The Importance of Preliminary Notices on Private Works Projects

Time and time again I receive calls from subcontractors and suppliers who find themselves faced with a customer who is either unwilling or unable to pay for labor or materials supplied for a private works project. As an attorney, the first question I usually ask is “did you serve a Preliminary Notice?” The second question I usually ask is “did you serve the Notice within twenty (20) days after first furnishing labor, service, equipment or materials to the job site?” The answers to these questions will often determine the ability to collect on the claim.

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Notice of Completion Determines Mechanics Lien Deadline

The California Mechanics Lien is one of the most valuable collection devices available to contractors, subcontractors and suppliers who are unpaid for work performed and materials supplied in relation to a California Private Works project. The mechanics lien allows the claimant to sell the property where the work was performed in order to obtain payment. The process starts with the recording of a mechanics lien in the office of the County Recorder where the property in question is located. As noted below, certain deadlines must be met.

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Will a Notice of Non-Responsibility Prevent Enforcement of a California Mechanics Lien?

The “Notice of Non-Responsibility” is one of the most misunderstood and ineffectively used of all the legal tools available to property owners in California construction law. As a result, in most cases the answer to the above question is “No”, the posting and recording of a Notice of Non-Responsibility will not prevent enforcement of a California Mechanics Lien.

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A “Supplier to a Supplier” on a California Construction Project Sometimes Does Have A Right to A Mechanics Lien, Stop Payment Notice or Payment Bond Claim

For purposes of seeking payment on a construction related project in the California construction industry, the proper legal classification of the party seeking payment is of key importance. Whether one in contract with a prime contractor is a subcontractor or a material supplier determines the availability for mechanics’ liens, stop payment notices and payment bond claims. Generally, those in contract with subcontractors have the ability to assert mechanics liens, stop payment notices and payment bond claims against the owner, general contractor and/or sureties. On the other hand, those who supply materials to material suppliers are generally not entitled to assert a mechanics lien, stop payment notice or payment bond claim. The “rule” has generally been stated as: “A supplier to a supplier has no lien rights.” However, this rule is not always true.

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Understand how the Mechanics’ Lien Deadline Depends on the Validity of the Notice of Completion

Working within deadlines is absolutely crucial to preserving mechanics lien rights under California law. The deadlines differ, depending on whether you are a ”direct” contractor, also known as “original” or “prime” contractor (one who contracts directly with the property owner) or a subcontractor or material supplier. The primary differences are that except as to serving the construction lender if any, the direct contractor is not required to serve a “Preliminary Notice” (Civil Code section 8200-8216), whereas the subcontractor and material supplier are required to do so. Another difference is that a direct contractor has a longer period of time in which to record a mechanics lien after a valid “notice of completion” or a “notice of cessation” has been recorded (Civil Code sections 8180-8190), (60 days for original contractors as compared to 30 days for subcontractors and suppliers – See Civil Code sections 8412 and 8414).

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