Custom homes built to the exact specifications of the property owner are very popular across California. As a state with an incredibly strong economy and a massive real estate market, California offers those with unique architectural dreams plenty of opportunities.

As an engineer, architect or designer helping create dream homes for clients, you can find yourself in a precarious position. Your clients may often request features that are either impractical or contrary to local ordinances or the rules of a local homeowners association (HOA).

What happens if you design a property according to a client’s wishes, only to have the design rejected by county or HOA officials? Can your client bring a malpractice claim against you?

Informed consent is critical with unique design

Whether your client wants to build a house that will stand taller than the limit for residential properties or they want other nonconforming features, the risk will always exist for the local municipality or HOA to reject their design plans and insist on a property that complies with the existing standards.

When you help a client take an image or idea and turn it into a livable home, you manifest someone’s dream. Obviously, the people paying for such a service want the property to closely align with their expectations. As a designer, you want to create something your clients will be excited about, but you also want to make sure you don’t leave yourself in a vulnerable position if their requests are too expensive or unusual.

Informing your clients, ideally in writing, of the risk of the design facing rejection can minimize your risks of malpractice claims in the future. Clients who weren’t given proper advice regarding the potential rejection of unique design features or those who hire professionals that don’t bother to learn the local laws and code may have stronger claims for a malpractice suit against the designer than property owners who insisted on unrealistic features despite warnings from their architect or designer.