Category Archives: Claim of Lien

Confusing a Lien with a Prelim

So what’s the difference?

Here is a simple analogy:

Let assume that you want to see the latest summer blockbuster movie before it is out of the theater and only available on DVD or Streaming. You make plans to go to the theater on Saturday night. You arrive at the theater, parking is free and now you proceed to the box office. What happens next?

  1. You show them your prepaid ticket on your iPhone or
  2. You buy a ticket which is your admission into the theater to view the movie.

Here’s the analogy: The ticket (which you paid for) is your “Prelim” while the “Movie Viewing Experience” is your Lien.

So you need a ticket to see the movie the same way you need a prelim to have the right to file a lien.

Therefore, a prelim, or pre-lien is NOT the same as a lien.

Once you have clarity on the purpose and scope of these two very different documents, your ability to protect your job related accounts receivables will become a whole lot easier.

Another way to remember is:

  1. A prelim SECURES my RIGHT to file a lien
  2. A lien SECURES my job related unpaid accounts receivables.

Now the kicker: You must take one of the following three actions before either of these documents will result in collecting your job related accounts receivables:

  1. Sign a release of your lien in exchange for payment in full from the entity named in your lien.
  2. Negotiate payment terms and refile an extended lien.
  3. Have your attorney use the lien as a basis upon which to file a foreclosure lawsuit against the property named in your lien and collect the amount claimed in your lien from the proceeds of the sale of the property.

This is a very simple yet accurate summation of the prelim/lien process. However, there are variables that can affect any of these conditions:

  1. Timing (time to serve your prelim, time to record and serve your lien, and time to commence a foreclosure lawsuit).
  2. Not all states require a prelim (check the CRM 50 state guide)
  3. You must be legally eligible to claim a lien (A contractor with an expired license, may not be able to claim a lien)
  4. Not every state offers the option to extend a lien.

Need more information on these and other options for methods to secure your job related accounts receivables?

Don’t shoot the Messenger

 

Looks like the California Mechanics Lien process just got a little more expensive.

Governor Brown has signed into law an amendment to the California Government Code:

Title 3, Division 2, Part 3, Chapter 6, Article 5 “Fees”

Effective January 1, 2018 the recordation of a Mechanics Lien, Notice of Completion and possible a Release of Mechanics Lien will now be subject to an additional $75.00 recording fee, Ouch! Now this new fee reaches far beyond the recording of a mechanics lien. It applies to almost any document which applies to real estate and must be recorded. So many many transactions of California Real Estate will be handicapped by this new charge.

Naturally, just like the new California state tax increase on gasoline, the public is being encouraged to contact their representative and launch a complaint as to what may have the appearance of unfair price gouging. After years of being subject to reasonable rates like $8.00 per page or something close to this rate, the new $75.00 surcharge surely takes on the aura of this kind of behavior. However, until this is changed, or overturned by the courts. Everyone will need to pay the new fee.

So what is the best strategy? How should you prepare to work with these unavoidable increases?

For Starters: Make sure that you are prepared to RECOVER these fees within the scope of your business contract. Have your attorney review your sales order, proposal, quotes, etc. and make sure the language is included that will allow you to recover all of your cost to pursue a mechanics lien without risking these cost.

Also, avoid choosing the California Mechanics Lien process for amounts that are minimal. If you need to expose yourself to a higher lien filing cost, be ready to follow it through and that your claim is bullet proof.

Make sure that your negotiations take all of these cost into consideration. If you hold a mechanics lien on a property and have negotiated a price in exchange for a release of lien, it would be wise to add the cost of having a Release of Lien prepared, including the new cost to record the release.

The mechanics Lien will continue to be the best tool for securing your unpaid receivables on any construction project. However, reviewing your collections processes and taking action to ensure your mechanics lien is supported by well researched preliminary notices, and guarded by an alert system that keeps you away from stressful, 11th hour decisions, will keep you in the drivers seat.

For additional information on these new California Government Code changes contact CRM

1-800-773-5467

Completion? Last Furnished? Stop Date?

Many ways to reference what most consider to be the same thing. However, everyone of these terms have completely different meanings and various concerns on those planning to secure their outstanding receivables on any given job.

Lets take some time to give each of these the respect they deserve and hopefully avoid compromising your lien rights due to misunderstanding.

