The Critical Role of Backup Documentation in Mechanics Lien Filing

The Critical Role of Backup Documentation in Mechanics Lien Filing

Never underestimate the value and necessity of documentation supporting your mechanic’s lien claim. When assisting clients with mechanic’s lien filings, CMA partner NCS Credit always reviews backup documentation. Backup documentation may include invoices, statement of accounts, a copy of the contract, bills of lading etc. Backup documentation provides a bigger picture.

Backup documentation isn’t just used for preparing a document, there are states that require copies of open invoices and/or a copy of the preliminary notice to be attached to the lien. And, as one subcontractor has learned, backup documentation can play a vital statutory role in supporting a claim.

We will address recent case law, where a subcontractor filed a mechanic’s lien in the amount of $287,212.28 and included an itemized statement in accordance with statute; however, the itemized statement was for $6,574.69. First, we’ll review the statutory requirements for Kansas, and then the fate of the subcontractor’s lien.

 

Mechanic’s Lien Rights & Requirements for Kansas

Commercial and residential projects have separate statutory requirements in Kansas. For commercial projects, claimants do not need to serve a preliminary notice. Residential projects, however, have a notice requirement.

New Construction: file a Notice of Intent to Perform no earlier than 18 months prior to filing a lien, but prior to title passing to the buyer.

Improvement: serve warning statement upon the owner or obtain and retain a statement signed by the owner that states they were given warning statement.

The lien deadline, for commercial & residential projects, is different for general contractors versus subcontractors and material suppliers.

General Contractors: file the lien within 4 months from last furnishing materials or services.

Subcontractors/Material Suppliers: file the lien within 3 months from last furnishing materials or services.

For parties proceeding with suit to enforce the lien, file suit within 1 year from filing the lien or if a promissory note was attached to the lien in lieu of a statement, file suit within 1 year from the maturity date of the promissory note.

 

The Contents of a Kansas Mechanic’s Lien

Key to the case at hand is that Kansas mechanic’s lien statute dictates a mechanic’s lien must include the following:

 

(1) The name of the owner,

(2) the name and address sufficient for service of process of the claimant,

(3) a description of the real property,

(4) a reasonably itemized statement and the amount of the claim, but if the amount of the claim is evidenced by a written instrument, or if a promissory note has been given for the same, a copy thereof may be attached to the claim in lieu of the itemized statement.

 

It’s also important to note, mechanic’s liens can be amended, if within the time allotted and/or by judge’s approval. But, statute specifically states a mechanic’s lien cannot be amended for an increased claim amount.

 

60-1105. Limitations and amendment. (b) Amendment. Where action is brought to enforce a lien the lien statement may be amended by leave of the judge in furtherance of justice, except to increase the amount claimed.

 

OK, On to The Case!

In Madison, Inc. v. Western Plains Regional Hospital, LLC, Dist. Court, D. Kansas 2018, there are a lot of issues up for debate, but the focus for this post is on the validity of the subcontractor’s lien.

 

The subcontractor, Madison, Inc. (Madison), contracted with general contractor, Sanderling Healthcare, LLC (Sanderling). Sanderling was hired by project owner, Western Plains Regional Hospital (Western). The project was an improvement to a medical complex in Dodge City, Kansas.

 

Madison claimed its last furnishing was August 3, 2016. Based on Kansas’ statute, Madison’s lien (or an extension to file lien) should have been filed by November 3, 2016. Madison did file its lien timely on October 18, 2016. Madison’s lien for $287,212.28 was accompanied by an itemized statement showing $6,574.69.

 

Based on a lien filing date of October 18, 2016, Madison needed to file suit by October 17, 2017. Again, Madison was timely with its action, filing suit to enforce its lien on May 1, 2017. Then, on May 18, 2017, Madison filed a motion to amend its mechanic’s lien. Specifically, to “add additional itemization left out of the initial lien.”

