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I Got Th' "Eagle Done Flew" Blues!

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Just a moment to complain--and perhaps entertain some suggestions.

Got a letter from an archy client yesterday, including a long-awaited check for payment from a job I finished three months ago. Since we've been kinda slow around here, the money was most welcome.

But it was also a "short" check.

The letter explained that, in essence, the architect's client "refused to pay" for what he, after the fact, considered to be "ridiculous" fees for my services.

To explain:

This was an expansion of a commercial building that, when I made an initial site visit, turned out to have some structural deficiencies. I could have dealt with these by alerting the Building Official (this is a location that, wonder of wonders, actually *has* such an animal) of the deficiency, at which point the B.O. *could* have revoked the building's certificate of occupancy until the problems could be corrected. He may not have done that--political stroke counts for much 'round heah--but he certainly could have.

Not wanting to cause problems for the building owner, I sent the architect a letter explaining what I had found and recommending that we do some field work to obtain in-situ building data, then design a repair for the situation. I sent along a "fixed fee" proposal for that work.

The Architect accepted it, with his signature on the proposal faxed back to me, and I went to work.

I incorporated the fix on the construction drawings subsequently, and worked with the contractor to make sure it was done correctly (good thing, too; the contractor's sub responsible for the repair got it all wrong the first time around, and I had to issue a firm letter to the Architect to hold the contractor's feet to the fire).

After all the dust was cleared and the design drawings completed, I sent the final invoice including the charges.

To make a l-o-o-o-n-g story short, the owner balked at paying the invoice when it was presented by the Architect along with his charges. He claimed--according to the Architect--that "these guys didn't do enough work to substantiate this amount of fee." (the amount we're talking about is in the low four-figures, mind you).

Ultimately the Architect sent me a check minus six hundred dollars to reflect what the owner was willing to pay for the work. In other words, after all was said and done and a structural UNSAFE condition was remedied in the process of doing the expansion, like the people of Hamlin the owner didn't want to pay the Piper.

Well, I don't have a magic flute (and I don't really want to take possesion of the owner's children anyway) so I don't really have an easy recourse in this matter.

Here are my choices, obviously:

1) Just forget about it and chalk it up to experience--even though I feel that I documented everything and communicated satsifactorily the entire way.

2) Demand that the Architect--with whom I had the agreement for payment--pay me the rest regardless of what the Owner has paid him.

3) Demand that the Owner cough up the balance of the fee directly to me.

My problem with 1) is that it just rankles. Not only do I feel I'm being poorly treated, I also don't like the idea that the services of a structural engineer are seen as a "commodity" with no real value. I think the owner needs to be "taught a lesson" not just for my sake but for that of others.

Of course, 2) or 3) would have to be "backed up" with threat of legal action. Is six hundred bucks worth it? There is a principle involved here, but how far does one need to go?

My wife insists that I go with 2) AND 3). As "CFO" she is quite perturbed about this (the recent demise of our washing machine and dishwasher have not helped matters much).

I don't want to "tick off" my Archy client, but I have a feeling he's not going to be coming back to me with any further work anyway.

It's tough being an "ant" trying to work with giants.

Any comments?

Bill Polhemus, P.E.
Polhemus Engineering Company

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