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A Certifiable Risk Payment certification places unreasonable responsibility on architects for contractors’ work By Jim Atkins, FAIA, and Grant A. Simpson, FAIA

The architect’s certification of contractor applications for payment can be perhaps the most perplexing of all the architect’s construction phase responsibilities. Although architects are neither accountants nor construction experts and do not observe each piece of work as it is put in place, they are nonetheless generally expected to provide a professional certification that the contractor’s application for payment has been verified and is correct. This is done although the architect is only intermittently present at the job site, and the knowledge required to “verify” a particular status of construction completion often comes through information provided by other parties, upon which the architect must rely. Yet some owners claim that the architect’s certification is absolute, and should questions subsequently arise about the state of completeness or money dispersed, they look upon the architect to be in some way – and often solely – responsible.

Image copyright Losevsky Pavel, 2007 Shutterstock, Inc.

To Certify What does it mean to certify something? Black’s Law Dictionary defines to certify as “to authenticate or verify in writing; to attest as being true or meeting certain criteria.” Similarly, The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice defines Certificate for Payment as “a statement from the architect to the owner confirming the amount of money due the contractor for work accomplished or materials and equipment suitably stored…” The terms verify and confirming, used in both definitions, tend to establish the architect as an authoritative source. Merriam Webster Online defines verify as “to establish the truth, accuracy, or reality of” and confirm as “to give new assurance of the validity of.” [In acknowledging the risks associated with certifications, The CSI Manual of Practice suggests substituting the word certify with recommend, which according to Merriam Webster Online means “to present as worthy of acceptance or trial.”] Nonetheless, certifications in the payment process have been around for a long time, and over the years the AIA has wisely included valuable qualifications for tempering the absolute connotations. The first edition of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, published in 1920, contains Exhibit 24: Certificate of Payment and Statement of Account. While certificates were likely used prior to that time, this is the first such document that we could find that was published as a form and recommended for use by architects. This form is strikingly similar to the current AIA form G702–1992: Application and Certificate for Payment. In addition, Chapter 39 of the first Handbook provides a fairly detailed set of instructions for the architect to follow in “ascertaining the amount to be paid.” Particularly modern in concept, considerations included “extras and omissions, cash allowances, deductions for uncorrected work, deduction for liquidated damages.” A separate form, Exhibit 23: Application For a Certificate of Payment, was available in the first Handbook for the contractor to submit with the promise that “…he will forthwith pay the several subcontractors…” upon receiving payment. The contractor unconditionally “certified” applications for payment back then, although a notary seal and signature was not required. Forms G702 for the Application and G703 for the Certification first appeared in the eighth edition of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, published in 1958; however,

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Texas Architect May/June 2007: San Antonio  
Texas Architect May/June 2007: San Antonio  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...