Winners and Losers in the Self-Certification Process


I get a little worried whenever I see a shift in the relationship between architect, owner and contractor because often, when the dust settles, the architect has come out of the process having given up some ground to the others. Change yields both winners and losers.


1) The Project Owner
If you self-certify a project the owner will spend no extra money and get the project completed sooner. If it is a commercial space, the owner will begin making money sooner. Self-certification clearly benefits the owner.

2) The Contractor
The contractor wants to finish the job, get paid, then move onto the next project. Speeding up this process will inevitably please the Contractor, and the Contractor risks nothing extra for the good fortune.

3) The City
For years NY City has been shifting the roles of building inspector and plan examiner from city employees. If the City audits 50% of the self-certified projects, they have cut their workload in half—For free.

The Potential Winner:

Architects and Engineers-To some extent the A/E profession gains in that the designers will be able to finish one project and move on to the next more quickly. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this-the additional risk you will take on.

Consider this: the owners make a signed statement that they will take all actions required by the Department of Buildings if any code deficiencies are found during post-permit review. The post-permit review period can be 6 weeks long. Since the self-certification system is relatively new, the department is currently reviewing 90% of the projects. What happens if a code deficiency is found, say, in week five?

The owner has already agreed in writing to correct the violation. Perhaps the owner will say to you “Well, thanks for trying. I realize that there were additional risks involved, so if I have to rip out work that has been done over the last three weeks, correct a violation, then redo all the work, so be it. I think our built environment will be better for it.” Or maybe the owner will accuse you of negligent code and/or zoning work, withhold the rest of your fees and ask for the name of your professional liability insurer.

My crystal ball says that as project owners become more aware of the self-certification process they will demand it as the normal way of doing business. As business people, architects need to consider the risks and rewards of offering this additional service to their clients, and demand higher fees as compensation. After all, shouldn’t you benefit from helping your clients make money faster?.

If you feel comfortable doing so, and the owner is willing to, why not have the owner retain the engineers directly? It might not change your behavior on the project, but it should reduce your premiums.