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The Construction Contract Administration Knowledge Community (CCA) has been established to help our members better understand the issues, actions and resultant impact of the decisions required in this often neglected part of Project Delivery. It is our goal to provide clear answers to issues of concern to the Institute’s membership and share case studies and best practices. We further hope to provide guidance and direction in developing guidelines for new and evolving approaches to Project Delivery as well as guidance in the continuing education of our emerging young professionals.

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Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

  • 1.  Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-14-2017 19:28
    I have been in practice for about 10 years (primarily custom residential) and have always been careful to refuse stamping projects I was not responsible for or directly involved in designing.  Over the past several years, as the building trend has picked up I have been approached multiple times to review and Stamp drawings for Architectural Review Boards ONLY.  In my area, S.C., many semi-custom builders (David Weekly, etc.) are building custom homes in the high end communities (+700 K)  Most of these communities require an architectural stamp for Design Review.  South Carolina does not require an Architect's stamp for permitting as long as the residence has a PE provide a signed structural design.

    As an ethical and business related question, if the design is carefully reviewed for compliance with the community guidelines and specifically notes to be for Design Review Only, does that eliminate liability for the plans permitting and future build?  I struggle with the responsible charge of the project in contrast to the limited liability of Design Review Only.  I believe I can review a project for Design Guideline compliance in a day or two but do not expect to be responsible for code compliance within the purview of my professional responsibility.

    While I believe if a community requires an Architect's stamp for Design Review, then the builder should be responsible to engage an Architect from the beginning.  This is not happening in my area, especially with Designers not licensed.

    Where is the line drawn for anyone else.

    Thank you.

    K. Miller

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  • 2.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-15-2017 19:37
    I suggest you talk to at least four parties:

    State architectural licensing board: describe the general situation and confirm that your neck is not extended into the category of any claim or responsibility for work you didn't perform, and perhaps how you should label your "review".

    Your insurer.  Will they defend and cover you for claims that don't relate to your actual involvement.

    Your lawyer: what is the state law precedent for this type of work?  What must your agreement cover, what must you make clear is not your work?

    Yourself.  Do you feel you're becoming a "plan stamper"?  Is there a way that you could tie this review work into future fuller-services work? Can you become a consultant to the PEs who are stamping the structural drawings and make them the first line of defense?  And, finally, does doing this sort of work leave a bad taste in your mouth?

    Joel Niemi AIA
    Joel Niemi Architect
    Snohomish, WA

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 3.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-18-2017 17:39
    Mr. Niemi,
    Thank you for your response.  I agree with your suggestions to ask the questions.

    As for myself, I am not interested in being a "plan stamper".

    The idea would be to educate the Community Design Review Boards, Production/Track Builders on the value of an Architect.

    For the builders, if nothing else, to be allowed to offer comments and suggestions during the initial design phase.

    Also educate the Communities DRB's on requiring the applicant to list the Architect of Record or Design Review during the initial submittal.

    As long as I limit my exposure to liability, it is simply a service I provide for clients who require my review and comment for Design Review Boards.

    I struggle with the home designer who knowingly accepts a project that will require a Architect stamp for a community and neglects to educate the client.  I believe they, lessens the value of an Architect's training and professional standard.

    I appreciate your reply.

    Thank you,
    K Miller

    Kenneth Miller
    Kenneth Miller architecture
    Charleston SC

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 4.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-18-2017 14:34
    In my opinion, once you stamp it, you own it.   Two issues here as far as I can see.    I don't believe you can stamp anything unless you author it.  Second, if there's a problem with the project later on, you get sued, and the claimant's attorney has a copy of the plans with your stamp on it, I doubt if your text that says design review only will stop him from claiming negligence on your part.   My suggestion is tell the high end builder to hire an architect from the inception of the project and keep away from stamping.   If all architects did that I believe we'd be much better off as a profession.


    Thomas Krowka
    Walsh-Krowka & Associates, Inc.
    Pawleys Island SC

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 5.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-19-2017 17:31
    I live in and am licensed in SC. I was once told by the administrator at LLR that in SC, even though you may not seal and sign a residential design/construction set, as a licensed design professional you are held to the same level of 'responsibility' as you would if you did sign/seal.

    I never checked with an attorney, but my guess is that any attorney would argue that against you in any case.

    And, under SC statutes you are required to be the person who did basically everything before you can sign/seal documents unless you obtain releases of responsibility from a design professional who may have started a project that you take over.

    When you sign and seal - it's yours for sure, and you carry with that all and everything that might come your way.

    Jeffrey Warren AIA
    DESIGNshop, inc.
    Simpsonville SC

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 6.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-20-2017 17:42
    I agree with Mr,. Atkins, the use of a professional seal is a regulatory matter established by the LLR, but standard of care is established by what the average architect would do in similar situation. In North Carolina architects must seal even exempt projects, such as single family residential projects. Having served as a expert witness for architects in numerous litigation cases in South Carolina, some on large single family homes in the low country area, you can expect to be held to the normal standard of care of an architect if your exempt project gets involved in litigation.

    Dennis Hall FAIA, FCSI
    HALL a/e/c PA
    Charlotte NC

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 7.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-21-2017 18:17
    I would also point out that the "responsible charge" language is included in the AIA code of ethics.  One could argue that sealing drawings in this case would be unethical for AIA members.

    Richard Linsky AIA
    Project Architect
    Jacobs/Wyper Architects, LLP
    Springfield PA

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 8.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-27-2017 11:13
    Thanks to everyone.

