Let Me See Those Plans
Projects as complicated and pricey as building a new house require professional planning. An architect must lay down the bones of the house, i.e., the floor plan and elevations. Afterward, an engineer is needed to design the framework of the structure so that the materials used will satisfy the load requirements for the design and location. Either of these professionals or the two working in tandem choose the exterior and interior cladding materials, electrical wiring and fixtures, plumbing and fixtures, mechanical design and equipment, etc.
Once all of the requisite decisions are made, the design of the house is committed to technical drawings and written specifications. These two elements comprise the plans (formerly referred to as blueprints). Several copies of these plans are then submitted to the local building inspection department, where a certified plans examiner ensures that the design complies with all building, electrical, plumbing, and energy codes adopted by the municipality.
Once the building inspection department approves, a permit is issued to the house builder, and work on the project can commence. The builder then distributes copies of the approved plans to all of the subcontractors involved in the construction of the house.
Throughout the process described above, the original designer’s copyright has not been infringed, assuming that the builder either has an in-house design department or purchased the plans from a third-party designer. The other folks, such as the builder’s staff, his subcontractors, and the municipal building inspection department, are using the plans under the fair use doctrine that applies to copyright laws.
With very few exceptions, Texas production builders will not provide you with plans for the house you hire them to build for you. Why do you suppose that is? They will hand them out freely to every questionably-legal immigrant worker but not to you – the purchaser. One answer is that they are too cheap to print them for you – it eats into their almighty profit. More importantly, they do not want you to know how far they stray from the plans during construction.
This presents a real problem in that, without the plans, you will not know if you are getting what you paid for. Additionally, if you hire a third-party inspector (and you should if you have two synapses to rub together), that inspector will need those plans to ensure that your house is being constructed in strict compliance with the plans and the applicable industry standards.
What’s a mother to do? In Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code, we find that anyone can request copies of documents determined to be “public information.” This means written, produced, collected, assembled, or maintained information under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by a governmental body, such as your municipality. Once requested, the municipality has ten business days to provide you access to the documents requested.
When requesting the plans for your house, the request should read something like this:
“All documents and drawings associated with the permitting, constructing, and inspecting the single-family residence located at 123 Yee-hah Street, Redneck, Texas 75XXX“.
If the municipality resists, explain that you will both file a formal complaint with the Texas Office of the Attorney General and contact your attorney. Problem solved.
Almost. All of the above information applies only if your house is within the limits of a municipality or within its extraterritorial boundaries. If your house is situated in an unincorporated area of a county, you will need to have your attorney write into your contract with your builder that you will receive a complete set of plans before the commencement of construction.