First and foremost is the COMPLETION date. This is usually manifested by a formal filing of a “Notice of Completion” with the recorders office in the county where the property is located. But it may also be confirmed by the owner and the general contractor agreeing that the contract is completed, final payment is made, and no further work is required. In other words the COMPLETION is driven by the finalization of the original construction contract between the owner or owner’s agent and the general contractor.

So why is this important?

Why is it any different than the date you last furnished to the project or the date your company stopped working on the job?

One thing to consider is the lien law statute for the state where the property is located. If the statute declares that the time for anyone holding a right to bring a mechanics lien against the job will expire 90 days after the Notice of Completion is recorded. Then on the 91st day after recordation, your lien rights are gone.

Now there are states which declare that a subcontractor or materials supplier is allowed up to 90 days after last furnishing to record and serve a mechanics lien.

How does this differ from the above?

When you consider any project which may last many months or perhaps years. Many different trades could participate in the project long before the original construction contract between the owner and the general contractor is completed. However, if the state statute requires them to record and serve their mechanics lien, not later than 90 days after their STOP DATE or after they last supplied to the project. Then their mechanics lien rights will also disappear 91 days after they finish.

So how do you protect your open accounts receivables when there are so many variables which could impact your time to take action?

At CRM we offer a clients a service called “eAlerts Unlimited” This Lien Rights Tracking Program is driven by the STOP DATE, or anticipated STOP DATE, which is recorded on the date your request for a notice to establish your lien rights is received. Most clients do not know when they will stop supplying to the job. For some it may be a one time shipment, while others may continue to supply for months or perhaps for the duration of the project. One key point to keep in mind is: “It is not solely based on the shipments you may supply to the job site” It is also governed by each of your customers who may have ordered from you for the same project. Each customer will need to be named in separate initial notices that will protect your lien rights on this project.

The sweet feature of the CRM Unlimited eAlerts program is that it E X T E N D S your time to take action by the continuation of your “Last Shipped Orders”. The CRM eAlert Reports (Weekly, Monthly, or As Requested) will allow you the opportunity to compare the

“STOP DATE” on the report with your last SHIP DATE in your accounts receivables file.

When they are the same, you will need to consider the recommended action as listed in the report. When these dates differ, you may note your last ship date on the report and return, via email, to CRM. We will then extend your original STOP DATE to the new LAST SHIP date and your time to consider a mechanics lien will be extended accordingly.

For additional information please select:

Never miss another Mechanics Lien DEADLINE

Why can’t I lien my customer?

Seems like a logical assumption. You provided materials or services to your client and they have the ultimate responsibility to pay you. So why can’t you put a lien on them?

The answer is a little complex but I will do my best to clarify. The primary concept you will need to wrap your mind around is:

Mechanics Liens may only be placed on REAL PROPERTY

 

Now chances are that your agreement with your customer is that they pay you by cash, check, or some sort of transfer of money into your account. You cannot put a lien on money* so there is no mechanism for you to put a lien on your customer.

However, your customer does have an obligation to pay you. So when your customer decides not to pay you, the best option is to consider filing a “Breach of Contract” Lawsuit. or if the amount owed is within the limits allowed by the local “Small Claims” Courts, then consider filing a “Small Claims” action. This is surely a method available to you to secure your unpaid balance. However, these options may cost much more than the cost to place a mechanics lien on the REAL PROPERTY you helped to improve.

So, while a mechanics lien may not be used against your client. It can, and should be used, to secure the amount due to you from your client because the “FINAL BENEFICIARY” of the materials or services you provided is the Owner of the Real Property.

So the next most asked question is: Can I do both?

Can I lien the job and file a Breach of Contract Suit against my customer? Yes you can. BUT!

There is always a “but”. You may only collect once for the amount due to you. You cannot collect twice for the same balance due.

So we get down to asking: What is the wisest business decision?

My thinking is to file the mechanics lien. Why? because chances are that your customer is not paying you because they have not been paid for the work they performed on the same project in which they hired you. So if they were paid, the breach of contract suit becomes more strategic. But if they are still waiting to be paid, then the mechanics lien may be your most efficient method.

This subject can get a lot deeper depending on many different conditions which may exist. But to answer the question: Why can’t I lien my customer? this should provide you with a good understanding.

