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Client does not pay freelance architect and takes credit for design

I work as a freelance architect and designer. In this particular instance, I was victim to the ignorance of an uninformed client. When you’re dealing with intellectual property, such as creating a design, it’s important that the client is knowledgeable and has the capacity to understand what they’re actually paying for: your ideas!

While designing Whitehall, located on 19 Greenwich Ave in New York City, I produced construction drawings, digital renderings, hand sketches, filing drawings for building permits, and material call outs. The built space was written about in Vogue magazine, and they not only left out my name but gave the owners the credit for the work, literally stating that the space was designed by Donal Brophy and Brian McGory.

After using all of my ideas, the clients claimed that they were actually the designers. Confused? I was too. After interrogating them, the response was that they had to deal with a lot of questions from the contractor. Has anyone ever worked with a contractor who doesn’t ask questions? If they’re not asking questions, they probably aren’t doing a great job.

In most cases, the client would typically allow the experienced professional to perform what is called Construction Administration. I technically should have been the one who was answering all of the contractor’s questions on this job and would have if the client hadn’t stated that he was also an “experienced” designer and therefore this role would be unnecessary for me to perform. The client asked me to remove that fee from our contract. I agreed to remove the fee and it was made clear that I would not be performing the CA role on this job. This was all agreed upon prior to beginning the work.

Even though I explained this to the client, he told me to take $3,000 in cash (the contract was for $8,000), off the books, and be done with it. I refused on moral grounds as I had clearly already done all of the work. To then be stiffed on top of that was just adding salt to the wound. As a result of this loss, in addition to having gotten short-changed by another client who claims he’s broke, I’ve been forced to give up my studio space.

“After using all of my ideas, the clients claimed that they were actually the designers.”

Freelancers don’t have a financial buffer like corporations do. We’re typically operating month to month and if you don’t have more than one job lined up, you have no leverage in your negotiations. Having worked in this industry for the past seven years, what I can now advise is that it’s not worth it.

If the terms aren’t to your liking and you don’t find yourself personally attached to the work or to the client, then walk away. Otherwise, you’ll always end up with the short end of the stick.

If you freelance in the New York City area, stay away from Donal Brophy and Whitehall. If you do decide to stop in Whitehall for a drink, tell them it’s on me!

Antonio is a freelance architect and designer.  (The views and opinions in the posting above do not reflect those of Consulting4architects Blog.)

This story was submitted to the Freelancers Union

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