiations before starting design services (which includes an explanation that despite the pain that building departments can cause at times, that getting a permit is in their best interest.  This includes filling out real estate sale disclosure forms that ask if all work has been permitted!).


    I truly do believe building permits are in an Owner's best interests.  Many Owners and Contractors view it as a necessary evil and a way to jack up property taxes.  Some of this is true, but a little education on my part goes a long way to reduce the "evil factor" and increase the "your best interests" factor.


    One final thought.  My issued drawings include 1) my seal, 2) "Issued for Construction" in the title block corner, and 3) a big fat title that states "CD100 – For Permit and Construction (date)".  Anything issued before this includes a statement that these are in-progress drawings and not for construction.


    Best wishes in resolving your current issue.


    Steve Robinson AIA

    Axios Architecture LLC | 2218 Lebaron Drive | Atlanta, Georgia | 30345 | 404/636-0611


  • 8.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-12-2019 11:13 AM

    I had a similar experience but the client had built two stories instead of the one I designed. I charged him for the time it took to inspect and measure the existing conditions and prepare a new set "Existing Conditions" plans. I also had him hire an engineer to verify structural soundness which he submitted with my plans.


    Thad Broom, AIA Emeritus



    Thad A. Broom, A.I.A. Emeritus

    220 Olivine Ave # 104

    Virginia Beach, VA 23462

    Tel: (757) 618 1125


    Beach Architect Logo_color copy


  • 9.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-12-2019 02:22 PM
    Seall two sets and turn it in for permit. It is not your problem what happens.

  • 10.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 08:44 AM
    Do your contract documents clearly state that the contractor shall provide all required permits? If so, this is in the contractor's court.


  • 11.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-15-2019 08:26 PM
    In Montclair NJ, if an owner requests a CO and there is un-permitted work, the building department will substantially fine the owner for each missed inspection. After the fines are paid, they will do their inspections with a complete building permit package and a set of Signed and Sealed Architect’s as built drawings. Since, the Architect and inspectors can only see the completed work, they will issue a Conditional CO CCO) only if what is visible is compliant. We do not get involved in this type of work .
    This is a very expensive solution for an owner. What is their gain, to pay more monies, have angry inspectors and have a compromised CO when the want to sell.

    Richard S. Jacobs, AIA
    Architectural Design Associates
    Clifton, NJ

    Sent from my iPhone

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 12.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 11:29 AM

    Architectural services involve site observation for a very good reason.  Without site observation, you couldn't vouch for how the project was constructed, i.e. what's behind the drywall.  For several related reasons, I'd advise that you avoid association with the constructed work, at all costs.

    1. At this point, why would you want to accept liability for something you were unable to observe?  2. Why would we, as a profession, step in to help someone who proceeded without us and also willingly skirted the laws pertaining to permitting, the right of the City, and the obligation of the design team to perform their required duties; potentially putting the public's safety at risk.

    Robin Miller AIA
    MSH Architects
    Sioux Falls SD

  • 13.  RE: Unpermitted Work

    Posted 10-14-2019 09:25 PM

    To everyone who responded about unpermitted work - Mahalo! (Thank you in Hawaiian)

    Unpermitted work in Maui is rampant.  Two or three times a year I get a call from someone who needs after-the-fact plans, or even worse, plans but no permit.  I always turn them down.  But this time was different, it was my own project!

    When I was President of AIA Maui Chapter, I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Maui County and proposed a mandatory inspection of any real property listed for sale.  When I bought my house here, the title search uncovered an open permit from years earlier.  The previous owner never got the required inspections.  The house had been sold several times since then.  Each time the liability for unpermitted work was passed along to the new owner.  How is this possible, as Robert Zumwalt, AIA, pointed out?   We can't rely on the title company.  I told the mayor this practice should be illegal.  There is such a law in Newport Beach, CA, where I am also licensed.

    It undermines our profession when the practice of unpermitted work is so common.  Who needs an architect if people feel they don't need plans, permits or inspections?

    I have sent a letter of non responsibility to my client for the work done.  Then I'll submit a proposal for additional services with some of the conditions J.Kretschmer suggested.



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