USGBC proudly boasts that LEED v4 has 80% fewer forms when compared to LEED 2009. Not only are there fewer fields to document with the removal of low value content, but the user experience is further improved including by removing multiple required signatures.

The earlier “LEED Project Registration Agreement” and “LEED Project Certification Agreement” have both been replaced in v4 with a new single Certification Agreement, accessed at the time of project registration through LEED Online after inputting the project details.

Simply stated, the Certification Agreement is “the” contract that governs certification of a project under the LEED program. The contract is with the Green Building Certification Institute, which “administers the Program and confers precertifcation and LEED Certification under license from the U.S. Green Building Council.” There is now one Agreement applicable across all rating systems, including new construction, the Volume Program, Campus Projects and soon to be v4 Homes.  

This is not an attempt to summarize that 14 page almost 8,000 word Agreement (readers of this blog can read the contract at the link above); all participating with LEED should read the online contract carefully and have it reviewed by counsel. This article simply highlights some of the important improvements from the earlier forms (which forms will continue to be used in LEED 2009 and earlier version projects as they are registered and certified).

The new Agreement expends much verbiage on who is the “Owner” beginning in the first paragraph and introduces the new Confirmation of Primary Owner’s Authority form. It also highlights the need for projects, where the owner is not completing the LEED registration process itself to continue to utilize the existing Confirmation of Agent’s Authority form.

The most significant change is that under prior agreements disputes were resolved through litigation in federal court where this Agreement contains a provision requiring the parties seek to resolve all disputes “through open and good faith discussions in the first instance” and if not resolved, “by mediation, administered by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) under its Mediation Rules” and if settlement is not then reached, by binding arbitration administered by the AAA.

Another material change, also within the context of dispute resolution, is that for the first time, the prevailing party is entitled to “all costs and expenses of any Arbitration, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses.” These changes in dispute resolution serve to level the playing field in favor of project owners.

While not likely of great import to most, some may be troubled that, “GBCI reserves the right to increase the Fees by no more than twenty seven percent (27%) per calendar year.” An owner may elect to pay all fees in advance and not risk a future increase.    

An owner may at its sole election opt out of pursuing LEED certification and “may terminate this Agreement in whole or in part at anytime.”

The final contract provision eliminates the need to upload hard copy signatures when it provides that selecting the button marked “I AGREE” is your signature.

There is no doubt this Agreement is new and improved from the perspective of a project owner, but be aware, it continues to reflect the unequal bargaining power of the parties and is heavily weighted to protect USGBC and GBCI (including requiring owners to broadly indemnify USGBC).

Article by Stuart Kaplow, appearing courtesy Green Building Law Update.

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Stuart Kaplow is an environmental attorney and the principal at the law firm that bears his name, Stuart D. Kaplow, P.A.

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