 

As I mentioned earlier in the post, Kansas statute does permit liens to be amended within the statutory period, however, not if it is to increase a claim amount. In the court opinion, the judge mentions cases where an amended lien was permissible to correct the name of the owner, correct the incorrect use of the term “subcontractor,” and to correct the project description. Adding, the difference between Madison’s request to amend, and the cases cited in support of amendments, is that the other liens provided “sufficient information to give the property owners notice of the claims.”

 

In other words, how could the general contractor or owner review Madison’s itemized statement for accuracy when Madison failed to include the itemization for over 90% of its claim?

 

The court deemed Madison’s lien invalid based on its failure to include a “reasonably itemized statement.” Madison tried a last-ditch effort to save its lien, arguing that even if Madison can’t have a lien for $287,212.28, Madison should have a valid lien for the itemized statement amount of $6,574.69.

 

Well? According to the legal opinion, neither the Judge nor parties could find case law which addressed reducing the claim as Madison proposed. However, the judge did refer to a recent Court of Appeals decision, which essentially said “secure the lien according to statute, or don’t bother.”

 

“It is a settled rule in this state that equitable considerations do not ordinarily give rise to a mechanic’s lien. Being created by statute, a mechanic’s lien can only arise under the circumstances and in the manner prescribed by the statute. A lien claimant must secure a lien under the statute or not at all.

 

Unfortunately, Madison’s lien did not comply with statute, thus failing the “all or nothing” comment from the Court of Appeals.

 

What did the judge say? “Because Madison’s lien was vitally defective as filed, it cannot be found to be partially valid. Severing defective portions of liens would not give defendants proper notice of the claim against them and would circumvent the strict requirements of the statute by creating liens without statutory compliance. For these reasons, Western’s Motion to Dismiss the claim for enforcement and foreclosure of the lien is granted.”

 

Never Underestimate the Power of Paper

When assisting with lien filings, sometimes clients push back when NCS requests backup documentation, e.g. “You don’t need to review my statement of account, I know what I’m owed.” We certainly don’t want to invade your privacy or second guess the information you provided. We request the documentation because we want to assist in ensuring your lien meets the statutory requirements.

 

Maintaining comprehensive and complete records can be a challenge. But, losing lien rights and potential payment security can put a burden on your cash flow.

Thanks to CMA partner NCS Credit for this information!

An Excessive Nevada Mechanic’s Lien

In this blog post from CMA partner NCS Credit, we explore how much money is needed to make an excessive Nevada mechanic’s lien claim.

How much money makes a Nevada mechanic’s lien claim excessive or frivolous? According to one Nevada court, $1,371,187.44. In this case, the subcontractor filed a lien for $2,117,602.78, which was contested by the general contractor. The court deemed the subcontractor’s mechanic’s lien excessive and ordered the claim to be reduced to $746,415.34. Let’s review mechanic’s lien rights in Nevada and the case at hand.

Securing a Nevada Mechanic’s Lien

For private commercial projects in Nevada, would-be lien claimants should serve a preliminary notice upon the owner and prime contractor after first furnishing materials or services, but within 31 days from first furnishing materials or services. In the event of non-payment, the lien should be filed within 90 days from last furnishing or 90 days from project completion, whichever is later. Suit to enforce the mechanic’s lien should be filed after 30 days from filing the lien, but within 6 months from filing the lien.

Here’s a quick look from The National Lien Digest©

When is a mechanics lien excessive in Nevada?

 

SMC Construction Co., v. Rex Moore Group, Inc., Dist. Court, D. Nevada 2017

In 2015, Edgewood Companies (Edgewood) hired SMC Construction Co. (SMC) to build a hotel in Lake Tahoe. SMC then hired subcontractor, Rex Moore Group, Inc. (Rex), to provide “the electrical system and electrical fixtures for the project.” The original subcontract was for $5,464,364, included terms for 10% retainage and stated only written change orders would be accepted. The subcontract also included verbiage that Rex “…would not be entitled to any monetary damages or other compensation or damages resulting from delays to the project.”

