Like poison ivy on a job site in the summer, an architect’s legal obligations to the owner can sometimes grow overnight. This phenomenon is well known as “scope-creep” to us lawyers who solve problems for design professionals. A classic example is the kitchen/bathroom renovation that grows and grows when the owner decides he or she wants to do a gut renovation of the entire house with you running the show. What a boost to the ego, (and one’s bank account). But wait. You probably documented your scope of work at the outset in a fee proposal with a short work description. You didn’t feel any need to worry about providing detail in that letter about construction administration services or about limiting your potential damages. After all, what could go wrong with such a small interior project? If things are moving along smoothly as the project expands, why get involved in the potentially unpleasant task of negotiating a revised agreement that reflects the realities of the increased scope of work? Besides if anything goes awry, it will all be sorted out amicably at the end. Right?
Wrong. Your letter of agreement needs to be changed or amended to reflect what is actually happening with the project. For example, suppose the scope-creep involves an excavation you hadn’t previously provided for and leads to a question about buried utilities in an area that has been added to the scope of your responsibility. The excavation contractor proposes to look into the matter by checking filed plans from previous projects and by calling the local “one-call center”—one of the notification services that operators of buried pipelines, power lines, and other underground facilities have jointly established throughout the United States as clearinghouses for information about buried lines. You aren’t even involved at this point.