A Word of Caution to Design Builders

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Authored by Ashley Moss

The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (“DPOR”) licenses professional contractors, engineers, and architects in Virginia and punishes those who violate licensure laws. Although sometimes overlooked, businesses that provide professional services must also be licensed. For businesses that practice architecture and/or engineering, this “license” is referred to as a “certificate of authority.” Whether a business that is licensed as a contractor in the Commonwealth of Virginia needs a certificate of authority depends on the specific services that it performs.

The licensure laws carve out an exception for licensed contractors who bid upon or perform design-build contracts so long as the actual architectural and engineering services are performed by properly licensed professionals. At some point, however, contractors may find that their projects gradually become more design than build-oriented, which may, depending on the project, require a “certificate of authority” to provide architectural or engineering services. Obtaining and maintaining a certificate of authority requires more than simply completing a few forms and can be dangerous for contractors and architecture/engineering firms alike. Here are a few tips that will help to ensure your compliance:

1. Who is in charge?
A business that provides architectural, engineering, or related services must have at least one full-time “resident” employee or principal who assumes “responsible charge” for the business’ professional services provided, or offered to be provided, from his or her office. “Responsible charge” means that the person exercises direct control and supervision over professional services. A business must have at least one responsible charge who is licensed in each profession that the business practices or offers to practice and each responsible charge must “reside” at the office. This means that s/he must be physically present in the office the majority of its operating hours.

2. One is not always enough.
If you have more than one office that practices engineering, architecture, or a related profession, you must register each office with DPOR. An office that is not registered can be sanctioned for the unlicensed practice of architecture/engineering, even if the business’ primary office is in good standing.

3. Ignorance is not bliss. 
When you sign forms to apply for or renew your professional license or your business’ certificate of authority, you certify that you will comply with all licensing statutes and regulations, not just the ones that you remember or understand.

4. Know your limits.
Even if you are licensed and/or obtained a certificate of authority to provide professional services in Virginia and will prepare all plans from your office in Virginia, you will need additional licenses before providing services for projects in other states (absent some exception).

These are just a few of the most common pitfalls that trap otherwise well-intentioned professionals and businesses. Paying attention to the licensing requirements now will save you considerable time and expense in the long run.

For more information please contact us.

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