Architects: How to Handle Non-Paying Clients

Reminders, formal notices, legal proceedings... Find out everything you need to know about what to do if you don't pay your architect's fees.

The profession of architecture is both thrilling and challenging, especially when it comes to managing fees. Unfortunately, architects often face the dilemma of dealing with non-paying clients, a situation that can jeopardize the financial health of their firm. To help secure your earnings, OOTI offers a comprehensive guide on the best practices to follow. Arm yourself against the risks of non-payment by following our expert advice!

The Critical Role of a Written Contract

Creating a written agreement with your client isn't just an ethical requirement for architects; it's a crucial step in securing your fees. In the event of a dispute, the absence of a written contract significantly complicates recovery efforts.
Another tip is to equip yourself with simplified billing software, like OOTI's solution, to create, track, and send your invoices effortlessly. With a glance, access a detailed list of invoices and easily send payment reminders.
Although courts may sometimes recognize a right to payment without a signed contract, it's better to anticipate and formalize the terms of your collaboration from the start. A detailed contract eliminates ambiguity about your services, payment, terms of settlement, and potential recourse in the event of non-payment.
To avoid headaches, utilize standard contract templates prepared by the Architectural Association. Available for download on their website, these documents are proven effective and incorporate all the necessary legal provisions. Fill them out diligently with your client to establish a solid contractual relationship right from the start.

Procedures for Non-Payment

If your client fails to pay your fees on time despite completed services, initiate a collection process immediately. This process, while daunting in name, involves simple actions you can undertake yourself for a swift and amicable recovery in most cases.
Amicable collection, despite its formalities, also offers a chance to maintain contact with your client. A call to your primary contact to alert them of the delay often resolves simple issues.
If these oral alerts don't yield results, it's time to move to written communication, still amicably. Draft a polite yet firm written claim (letter, email) reminding them that the payment deadline has passed.
Should this initial reminder be ignored, then send a formal notice via certified mail, demanding payment within a reasonable period (8 to 15 days, for example), stating your right to terminate the contract or suspend your services if payment is not made.
Usually, a formal notice acts as a wake-up call, prompting your client to comply. If not, you have additional options per your contract, such as outright termination, suspension of services, or imposing a 10% surcharge on your fee.
Lastly, you can contact the Regional Council of the Order of Architects (CROA) for amicable intervention, which often resolves the issue. This step is mandatory before any legal proceedings if you've used a standard contract from the Order.

Statute of Limitations

It's crucial to remember that the right to claim unpaid fees is time-limited. This period, known as the statute of limitations, varies depending on the client type.
For private contracts with professional clients, the limitation period is five years from the fee's due date. However, for individual clients, this period is reduced to two years.
For public contracts, the statute of limitations is four years from January 1 of the year following the acquisition of rights.Be mindful of these periods to preserve your right to legal action if necessary.

Competent Courts

In disputes over unpaid fees, legal proceedings may be necessary. Having legal protection insurance is highly beneficial in such cases, covering all or part of your legal costs and ensuring you can assert your rights confidently.
The competent court depends on the amount of unpaid fees: for amounts below €4,000, contact the local judge; for up to €10,000, the instance court; beyond €10,000, the commercial court for professional clients, and the high court for individual clients.
For public contracts, the administrative court is the appropriate venue, regardless of the dispute's value.
Before initiating proceedings, check your contract for any jurisdictional clauses that might override these general rules.

The Payment Injunction Procedure

If your client ignores your reminders, consider the payment injunction procedure. This quick, cost-effective method obtains an enforceable title without a trial. Submit a request detailing your claim to the competent court's clerk, along with supporting documents (contract, invoices, formal notice). If the judge deems your claim valid, they will issue a payment order. The debtor then has one month to pay or contest the claim. Without a response, you can proceed with enforced collection.

Simplify Your Billing with OOTI

Want to streamline your invoicing process? Explore OOTI, our specialized management software for architects. Featuring payment tracking and automated reminders, OOTI supports you at every step, optimizing your management and saving you valuable time.

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