The court makes mention of the damage clause because, as you’d imagine, the story takes a turn. In the winter of 2016/2017, significant project delays prompted SMC to tell Rex to put in the time & resources to speed up the project. The delays and subsequent “hurry up!” resulted in 20 change orders. These change orders increased the subcontract from $5.4M to a little over $6.1M.

 

In early spring 2017, Rex submitted a claim for damages due to, among several items, delays on the project. The additional claim was for $927,000, and, based on the subcontract, SMC denied Rex’s claim. In turn, Rex filed a lien for $2,117,602.78. Here’s how Rex arrived at that claim amount:

 

“Rex Moore calculated its lien as follows: $5,464,364 under the original contract plus $1,941,710.74 in additional work (including approved change orders up to that time) and damages for breach of contract minus $5,288,471.93 for payments received for a lien of $2,117,602.78.”

 

Here’s the court’s review of Rex’s math:

 

“Here, it is undisputed that there is a subcontract and twenty written change orders between the parties which sets forth an agreed upon price of $6,184,183.00 for Rex Moore’s work on the project. SMC contends that Rex Moore has been paid $5,470,580.63 on the project leaving an amount due of $713,602.37.”

 

Now, there is apparently an extraneous change order floating about, and the parties further agree that Rex’s claim amount is no more than $746,415.34.

 

Continuing our math lesson, Rex’s lien was filed for nearly 3 times the amount of its actual claim. SMC argued Rex’s claim is “frivolous and made in bad faith.” Rex, of course, argues its lien is not frivolous and Rex has email communication to back up its claim.

 

In the email, Rex asks SMC if it should track its costs (during the delays and “hurry ups”): “[SMC] responded to [Rex]’s e-mail about tracking costs and possible delay issues by telling [Rex] that “tracking [Rex] costs is a good idea” and to have “[SMC’s construction supervisors] sign off tickets as the work is happening so we know they are valid if/when we need to talk about money.” Id.”

 

Rex considers this email exchange a waiver of the damage’s clause in the subcontract.

 

“Rex contends that this e-mail establishes that SMC agreed to pay Rex for delay related costs and damages and waived the subcontract requirement of written change orders for all changes in compensation… Rex argues that once SMC agreed to allow Rex track its additional expenses, this additional compensation became part of the agreed upon contract price even if it was not specifically identified by any change order and thus, the additional compensation is lienable under Nevada’s mechanic’s lien statute.”

 

Except… in its original lien filing, Rex claimed some amounts were owed due to breach of contract. And, as the court points out, damages resulting from breach of contract are not lienable under Nevada statute. “Thus, Rex’s own lien statement establishes that the lien requests compensation for aspects of the project outside the scope of the subcontract and which are not lienable under the mechanic’s lien statute. As such, Rex’s recorded lien is excessive as a matter of law.”

OK, but what about the email? Well, the court didn’t agree with this single email being a waiver of the damage clause, because the email didn’t actually say it was a waiver. The court furthered that if this email did constitute as a valid waiver, it still wouldn’t matter, because Rex’s claim was outside the strict limitations of the Nevada mechanic’s lien statute.

Lucky? Maybe.

On the upside, Rex’s lien was not entirely expunged. The court kindly reduced Rex’s lien claim amount to the $746,415.34 owed, because the court did not believe or have enough evidence to prove that Rex filed its excessive claim in bad faith.

Documentation, yet once again, proves to be vital in supporting a lien claim. Review contracts carefully, execute change orders properly and never ever assume anything!

Thanks to CMA partner NCS Credit for this information!

Buy Once, Pay Twice? No! The Purpose of Lien Waivers

Homeowners sometimes get blindsided when it turns out the GC they hired hasn’t paid his subs or materials suppliers. The lien waiver in your contract protects homeowners against this.

BY JIM CORY

If you live in Tampa and own a house, count your blessings that you never hired John Iacovino and Ike’s Roofing to replace your roof. If you had, you may have ended up like John Pfaff who paid Iacovino $8,800 to re-roof his home. The roof got replaced, only Iacovino, owner of Ike’s Roofing, never paid for the roofing materials he obtained on credit from Suncoast Roofing Supply. And because, after first sending a Notice to Owner, Suncoast Roofing Supply filed for a mechanic’s lien on the property, Pfaff is now obligated to pay for the $3,700 worth of materials the supplier furnished to do the job. According to the local sheriff’s office, Suncoast Roofing Supply is out about $150,000 and there are now 70 properties with liens on them, thanks to Iacovino, who has a history of drug and DUI arrests.

Secure the Receivable

What that lien could potentially mean for Pfaff is that Suncoast Roofing Supply can force the sale of his home at auction—foreclose on it—to satisfy the $3,700 it is owed.

More likely, however, is that when he goes to sell his property, or if he attempts to refinance it, the amount owed to Suncoast Roofing Supply will be paid from the proceeds of the transaction. A mechanics lien, in legalese, is designed to “secure the receivable.” Goods or services were rendered in good faith, and the lien, to ensure payment, becomes an encumbrance to the sale or transfer of the property.

The mechanics’ lien (standard usage is now ‘Mechanics Lien’) has been around since 1791 and was first conceived in modern form by Thomas Jefferson as a way to encourage construction on the nation’s capital. The concept owes its existence to the economics of the construction business. Mechanics liens were created as a unique legal remedy to protect contractors and those who supply them with labor (subcontractors), materials (supply yards), or specialized services, such as design (architects, etc.), from being stiffed. Wikipedia.com defines the mechanics lien as “a security interest in the title to property for the benefit of those who have supplied labor or materials that improve the property.”

On one level, a mechanics lien entitles a contractor to come after a homeowner who refuses to pay. But it also entitles subcontractors or suppliers to come after that homeowner, and specifically the property, should the general contractor fail to pay either party as agreed. Under the law—every state has one and every state’s will differ—the improved property becomes collateral for payment. “A mechanic’s lien has nothing to do with mechanics in the usual sense,” notes legal website Nolo.com. “It’s a legal claim against property being improved, and it can be filed by anyone who provides materials or does work on the project and doesn’t get paid. The property itself becomes responsible for the debt, and the people who are owed money can force its sale at auction if something isn’t worked out.” That is, the lien holder (say Suncoast Roofing Supply, in the example above) could sue for foreclosure to satisfy the debt. Even if sale of the house at auction is not in the picture, “you cannot sell or refinance your home without dealing with the mechanics lien,” notes Colorado law firm Robinson & Henry, P.C.

“Thus when a creditor is owed a few thousand dollars he may record a Mechanics’ Lien against real property which may have a value of hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can see the leverage he has in collecting this debt! This is a great tool for mechanics, tradesmen, subcontractors, labor providers, and material providers. But it must be used properly or the Mechanics’ Lien may be found invalid and thus unenforceable.”

Not That Complicated

If you’re a contractor who’s been stiffed, or a supplier left holding the bag, the idea of taking legal action around the concept of a mechanics lien might sound complicated and expensive. Actually, it isn’t at all hard to file a mechanics lien. In Pennsylvania, for instance, you could simply go to anscers.com, fill out the online forms, submit them, and allow the lien service to file for you. The cost: $290, though the price goes to $850 for a New Jersey residential lien. Generally, counties charge a filing fee of less than $50, but the cost of preparing a lien, which would require a lien service or a lawyer, would be anywhere from $250 to $500.

The key is to move quickly and not let the situation drag on. You snooze, you lose. In New York, for instance, “you must file your mechanic’s lien within four months of the time that you last provided labor or materials to the project,” according to the website for New York Mechanic’s Lien. The time frame will differ in every state. So, similarly, is the requirement that preliminary notice—Notice of Intent to File a Lien—must be given, or, in some states, you as a subcontractor or supplier forfeit your right to file a lien. (Click here for a state-by-state breakdown of requirements for preliminary notice.) So, for example, in Florida, to collect for the materials it supplied to John Iacovino and Ike’s Roofing, Suncoast Roofing Supply would have to have served John Pfaff with a Notice to Owner (NTO)—preferably by registered, Global Express Guaranteed, or certified mail— “within 45 days from first furnishing services or materials.” That’s not a huge amount of time. Note that, according to the site: “Failure to
provide the notice within the statutorily mandated time frame is fatal to the lien claim in Florida.” The lien itself would need to be filed with 90 days of the date the materials were supplied and must be notarized to be valid.

In the state of California, mechanic’s liens are a constitutional right guaranteed to contractors by the California Constitution. This right has been implemented in detail by statutes enacted by the California State Legislature.

Lien Waivers

What Pfaff could have done to save himself the aggravation and expense of the mechanics lien filed by Suncoast Roofing Supply was to demand a waiver of liens, or a subcontractor lien waiver, in the contract he signed with Ike’s Roofing, if in fact he signed one. “With a lien waiver, when the project is successfully completed, both parties sign off and state that the contract obligations have been met, including the general contractor [in this case, Iacovino] making all necessary payments to materials suppliers, subcontractors or vendors,” advises the Angie’s List review site. “If the general contractor doesn’t agree to sign off on the subcontractor lien waiver, you can withhold payment until he or she has proved they’ve paid their suppliers or subcontractors.”

As for Pfaff, he can take some small amount of comfort in knowing that mechanics lien claims … very rarely result in a piece of property getting put up for auction and sold. As in, almost never. According to the source, and based on a survey of mechanics lien filings from 2011, 64 percent of lien claims were paid within three months, “without any additional legal or collection efforts whatsoever.” Which means that the mechanics lien functioned as Jefferson intended. So Pfaff will almost certainly keep his house. But unfortunately for him, he paid 50 percent more for that home’s roof than he ever thought he would have to.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philadelphia-based freelance writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

 

This article originally appeared on Professional Remodeler’s website. To read the original story, click here.

 

What’s a Defective (or Improper) Mechanic’s Lien, and How Does it Impact the Construction Project, by Sergey Garanyants

In certain instances, a mechanic’s lien filed by a contractor, subcontractor or material supplier can become either “improper” or “invalid” under relevant lien statutes, or “defective” on its face. In such cases, the owner is entitled to remove and/or discharge the mechanic’s lien so that the property is no longer burdened by it.

Many states provide for a different process to properly record a lien against a residential property, as compared to a commercial property. Nevertheless, the process of discharging an improper or invalid lien is largely the same.

Some of the most common situations that give rise to a defective lien occur when: 1) the lien claim is without basis, 2) the amount of lien claim is excessive or misstated, 3) filing of the lien claim was not performed in accordance with the relevant lien law statute, or 4) filing of the lien claim was not performed in time prescribed by the relevant lien law statute. In such situations, lien claimants generally forfeit their lien rights, and, in some instances may forfeit additional or subsequent remedies.

Moreover, many states mechanic’s/construction lien statutes punish contractors, subcontractors and suppliers who willfully fail to remove or release such improper lien claims, especially, if the notice of invalid lien was given by a party challenging its validity.

If it has been determined that your lien claim is invalid or improper, you must first provide the appropriate notice to the property owner challenging the validity of your lien and, in some situations, to the general contractor. Once such notice is given, lien claimants generally are allowed some period of time to discharge or release their lien claims by making appropriate filing with the state’s real estate records. The period of time to release an improper lien varies depending on the state. If the improper lien was not released, a property owner may file a complaint with the court in the state where the lien was recorded. Many state statutes will allow property owners, who were forced to pursue court action to remove or release an improper lien, to recover court costs and legal fees incurred in pursuing such action.