One last point. The mechanics lien can be a little tricky. It must be done properly to have any real impact. Make a small mistake and the time and money you invested in your mechanics lien may be easily squandered. Unless you are experienced in the preparation of mechanics liens, we recommend you consider using CRM Lien Services as your professional resource for this process.

(* you cannot lien the money your customer owes you. However, in some cases it is possible to put a lien on the money which is being used to fund the project – see Stop Notice or Lien on Funds)

I filed my lien . . . now what?

This is a very common question once a mechanics lien has been filed and served. The most important thing to consider is that your recorded mechanics lien: “Is not an end in itself”.

Most states offer two distinct options for a recorded mechanics lien. Some offer a third option which will be covered later. The first thing to be aware of is the “Life Cycle” for your mechanics lien. In many states the mechanics lien will become invalid 90 days after it has been recorded. Meaning that all of the time and expense you incurred to protect your lien rights and file your lien, will go down the drain on the 91st day. Why?  . . . because you must take action to advance your mechanics lien.

The most common action is to release your mechanics lien. This is the least expensive and is required if within the 90 day life cycle of your mechanics lien, the property owner has paid you for the full amount, or an amount which you have agreed to settle your claim of mechanics lien. Of course this action, releasing the lien, is only a viable action if you are paid. Should you not be paid, you must present your mechanics lien to a licensed attorney and have them begin a “Foreclosure Lawsuit” before your mechanics lien expires. This can be expensive. However, you may be able to capture your expenses should you win your case in court and request the judge allow recovery of your expenses in addition to the amount claimed in the mechanics lien.

Remember Option #1 Release of Lien (inexpensive), Option #2 Foreclosure Lawsuit (expensive)

Now there are some states, California for example, which offer a third option.

Option #3 Extend your mechanics lien.

This option buys you time (as much as 270 additional days) before you must start foreclosure. But the Lien Extension will cost you the price of a new mechanics lien. While the lien extension is designed to lengthen the time allowed to settle the claim, it must be agreed to and signed by both the claimant and the owner. Set terms for payment of the claim must be declared in the lien extension. And the claimant may advance the mechanics lien to foreclosure anytime during the extension if the terms of repayment are breached.

Not all states have this option but for those that do, it presents a very affordable and secured method to collect on your mechanics lien claim while holding the property in a collateral position.

Now with all of that said, be aware of the 91st day! Your mechanics lien, if left without action for 90 days, will become invalid and a cloud against the title of the property will be created. Your mechanics lien must be removed, with prejudice, when requested by the owner. It makes no difference if you have been paid or not. You are only allowed a limited period to take action with your mechanics lien. Should you let this time slip by. You will be literally up the creek without a paddle.

Have questions? Call us. We can help.

If my customer serves a prelim will I be covered?

My customer, who is a local distributor of roofing materials, served a prelim on a job and I will be supplying the roofing materials to the job and invoicing my customer. Am I protected under his prelim?

Short answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT and there are many possible reasons why you are not protected.

To start, the property owner has the ultimate responsibility to become liable to all who participated in the project who have a Right to Lien as evidenced in the most current state statute. When the statute demands that all who may be able to claim a lien must first notify the owner with a properly prepared notice. Then this means you, not your customer.

It is also possible, as in this example,  that you may be providing materials to another supplier who in turn is supplying to the job. This would be viewed as a Transfer of Inventory even if you shipped the materials directly to the job.

Many other conditions could impact your ability to have a Right to Claim a lien on a project. It is always best to request a prelim from CRM on or before the day you ship materials or start to work on a project. Let CRM conduct the research and make certain that you have a properly prepared and served notice to secure your Right to Lien.

There are many examples of conditions, which could exist, which may impact your Right to Lien. From a suspended or delinquent Contractors License to a misrepresentation of your business entity by failing to properly state your legal business identity on your contract or your clients order for services.

Keep in mind. This whole process of serving notices is driven by strict compliance with the laws that govern improvements to real property. Something as simple as forgetting to use “Inc.” after your company name when your are in fact an incorporated business, may invalidate your notice. Don’t take chances. When you have an experienced company like CRM prepare your notices, you may expect them to “peel back the onion skin” and look for all of the details, which those who may want to invalidate your Right to Lien, are hoping you overlook.

Here is the bottom line! When you have true lien rights to protect, you do not want to make a simple mistake that could cost you your lien claim after you have spent a ton of money to enforce your claim. Silly things like

  • Claiming a lien right or a lien under a business name of which you have no right to lien. (That is why CRM request that you enter into a “Service Agreement” with CRM.  This allows CRM to confirm that the notices we serve for you will actually protect you because you proper business identity is listed in the notice)
  • Or trying to claim a mechanics lien for the sale of some services or materials that could not be substantiated as having improved Real Property. ( Example: If you rented a Forklift to a job, you may protect the “RENTAL INCOME” earned on the Forklift ONLY IF the Forklift was used to help improve the Real Property. If the Forklift was used to unload tractor trailers of materials or supplies used in the business operations of the company whose property was being improved, then the rental income was earned but DID NOT help to improve the value of the real property.
  • Staying with the Forklift example: What if the Forklift is DAMAGED on the job? What if the cost to repair the Forklift is $10,000.00? Should you include the cost to repair the Forklift in your Lien? Most likely not. Why? The damage to the Forklift should be covered by Liability Insurance. (The Rental Industry usually refers to this as “Damage Waiver” Insurance.) So an insurance claim for the damages should be filed and this transaction should not be part of your claim for a mechanics lien.
  • Another scenario is when a Materials Supplier is supplying materials to someone else who has contract “to supply materials” to the project and they claim their right to lien for materials that you supplied. They are protected, you are not protected! If you try to claim a lien right it will be disqualified even if you delivered the materials to the job as a service to your Materials Supplier Client who ordered the materials from you. (Perhaps you should have sold the materials under a “Joint Check” agreement. This would help your protection if your client must go to court to collect on the materials you supplied.

There are many conditions which could surface in any business transaction. To be safe, we encourage you to use a service who ask the right questions and understands what it will take to make sure your notices do the job you expect them to do. To learn more about preliminary notices and other methods for securing your job related accounts receivables.

ContactUS

Understanding Retainage

While the concept is no mystery to those who participate in the construction industry. The means by which you protect these job related accounts receivables can be a little tricky.

Lets take a look at Texas.

Texas statutes actually require that the property owner hold 10% retainage from the total due the Original Contractor until the project has completed, and 30 days have elapsed. Why? Why does the State make this requirement upon the Property Owner? There may be several answers to this question. But the one that jumps out is: “To help defend against mechanics liens which those, other then the original contractor, are preparing to bring against the project due to unpaid contracts”.

By requiring the Property Owner to hold back (RETAIN) 10% of the amount due the Original Contractor for up to 30 days after the job is completed. Those with unpaid contracts can properly notice the property owner while funds are still available to satisfy these claims and protect the property owner from possibly paying twice for the materials, supplies or labor which was provided to the project under subcontracts.

Now the key to protecting all of your unpaid balances for this project is to have a crystal clear understanding as to what is retainage and what is not!

Best way to explain is by illustration:

Lets say that you are the Plumbing Contractor for an improvement being made to Texas Corporate Park. You have subcontracted with the Original Contractor to install all of the plumbing fixtures for a total price of $650,000.00. You agree to a Retainage Agreement of 10%.

So from the very beginning of the project you know that $65,000.00 of the total due to you are not collectable until the TERMS of the RETAINAGE AGREEMENT has been satisfied. Lets also say that your work of this job will last 5 months and that you actually finish on time. To sweeten this illustration, you have 100% approval of your work by the Original Contractor and the Owner. I know, sounds like utopia. Bear with me for this illustration. Your contract of $650,000.00 should be paid in full. However, you agreed to allow 10% ($65,000.00) be subject to the retainage agreement. Your subcontract also most likely included terms for you to submit invoices as you completed select portions of your contract. Those invoices cannot total more than $585,000.00 and are due and payable to you during the course of the contract in accordance with your agreed terms.

To protect the $585,000.00 (amount of subcontract less retainage) you must submit all first and second notices of unpaid balances as they become due during the 5 month project, in order to secure your right to file a mechanics lien for unpaid balances. If you were 100% in compliance with the Texas notice of unpaid balances requirements, and unpaid balances which represent $75,000.00 of the $585,000.00 are owed to you.   An affidavit of lien for $75,000.00 may be claimed. If your affidavit of lien is being claimed at a time which is also in agreement with the terms for retainage, and the retainage of $65,000.00 is also unpaid,  you may file a single affidavit of lien for $140,000.00.

However, should the terms of the retainage agreement allow additional time for disbursement of the $65,000.00 you allowed to be withheld as retainage, you must limit your affidavit of lien to the $75,000.00 unpaid balances portion and consider an additional affivdait of lien for the retainage portion once the retainage agreement has matured and you have not been paid the $65,000.00 Retainage.

So the lessons to consider from this illustration are:

  1. Avoid mixing unpaid balances with retainage (Unless all amounts are due or past due)
  2. Make sure that you have complied with ALL Texas notices for retainage and unpaid balances. (Most will get the unpaid balance portion under control. It is the retainage protection which tends to get lost in the paperwork)
  3. Using a professional lien service, with years of experience with Texas notices, should greatly reduce the worry and keep all of your unpaid job related accounts receivable in compliance with the requirements that allow you to seek protection under the statutes.

Contact CRM for all of your notices in all 50 states.

Are you protected by the Lien Laws? – part three

 

 

 

So we have covered: Real Property, Work of Improvement, and Eligibility in the first two parts of this series. These are all critical to understanding mechanics liens in almost every state. Now we will dive into the next critical area.

Time

 

Every state has specific requirements with regards to the time allowed to seek protection under the mechanics lien law. One hard fact to embrace from the start is: Forget the concept of holidays, weekends, snow days, closed due to construction, all of these normal and natural periods are completely ignored when it comes to complying with the lien laws.

So, if the lien law allows 20 days from the day you begin to work on the project and you start to work on December 23, 2016 You have until January 11, 2017 to have your notice served. 20 calendar days. Of course you could always have your notice served on day one (December 23, 2016 in this example) but you cannot wait until January 12, 2017 and receive total protection. Now this example is based on California Lien Law and it applies to those who must, by law, serve a preliminary notice in order to secure their rights to claim a mechanics lien. Other states have different time requirements; Florida allows 45 days, Oregon 8 days, some allow -0- ( you must serve notice before you start). Best tool for keeping up with these timelines is the CRM 50 State Guide.

 

 

 

This guide is complementary and can assist you with determining the action required to secure and protect your rights to claim a lien. When you need to seek protection under the lien laws you must respect the scope of the timelines.

Using the above example; 20 days to serve your preliminary notice, then what? If you have been paid, you will need to Release your Right to Claim a Mechanics Lien. If you have not been paid, you MAY serve and record a mechanics lien. This will protect the Lien Rights granted to you by the serving of a preliminary notice. Most states allow 90 days from the day you stopped working on the project. However, our California example allows 90 days from the completion of the project or 30 days from the filing of a “Notice of Completion” providing you are served an advisement which informs you of the Notice of Completion being filed. In either case 30 days, 90 days from completion, or 90 days from last working on the job. These days are HARD Calendar Days. Forget any weekends or other “reasons to delay”. The courts do not care why you filed late. You and everyone else who are eligible and secured their right to claim a lien, are subject to the same timeframe.

Here’s a small tip: Allow at least 50% of the timeframe listed within the state statute to begin your claim of lien process. Example: if the statute allows you 90 days from the completion of the project, then by day 46 begin the process of claiming your lien. Reason; some of the process is left to Public Agencies to facilitate your claim. This could be something as simple as submitting your lien for recordation in the County Recorders Office or having your lien served by a Sheriff. These processes are subject to unforeseen delays. Any of which may cause your lien to be delayed to a point where it is no longer eligible for serving as a valid claim.

Once again, the scope of this article has not included all that should be understood so keep an eye out for: Are you protected by the Lien Laws? – part four “How much can I claim?”

 

Are you protected by the Lien Laws? – part two

From Part 1 of this series we learned that you must wrap your head around two basic concepts:

Real Property and Work of Improvement.

If you may still be unsure of these, please read part one of this series before going any further.

Once you have Real Property and Work of Improvement under your belt. The next item to consider is: Eligibility

Just wanting to file a mechanics lien because you are convinced that you performed a work of improvement to Real Property isn’t quite enough to proceed. Don’t misunderstand, almost anyone who wants to file a mechanics lien can by all means do so. However, if you file a mechanics lien and did not legally have a right to claim a mechanics lien, you could be opening Pandora’s Box.

