Can a Building Official Deny Approval of an RDP's Work?

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineSeptember 18, 2019
by SBCA Professional Engineers with contributions from SBCA Staff


Graphic 1: Click to enlarge. An example process for complaint about the practice of engineering. There is a similar process for architects. Learn more.

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 if a building official is following their state’s adopted law.

Why? Simply put, the legislature, of all states, has placed legal authority over registered design professionals (RDP) within the purview of a processional licensing board. This board determines who can and who cannot be a practicing RDP. Anyone denying an RDP’s ability to practice their profession, without going through proper state legal process to do so, denies due process of law.

Furthermore, the licensing boards for professional engineers are the only regulatory authority having jurisdiction over engineering. What does this mean in practical terms? A properly licensed professional engineer must be allowed to practice engineering without restraint, bias, discrimination, or arbitrary limitation. Engineering law is also clear that the engineering work needs to be in the engineer’s area of expertise.

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

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

If any building official believes an RDP is practicing outside their area of expertise or otherwise violating architecture or engineering law, they need to follow the proper state law complaint process, which all licensing boards provide. In all other cases, the presumption of having proper expertise and innocence with respect to violating the law should be the norm, leading to immediate approval of an RDPs professional commerce.

Consequently, building officials with whom the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) has discussed how the approval process for an RDP’s construction documents, research reports, and/or specialty engineered designs should work, provide the following step-by-step approach:

  1. The building official ensures that the RDP has signed and sealed their work, with a seal as stipulated by state law, the license number and date of the work.
  2. When completed the RDP is defined, by adopted state law, to be an approved source.
  3. This legal definition states who can be approved and also provides specific acceptance criteria -- “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.”
  4. At this point the next step is to verify that the RDP is currently licensed to practice in a given jurisdiction by going to the state board’s website to check. An example validation site can be found here.
  5. Finally, the RDP’s work is approved by filing a copy for the public record. This includes but is not limited to all project related documentation.

In parallel with RDP approval, however, the legislature has assigned building officials legal authority over administering and enforcing legislatively written and legally adopted provisions of the model building code and/or alternative language and amendments.

Given this, RDP approval also includes building official peer review of all the submitted construction documents, research reports, and/or specialty engineered designs. If, during this peer review, a code compliance error is made. That error then needs to be brought to the attention of the RDP, along with the code section violated, so that the RDP can cure the error.  

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: