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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2010

    Trouble collecting Architect Retainer Fee

    What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? Pennsylvania

    Over a year ago I had hired an Architect to design an addition to our house. We had used a Standard Form of Agreement between Owner and Architect for a Small Project (AIA Document B155) which had the Project broken into three phases (Preliminary Design, Final Design, and Construction Consultation) and required payment of an upfront retainer in the amount of $2,500. Upon completion of the Preliminary Design Services the construction cost estimate exceeded our budget and decided to not proceed with the project and terminate the architect’s services. All work completed by the architect had been in scope with his proposal for preliminary design phase services.

    Upon receipt of his final invoice the total cost exceeded preliminary design. When I questioned why, he said that he exceeded his budget for preliminary design and had to use some of the final design budget to complete the preliminary design work. I never authorized this and even at the start of the project told him that I did not want to precede into the final design tasks until receipt of the preliminary design construction cost estimate.
    Upon cancelling of the project, I did provided final payment for his services rendered (completion of the preliminary design) and began to discuss reimbursement of the Retainer. The Architect wanted to subtract out of the Retainer his outstanding balance for the amount he exceeded the preliminary design phase services. After a conference call between the Architect, me and my wife, the architect agreed to pay the retainer amount in full but would do so in payments (saying he did not have the money). I was skeptical but agreed and did receive the first payment of $500 a few weeks later. Now it has been over a year and we had not received any additional payments. Despite having tried to contact him with no reply.

    I am not sure how best to proceed with collection of this money, File a complaint with the State Licensing board, Better Business bureau, or small claims court. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thank you.What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Re-read your contract (the standard form of agreement) and look for a discussion of cost over-runs. That is what was agreed to. Having discussions with the Architect where you wish him to call you before any over-runs is meaningless, legally. If you do not put it in writing as a change, accepted by both parties, then it is not part of the contract.
    I find the fact that the Architect agreed to return the retainer and made a payment to do so much more interesting. I'm not sure how you will prove that he agreed to return more than $500. If you have evidence to back up the "full retainer" then you should be in good shape. The testimony of you and your wife may not be enough, it depends on the judge. Small Claims Court is cheap and easy.
    If you do win in small claims then a complaint to the State Board would be appropriate.

    Good luck

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    The Better Business Bureau can only be of assistance as a mediator. They don't have the legal authority to force either party to do anything. Should you file a complaint, all the BBB can do is keep a record of it as a reference for someone thinking of using the architect's services.

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