Claiming a mechanics lien without first securing a lien right is illegal and could make you liable for any damages your invalid lien may cause the owner of the property. The mechanics lien is a great tool used to secure your money, and a solid vehicle for collecting it. But the mechanics lien is only available to those who have earned a “Right to Lien”

The Right to Lien may be secured by a variety of processes. These differ from state to state. So don’t assume that because you claimed a valid mechanics lien in New York, that you can proceed the same way in Florida. The State Lien Laws are completely different in these states as they are in other states.

So how can you be safe to proceed with claiming a mechanics lien?

One basic principle exists in almost every state. That is that the lien laws are designed to protect those who are in compliance with the laws in general. Example: If you are a Contractor and the state in which you conduct business requires you to hold a specific “Contractor’s License”. Then you must not only have that license, but it also must be valid. You may not expect the state to grant you a mechanics lien right if you have allowed your contractors license to expire or you are attempting to work under a suspended license. Same holds true for any requirements demanded by the Secretary of State for legally conducting business in their state. If you don’t respect the state laws, then don’t expect protection under their laws.

As a side note to the above, do not enter into a business transaction which may result in the claiming of a mechanics lien under a name that differs from your license. If you were granted a license as: “Jack Ready Framing Services” then don’t issue an invoice to your client as “Jack’s Framing”. This is all about keeping it legal, not convenient, legal.

Another caution about having a “right to lien” is the serving of a proper and timely “Preliminary Notice”. Over half the states in our country require those in construction, or suppling materials to a construction project, to serve a preliminary notice which “grants them the right to claim a lien”

IE: No Prelim = No Lien

 

Now this does not hold true for everyone and surely not for every state. However, when the state requires you to serve a preliminary notice; within 8, or 20, or 45 days from the day you being to work of the job, then you best do so if you want to protect 100% of your anticipated revenue from the project. Sure there are some loopholes which may grant you partial protection by serving a late notice, but the smart players will opt to embrace a policy which allows them to be protected on every job.

I would like to now say: “That’s it”. however, there is still more to consider about protecting your right to lien. So keep a eye out for our next blog:

Are you protected by the Lien Laws? – part three: “a day late and you will be more than a dollar short”.

Bonding around a Mechanics Lien – Let ’em do it!

Some clients get all concerned when their customer or customer’s customer threatens to bond around their mechanics lien. Not quite sure what all the fuss is about. When someone choses to replace the Title of the Real Property being named in a Mechanics Lien with a Surety Bond, they in essence have made the collection process a little easier and more secured.

The truth is that the bond is similar in ways to an insurance policy. It secures the value of the claim of lien by the cash value that is supported by a Bond.

Look at this way:

Option #1 You have helped to improve a building and are owed $100,000.00 for the improvements you made. You filed a Mechanics Lien and now you need to file a foreclosure lawsuit in order to be awarded a judgment that will force the building to be sold and you will be paid upon the close of escrow. This works, and is done all of the time. However, you must first be successful prefecting your Mechanics Lien to be awarded a judgment from the courts. And once you have the judgment. The building still has to be sold and escrow closed before you get any money.

 

Option #2 You have helped to improve a building and are owed $100,000.00 for the improvements you made. You filed a Mechanics Lien and now the title holder of the building wants to substitute the title of the building with a payment bond that has a cash value equal to the amount being claimed in the lien. You still need to file an action to commence a suit on the bond. However, once you are successful in substantiating your claim, the judgment you will receive is for immediate payment from the surety or bonding company. You will not have to wait until the building is sold and escrow is closed.

 

The reality is that the bond becomes more liquid than the real estate and your chances of receiving the cash have been improved. In addition, you are no worse off than when you just had a mechanics lien. The key concern should be: “Can I be successful in court presenting my claim against this bond?” You will still need to have an attorney argue your case in order to be awarded a judgment for the full amount of your claim. The good news is that the bond used to substitute the mechanics lien must be in the amount of the mechanics lien claim you filed. Even if the judge elects to make adjustments that lower the value of your award.

 

So you should not have any concerns when someone opts to “Bond around your Mechanics Lien”. Your biggest challenge will always be to be in complete compliance with the statute. Never miss a deadline. And have an attorney who knows their way around the mechanics lien perfection process.

 

For more, please read the lien related articles found in the CRM Blog.