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Re: Clients and Permits

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James Cohen wrote:

If a client hires an engineer for design and construction period services and the client also hires a contractor separately for work requiring a building permit, to what extent is the engineer responsible for ensuring that the client complies with building permit submission requirements?

I think you are obligated to act in this matter. If you are aware of a situation of which you have reasonable knowledge that the LAW is not being followed, in my opinion (and sadly, I might add, since this isn't the way to win clients and influence people) you are ethically bound to report it.

Consider the following from the State of Texas Engineering Practice Act (and I would venture to guess that your own state has adopted similar language):


§137.55 Engineers Shall Protect the Public
(a) Engineers shall be entrusted to protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public in the practice of their profession....


(c) Engineers shall first notify involved parties of any engineering decisions or practices that might endanger the health, safety, property or welfare of the public. When, in an engineer’s judgment, any risk to the public remains unresolved, that engineer shall report any fraud, gross negligence, incompetence, misconduct, unethical or illegal conduct to the Board or to proper civil or criminal authorities.


In my opinion the permitting process exists to "protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public." It seems to me, then, that since we have an ethical obligation to make sure that this process is not subverted. I suppose one could "split hairs" and conclude that this is not an "engineering decision," but in my own opinion that is sophistry. The purpose of "engineering" is not "to engineer," but "to protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public."

Certainly the permitting process can be onerous and burdensome. I don't think we are allowed to take this into consideration however. If we see an attempt to shortcut the permitting process, I think we need to raise the issue with the client and, if the issue "remains unresolved," we are obligated to report this to the authorities.

Perhaps you could address a formal letter to your client, quoting the appropriate sections of your own state's Practice Act or Code of Ethics to let them understand that you are obligated to act in this instance.

Who knows? Maybe they WON'T be offended--but don't count on it. No good deed goes unpunished.

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