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Caution to Malibu homeowners working with expediters

A. Harrison Barnes, Contributing Columnist, Malibu attorney
12:14 pm PDT March 25, 2014

Most homeowners in Malibu are under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission. Because of this, even simple additions or remodels can be deemed “development,” meaning the project requires approval and a permit from the Commission. In addition, much of the land in Malibu is subject to the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan and Los Angeles County zoning laws.

Because of these well-known hurdles for Malibu homeowners, an architect who has experience serving as an expediter, land-use consultant or contract administrator is a valuable resource when embarking on any construction project in the City of Malibu. However, even though the permit process can be confusing and ambiguous, your services contract with these architects should be well-defined, understandable and transparent.

We know of at least one architect in the area who has a reputation for taking advantage of clients by going beyond the scope of the work requested to generate additional fees. This architect has even sued clients who refuse to pay for his runaway billing. 

Being billed for expensive, yet unapproved, work can be easily avoided through clear terms in a contract. Unfortunately, the contracts presented to clients by architects are strategically crafted with the architect’s best interest in mind, often leaving clients with no recourse to dispute invoices for work done without prior approval. 

When you are presented with a service contract for a construction project, the architect, expediter, land-use consultant or contract administrator may pressure you to sign their contract immediately and even say the contract is non-negotiable. You are probably excited to get the construction started right away after having a great conversation with an individual. However, always tell them you need to think the situation over before signing anything. 

It is very important to read through all service contracts line-by-line and ask for written clarification for any ambiguous terms. An experienced lawyer can help you review the contract and propose revisions that will better protect your rights and avoid billing work done without prior approval. 

Harrison Barnes PLC is a Malibu-based law firm founded in 2000. The firm focuses on providing top quality representation to the Malibu community.