Alan Secures Groundbreaking Decision on Architect Liability

A Superior Court judge recently ruled that clients of Alan’s who purchased a condominium unit with substantial defects in the heating and air conditioning systems could hold the architect responsible for the defects without the need to present expert testimony. The decision is groundbreaking inasmuch as it constitutes the first known decision in Massachusetts in which a court permitted an architect to be held liable for his own negligence without the need for expert testimony.

The clients’ condominium unit, a high-end unit that was purchased for more than $1 million, has chronic heating and air conditioning problems; it has failed to keep the unit sufficiently cooled in the summer or heated in the winter. The unit is one of 11 units in a renovated older building.

Massachusetts law provides that here plans are submitted by an architect in connection with a renovation (or a newly constructed building), the architect is required to certify to the municipal building department that the building has been designed and constructed in conformity with the plans and specifications.

In this particular case, the architect rendered the required certification to the building department, and Alan’s clients saw the certification on file and based their ultimate decision to close on the purchase of the unit on the truth of the certification.

However, evidence that came out during the discovery phase cast doubt on whether the architect’s certification was accurate.

The specifications, which were prepared by the architect himself, called for an independent firm to conduct a “balancing test” on the building’s HVAC system, to determine if there was sufficient air flow moving through the heating and air conditioning system and into the units. The architect had no record of the balancing test in his files and could not remember that a balancing was ever performed.

The court ruled that since the architect’s own specifications provided for a balancing test, a jury could find that the architect misrepresented that the building was in conformity with the specifications in view of the air flow problems that were noted not only by Alan’s clients, but also by an HVAC contractor who had been hired by the property manager to investigate system-wide HVAC problems.

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