Source: “Removing Invalid Construction Lien”, the National Lien law Review, September 15, 2016, http://www.natlawreview.com/article/removing-invalid-construction-lien, Copyright © 2016, Stark & Stark.

Sergey Garanyants runs CMA’s Construction Forms Filing Services, helping CMA members in the construction industry protect their lien rights in all 50 U.S. states. For information about CMA’s construction forms filing services, visit http://creditmanagementassociation.org/services/construction-forms-filing/

Why Are Lien Waivers Important?, by Sergey Garanyants

Lien waivers and releases, which were once just a way for owners and general contractors to make sure they wouldn’t have to pay for the same work or material twice, are now became something much more broader affecting much more than just a mere mechanic’s lien rights.

Mechanic’s liens (a.k.a. construction liens) are designed to provide additional protection and way to ensure payment for contractors, subcontractors or suppliers for the work provided or material supplied. A mechanic’s lien essentially gives the person or company an interest in the property equal to the unpaid amount, affecting the owner’s ability to convey or transfer the property free and clear without paying the amount owed. While such laws aim to protect contractors and subcontractors, it also creates a risk for property owners and real estate developers of paying for the same work or material twice. In an attempt to protect themselves, developers, property owners and contractors are now increasingly insistent on the practice of obtaining a signed waiver or release of lien rights to the extent actually paid, as condition to furnish any payments to contractors and subcontractors working on the project. However, signing such waivers may directly or indirectly cause for contractors and subcontractors to “sign away” many of their rights to dispute contractual and related project issues.

Modern-day construction lien waivers and releases became much broader than simply addressing mechanic’s liens. In some instances, signing a release not only waives the right to file a mechanic’s lien, but also waives the ability to file claims for any other related issues, such as breach of obligations by a party to a contract, delays caused by mismanagement of the project, or additional expenses incurred. Contractors, subcontractors and suppliers should remember to preserve their own rights when executing any construction waivers or releases. For example, if a subcontractor is concerned about underpayment, it could refuse to accept payment until the general contractor has been paid in full, or the subcontractor could accept payment, but note on the release that it was reserving the right to make certain additional claims.

Many projects usually only have one general contractor, and each general contractor knows all of its subcontractors or suppliers, each of whom may be eligible to file a mechanic’s lien. However, many state construction lien laws are now allowing tier 2 and tier 3 subcontractors, including suppliers and others with whom the general contractor has no direct relationship, to file mechanic’s liens, thus creating a much larger and potentially unknown number of parties that are able to create liability on the project. That is why many general contractors require their subcontractors to acquire signed lien releases from all other subcontractors and suppliers on a periodic basis before issuing any payments. One of most common issues challenging the ability to secure signed lien releases on a monthly basis is the struggle of many companies to maintain enough cash flow to make all of their payment obligations in time. It can be easy for companies to find themselves in a difficult situation in which they can’t afford to pay their subcontractors or suppliers right away, and, in the same time, they can’t obtain payment from the general contractor or the owner without first providing a signed release stating in turn that they have already paid everyone.

It is vital that general contractors and subcontractors review the proposed contractual language carefully in order to ensure the appropriate cash flow and lines of credit, so they are able to fulfill their payment obligation when required. Carefully review the exact terms of any release or waiver you are expected to sign. Exercise care before accepting any payment, particularly if the payment is not for the full amount owed. Most importantly, always remember that lien waivers are separate obligations, and no matter how unfair the underlying result may be, courts are very likely to uphold provisions of signed waiver or release.

Source: Joshua R. Lorenz: “Mechanic’s Lien Waivers Place Burden on Contractors and Subcontractors; Construction Law”, the Legal Intelligencer (Online), September 6, 2016; Copyright 2016 ALM Media Properties, LLC.

Sergey Garanyants runs CMA’s Construction Forms Filing Services, helping CMA members in the construction industry protect their lien rights in all 50 U.S. states. For information about CMA’s construction forms filing services, visit http://creditmanagementassociation.org/services/construction-forms-filing/