Why have owner-architect contracts?

Professional services agreements

There’s no doubt about it, building projects are major undertakings, sometimes costing up to several million dollars in construction costs, thousands of dollars in engineering and architectural fees and taking many months to complete. Most of the time projects go fairly smoothly, but if something should go wrong chances are all parties involved won’t remember what was agreed to unless it’s in writing. Perhaps an issue comes up that neither party considered. That’s why contracts are so important. Owner-Architect contracts simply outline the various terms of the agreement so that all parties come to an understanding before the work starts.

Standard contracts are tested and fair

In Alberta we use one of several standard RAIC (Royal Architectural Institute of Canada) contracts found here. In other provinces you might use an approved variation on the basic agreement. Whichever one is used, these contracts outline the roles and responsibilities of both parties. They’re not intended to be one sided; to the contrary, they’re fair to both parties and have been refined over many years of use through previous court challenges. Here are some of the features of the standard contract:

Definition of terms

If the parties don’t talk about it up front, their opinions may differ on any of the following:

  • What exactly is an estimate of construction cost as it pertains to the calculation of the architects fees?
  • What is included in the architect’s basic services and what will cost extra?
  • Who owns the copyright of the building design and for what purposes can the architect’s drawings be used?
  • What happens if hazardous materials are found on site or if other unforeseen circumstances arise?
  • If there is a dispute of some kind, how will it be resolved?
  • What exactly are the fees for the project and when is payment due?

Architect’s Responsibilities

Architects must act in the best interest of the Owner and also ensure public safety in the buildings they design. They are responsible to prepare drawings and documents showing the intent of the design, to prepare estimates of construction cost and to coordinate the Structural, Mechanical and Electrical consultants. Architects must review construction progress at various stages of the project, to advise the owner on any contractor-proposed changes and to conduct a 12 month warranty review after construction is complete.

Owner’s Responsibilities

The owner must supply information about their property such as Certified Land Surveys and Soils Reports, the accuracy of which the architect is entitled to rely on. Owners will either furnish a program of requirements or ask the architect to prepare one. Building owners must also set the construction budget, pay invoices in a timely manner and promptly notify the architect if for some reason the project is suspended or abandoned.

Of course the actual contract goes into much more detail, but these are some of the basics.

For your review and protection

So when your architect asks you to review a multi-page contract, keep in mind the intent is to protect both parties. Review it with your own legal counsel if you see anything you don’t understand. Having signed it, you can be confident that both parties can proceed with a clarity of purpose that would not be possible otherwise. For more information contact David Parker or Kelly Seminoff at Parker Seminoff Architects or leave a comment below.


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