Can a Building Official Deny Approval of a P.E.'s Work?

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineApril 2, 2019
by SBCA Professional Engineers with contributions from SBCA Staff


Graphic 1: An example process for complaint about the practice of engineering. There is a similar process for architects.

This is a common question, particularly when a building official does not approve work that is signed and sealed by a professional engineer (P.E.) or a professional architect (A.I.A). The short answer is no, not according to the law. Why? Simply put, building officials are not granted legal authority over registered design professionals. Rather, they only have authority with respect to enforcing specific provisions of the building code adopted into law in their jurisdiction. An analogy would be that a police officer does not have legal authority over a properly licensed attorney or district attorney.

The board of professional engineers is the only regulatory authority having jurisdiction over engineering. So what does this mean in practical terms? A properly licensed professional engineer is allowed to practice engineering, without discrimination, restraint or limitation. By engineering law, this needs to be in their area of expertise. The same process and concepts are true for licensed professional architects.

As an example (see Graphic 1), the Florida Board of Professional Engineers has a process by which engineers who are violating professional engineering law will be investigated. This is a legal process that follows the standard rules for investigating evidence, assessing legal sufficiency and determining probable cause of a violation of any aspect of professional engineering law.

If any building official believes an engineer is violating engineering law, they need to follow the proper state law complaint process through the licensing board that governs engineering.

Consequently, the building officials the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) has discussed approval of professional engineering work with, provide the following approval counsel:

Graphic 2: Example sealed specialty engineered design document by a professional engineer as an approved source.

  1. They first verify that the professional engineer is licensed to practice in a given jurisdiction by going to the state board’s website to see if the engineer in question has a valid and current license. An example validation site can be found here.
  2. If the professional engineer is licensed in the state and has signed and sealed their engineering work, they are defined by law to be an approved source, which is a term specifically defined in the building code as “an independent person, firm or corporation, approved by the building official, who is competent and experienced in the application of engineering principles to materials, methods or systems analyses.”
  3. They approve the professional engineering work by filing for the record a signed and sealed engineering analysis, research report, design drawing or construction document.

The only caveat to this is if, during the review of the documents provided by the engineer, a code compliance error is made. That error then needs to be brought to the attention of the engineer, along with the code section violated, so that the engineer can cure the error.  

The Ohio Board of Building Standards has provided counsel and precedent with respect to the building official approval process in their white paper entitled “OHIO’S “SEAL LAW” 19 YEARS LATER.” The paper specifically states:

“Building officials do not have the right to refuse to accept non-residential construction documents that do not bear the seal of a registered design professional. If documents are required to have a seal of a registered design professional and they do not have one, they still must be accepted for review…. Failure to approve or deny construction documents and issue a Certificate of Plans Approval is a denial of a "license."…. To be in compliance with Ohio law, construction documents required to be submitted for an approval must be accepted for review by the building department. A thorough and complete plan examination must then be performed. If the Building Official does not issue an approval of the construction documents, this denial and the reasons for it shall be indicated in an adjudication order. This process must be used for any item of noncompliance causing the denial of an approval, including the requirement for an Ohio design professional’s seal.”

Graphic 3: Ohio’s “Seal Law” 19 years later.

SBCA members have built an industry based on taking responsibility for their scope of work. This is best demonstrated by the continuing use of sealed truss design drawings. When an engineer’s seal is on a document, any company using that document has visible assurance that an engineer takes responsibility for the work to which the seal is attached. Furthermore, the engineer will react professionally when working with building officials to provide structures that are safe and durable.

For additional information and commentary on the building code, please read the following articles: