What you need to know if you’re going to hire an architect

Hiring an architect to design a home, a commercial building, or a new addition can be very exciting. But there can be some traps for the unwary in the fine print of the contract, and you’ll want to have an attorney look it over in order to protect your rights.

Here’s just one example: Who owns the architect’s drawings and plans? You might assume that you do, since you’re paying for them. But one of the most commonly used standard contracts says that the architect, not you, has all ownership rights (including copyrights) in any drawings, plans, or specifications that the architect creates.

What does that mean? It means that if the contract with the architect is terminated for any reason, you have to return all the documents to the architect, and you no longer have a right to use the plans for your building!

There is a provision that says that if the architect is “adjudged” to be in default, you can go ahead and use the plans – but having an architect “adjudged” to be in default can be very time-consuming and expensive.

This gives an architect tremendous leverage to have you settle any dispute in his or her favor, so that you can continue with the construction.

Instead of signing this standard contract, you might want to insist that the architect’s plans will be a “work for hire” – an arrangement that means you will own the plans, not the architect.

Some architects may be reluctant to agree to a “work for hire” arrangement, because they want to be able to legally use similar plans in the future for other clients. In such a case, you might be able to compromise by agreeing that the architect will own the plans, but you’ll have an unrestricted right to use them as long as the architect has been paid in full according to the contract.