Owners undertaking a construction project are always concerned about construction liens from subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and suppliers that preserved their lien rights by serving a notice to owner in accordance with Florida’s Lien Law (Florida Statutes Chapter 713) (“Lienors”). One way an owner alleviates this concern is by requiring the contractor to obtain a payment bond so that its property is exempt from construction liens from Lienors. See Fla. Stat. §713.23. However, payment bonds do not protect the owner’s property from the general contractor’s lien.
Unfortunately, payment bonds are not always feasible or economical. While the contractor procures the payment bond, it is the owner that pays the premium for the bond. Sometimes an owner does not want to or is not in a position to pay this premium, which could be substantial depending on the cost of the project. In these circumstances, the owner’s property is subject to construction liens from Lienors. Anyone involved in construction knows that it is very difficult to construct a project without there being some form of a payment dispute involving Lienors.
When an owner receives a lien, or if it presumes a lien could be forthcoming from a Lienor, the owner should serve a request for a sworn statement of account BEFORE the lienor forecloses on its lien. Florida Statute §713.16 provides in material part:
“(2) The owner may serve in writing a demand of any lienor for a written statement under oath of his or her account showing the nature of the labor or services performed and to be performed, if any, the materials furnished, the materials to be furnished, if known, the amount paid on account to date, the amount due, and the amount to become due, if known, as of the date of the statement by the lienor…The failure or refusal to furnish the statement under oath within 30 days after the demand, or the furnishing of a false or fraudulent statement, deprives the person so failing or refusing to furnish such statement of his or her lien….
(3) A request for sworn statement of account must be in substantially the following form:
REQUEST FOR SWORN STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT
WARNING: YOUR FAILURE TO FURNISH THE REQUESTED STATEMENT, SIGNED UNDER OATH, WITHIN 30 DAYS OR THE FURNISHING OF A FALSE STATEMENT WILL RESULT IN THE LOSS OF YOUR LIEN.
To: (Lienor’s name and address)
The undersigned hereby demands a written statement under oath of his or her account showing the nature of the labor or services performed and to be performed, if any, the materials furnished, the materials to be furnished, if known, the amount paid on account to date, the amount due, and the amount to become due, if known, as of the date of the statement for the improvement of real property identified as (property description) .”
Besides getting verification as to how much the Lienor swears they are owed as of the date of the sworn statement of account, importantly, a Lienor that does not timely provide this sworn statement of account within thirty days could be deprived of its lien. In other words, this tool allows an owner to catch an unsuspecting Lienor (or even the contractor if served on the contractor) off guard that neglects to treat this request for a sworn statement of account seriously. The loss of a construction lien to a Lienor is a huge loss!
The owner is not limited to serving only one request for a sworn statement of account. The law simply provides that if the owner serves more than one request on the same Lienor “and none of the information regarding the account has changed since the lienor’s last response to a demand, the failure or refusal to furnish such statement does not deprive the lienor of his or her lien.” Fla. Stat. 713.23. For this reason, there is nothing wrong with an owner serving a request for a sworn statement to those Lienors that served a notice to owner at some point or points during the course of the construction project, and in most cases, this is very good practice. While the owner could technically serve one upon its receipt of each of the contractor’s applications for payment, this could be an administrative burden and not always practical. (There are other methods an owner can utilize to ensure it is protected from liens from Lienors by requiring the contractor as a condition precedent to payment to provide releases of lien through the date of the application for payment from those entities that served a notice to owner.) With that said, an owner should certaintly take advantage of this tool by serving a request for sworn statement of account upon immediately receiving a lien and before the Lienor forecloses on the lien. Ideally, before the owner tenders final payment, it should serve the sworn statement of account to Lienors to best protect its interests.
Please contact David Adelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.