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  • 9.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-19-2017 22:19
    The use of the architect's seal is regulated by the issuing state. Each state has specific requirements for the use of its seal on drawings. Typically, the state requires that you have supervisory control of the documents that you stamp, and in some states you must clearly state the intended use of the documents such as, "issued for construction" or "not for construction." I suggest that you contact your state board and discuss the requirements for use of the seal and the legal risks that accompany its use. I think you will find that you should not be stamping any documents that were not prepared under your supervisory control.

    James Atkins FAIA
    Atkins Consulting
    Dallas TX

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 10.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-20-2017 10:15
    That question touches on a few issues.

    First, if you prepare a set of contract documents they are your work product whether you seal them or not. It is generally good practice to only seal documents that are submitted for some sort of approval (planning, building permit, etc.) Any sealed set can generally be submitted for municipal approval – therefore my recommendation to my clients is that they only seal the sets the municipality requires be sealed, and that they submit those sets themselves on behalf of their clients.

    That said, the act of placing a seal on the documents is an attestation that the documents reflect the professional judgment of the person who places the seal. Indeed, as was suggested previously – if you seal it, you own it forever thereafter.

    Finally this entire question of reviewing and sealing creates a more difficult issue. While the law varies a bit in each state, the prevailing view is that an Architect may only seal documents that he or she personally prepared, or that were prepared under his or her supervision and control as the responsible in charge. The act of performing what is referred to as a "design review" and placing a seal on the reviewed documents is a violation of the licensing laws in most if not all states – unless the person placing the seal personally prepared the documents or supervised and controlled their preparation. By definition that isn't the case in the review and seal context and the review and seal is therefore by definition a violation of the licensing law.

    I realize one can argue that a review and seal can become so comprehensive that the documents do in fact become the work product of the person conducting the review and seal. That argument is inconsistent with the express reading of most licensing laws, and in instances where it has been litigated I have seen courts routinely reject that argument (where the law is plain on its face the Court may not interpret it but must apply it as written) – and uphold sanctions (fines, suspensions, etc.) against Architects who do it.

    While licensing laws are generally the same they are nuanced and do differ in application. Other than to suggest the "you sealed it you own in" proposition is generally universal, with respect to review and seal the best advice is to find an attorney knowledgeable with respect to the licensing laws in your state, get a responsible legal opinion, and adhere to it.

    I think in general you will find the practice is inconsistent with the licensing laws. The law here in Michigan expressly prohibits it.  In my experience that is true in most if not all other states as well

    Frederick Butters, FAIA, Esq.
    Frederick F. Butters, PLLC
    Southfield Michigan

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 11.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-21-2017 18:36
    I would argue (at least in CA where I am licensed) that simple review of drawings prepared by others does not meet the criteria of responsible charge and control and therefore stamping the drawings is not kosher -- the attorney suing you would probably describe it as negligent and illegal. As others have pointed out, if you stamp them, they are yours lock, stock, and barrel.

    I assume that the Architectural Review Board is not the same entity responsible for issuing a building permit. Such entities might be responsible for review and approval of design concepts relative to historic preservation standards or other standards adopted by the community, but review for purposes of issuing a building permit (and therefore building code review) is done by another agency. Review of drawings prepared by others for that purpose should not require stamping the drawings. The Board should know that is beyond the scope of licensure. However, you would be well within the requirements of the law to prepare a review letter that you stamp. In that case, the letter is your work product, it describes your review of the drawings and findings related to the criteria you were asked to comment on, but you are not stamping or taking ownership of the drawings. If the clients don't appreciate the nuance of the law when it is explained to them, then perhaps you should reevaluate whether those clients are appropriate for your business model.

    Steven Hovland AIA
    Associate Principal
    Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.
    Emeryville CA

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  • 12.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-27-2017 11:13
    Steven J. Hovland's reply is the best I have seen so far.  I haven't seen them all.  He hits the nail on the head.  Don't stamp someone else's work and the review board really has no business requiring a seal intended for another purpose. The letter, expressing your professional opinion is within the realm of what the review board needs. Still, the board should have their own review process.

    Speaking as a code consultant, registered architect, and previously a plans examiner, an architect's seal on a drawing means the architect is claiming responsibility for its content.

    Tom Donoghue, AIA, Principal
    Donoghue Project Consulting, LLC
    Pittsburgh, PA

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals

  • 13.  RE: Community Review Board stamping only v.s. Responsible Charge

    Posted 12-27-2017 11:14
    But that is really the point.  Do you wish to be in a situation where you have a solid legal opinion to rely on or in a position where you have to make up arguments after the fact?

    I see licensing boards being increasingly active and vigilant in almost every state across the country.  It may also be that the state law they enforce is not consistent with sealing requirements local communities may believe they can impose and enforce.

    In my experience Architects object when others practice Architecture - and for good reason.  A non-Architect should seriously question whether they should practice Architecture as the consequences can be serious.  A licensing complaint is a big deal . . . . in the best case it is a nuisance . . . . in the worst case it is a disaster.  Given the fact that the laws in each state are unique such that advice from one is not likely directly applicable in another, I would suggest this is an instance in which a practicing Architect ought seriously question whether they should practice law, as the consequences can be serious.

    Frederick Butters, FAIA, Esq.
    Frederick F. Butters, PLLC
    Southfield Michigan

    CCA 2020 symposium call for proposals