Case Study: Compliance and Professionalism
So, you’re a homeowner concerned about your foundation, your home’s structure, or perhaps your back yard retaining wall. Your foundation is sinking. Your walls are cracking. And, you’re entertaining the idea of getting an unbiased opinion from an “independent” engineer regarding your concerns. Well, you’re not alone.
Recently, I received a call from a homeowner. They were seeking an unbiased engineering opinion of some foundation cracks they had recently noticed. When they mentioned the subdivision name, it sounded vaguely familiar. After a quick review of my records, I realized that I may have rendered several similar opinions in that subdivision over the past year or so. To verify, I googled a few key words, clicked on some listings, and eventually found a letter from a builder to homeowners in Fairhaven- a Pulte community in Schertz, Texas.
If you are a resident of Fairhaven, then it’s likely you’ve already received or read Pulte’s Homeowner Letter dated January 3, 2012 as posted on their website www.fairhaventx.com . The letter basically outlines how Pulte plans to handle homeowner concerns regarding certain homes in the Fairhaven community that have experienced settlement and foundation issues. However, what struck me as oddly coincidental was the rather confusing statements made in the letter regarding retaining “independent” engineers. Here are two excerpts from the Pulte Letter:
- “Based on our investigations to-date, it appears that there are a few homes experiencing unusual foundation cracking. Pulte has retained top engineers to help us analyze the situation with each home and assist in implementing a thorough corrective action. All repairs will be paid for by Pulte.”, and
- “To ensure we properly analyze and repair each warranty issue, we have employed independent, structural and geotechnical engineers with years of experience dealing with Texas soils and home foundations.”
But, can a builder retain or employ “independent” engineers to analyze foundation problems for a particular homeowner or residence? Or, put another way, is it professionally ethical for a Texas licensed engineer to accept compensation exclusively from a builder, yet provide simultaneously “independent” or “unbiased” opinions to both the builder and the homeowner?
Well, you don’t have to go too far to answer these perplexing questions. You simply refer to the Texas Engineering Practice Act, Chapter 137, Compliance and Professionalism (www.tbpe.state.tx.us). Engineers, like many other professionals, must maintain the interests and confidentiality of their clients. In so doing, engineers “shall not accept compensation or benefits from more than one party for services pertaining to the same project or assignment”. Put simply, unless authorized by the engineer’s client (Builder), an engineer may not act in the interest of, or reveal any opinions or other information presumed confidential to any third party (homeowner) unless authorized to do so (paraphrased from Chapter 137).
This article is part of our continuing case study series in Engineering Ethics. This article is intended for educational purposes only.