This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
The architect's legal right to compensation is, of course, a contract right, either under an express contract, if one exists, or under an implied contract. If an express contract fixes the rate of compensation, of course the architect's rights are fixed by that. If there is an express contract which does not fix the amount of compensation, or if there is no express contract covering the employment, the architect's right is to charge so much as his services are reasonably worth. While from a legal point of view it would be wiser to have the rate of compensation settled by the binding agreement of the parties, it is probable that in most cases of the employment of an architect, the matter of his fees is not expressly agreed upon, and in case of dispute the architect would be left to receive under the implied contract what his services are fairly worth. One reason for this practice is the existence of a customary schedule of charges, which architects are accustomed to demand and to receive for their services. This schedule* is framed by the American Institute of Architects. The influence of this schedule on the question of compensation is an important one.
In the first place, it is obvious that rules made by a body of architects cannot, as such, bind persons employing the architects. These schedule rates may, however, be of some importance in either one or two ways. In the first place, it may be that the payment of these schedule rates is a custom which must be taken to have been in the minds of both parties, and binding upon them as a part of their contract. Custom may be thus shown for the purpose of proving a term of contract, provided always that the contract does not expressly contradict the custom.
Such a custom must, however, be reasonable; and courts haw-been of opinion that schedules similar to this in question were not, as they applied to various cases, reasonable. Moreover, the custom must be proved to have been known to both parties to be affected, either by showing actual knowledge on their parts, or by showing it to be so general in the locality that the inference is irresistible that both knew it. It is greatly to the advantage of an architect whose compensation has not been fixed by agreement, to be able to hold his employer to this schedule, and therefore important to bring notice of the schedule home to the employer. For this purpose the schedule is sometimes printed on an office letter head, and several of these letter heads used in early correspondence before work on plans actually begins. From a lawyer's standpoint this is but a makeshift to take the place of the definite understanding which should be had.
Even if the schedule is not admissible in evidence as showing a customary term which is to be read into the agreement between architect and owner, it may be admissible merely to show what is reasonable compensation. This is obviously quite a different matter from proving it to be a binding clause in the contract. Other evidence can be heard to contradict that furnished by the schedule, and the result in a litigated case would be doubtful.
*See Appendix II.
Unless it is clearly understood that the plans and specifications are to be submitted subject to approval, an owner by contracting with an architect for plans and specifications and by receiving them makes himself liable to pay the architect whether he uses the plans and specifications or not. Where, however, it is understood at the outset that the plans and specifications are made conditional on the approval of the owner, if they do not meet with his approval, the architect cannot recover for them. It would seem, however, that the owner should give the architect a reasonable opportunity to alter the plans and specifications so as to meet his wishes. It has been held that after rejecting and returning the plans several times, the owner is at liberty to procure plans elsewhere.