ARE YOU A CONSTRUCTION LIENOR?

shutterstock_98314763When it comes to construction lien rights, not everyone that touches the project is a proper lienor.  Forget about timely serving a Notice to Owner or recording a claim of lien, if you are not a proper lienor, it does not matter if you properly perfected your lien rights.  If you are not a proper lienor, you have NO lien rights under the law!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Statue s. 713.01(18) defines a lienor as follows:

 

(18) “Lienor” means a person who is:

(a) A contractor;

(b) A subcontractor;

(c) A sub-subcontractor;

(d) A laborer;

(e) A materialman who contracts with the owner, a contractor, a subcontractor, or a sub-subcontractor; or

(f) A professional lienor under s. 713.03;

and who has a lien or prospective lien upon real property under this part, and includes his or her successor in interest. No other person may have a lien under this part.

 

Let’s break this down.

 

A contractor is one other than a materialman (supplier) or laborer that enters into a contract with the owner to improve the owner’s property.  A contractor can be a design-builder.   Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(8).

 

A subcontractor is one other than a materialman (supplier) or laborer who is hired by the contractor.   This definition would include a labor company that furnishes skilled or unskilled labor.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(28).

 

A sub-subcontractor is one other than a materialman (supplier) or laborer who is hired by the subcontractor. Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(29). This definition would also include a labor company.  

 

A laborer is a person (excluding a professional) that enters into a contract to personally perform improvements to the property.   Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(16).  This definition would not include a labor company.  See V L Orlando Bldg. Corp. v. Skilled Services Corp., 769 So.2d 526 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000). 

 

A materialman (supplier) furnishes materials to an owner, contractor, subcontractor, or sub-subcontractor but does not perform labor.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(20).  This includes a supplier of rental equipment.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.01(13). 

 

A professional lienor is an architect, landscape architect, engineer, interior designer, or surveyor and mapper who has a direct contract with the owner or performs professional services that improves the real property.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.03.

 

You can also check out this chart for guidance.  Make sure to consult with counsel if you have questions regarding your lien rights. There is no reason not to.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

HOW DOES YOUR CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT TREAT FLOAT

shutterstock_480673663Although there are different types of construction schedule float and more technical definitions, the definition that makes sense to me is that float is the amount of time a particular activity can be delayed without that activity delaying the project’s completion date (substantial completion date).  In looking at a construction schedule, this determination is made from looking at the difference between the early start date for an activity and the late start date for that activity or the difference between the early finish date for that activity and the late finish date for that activity in your CPM schedule (which should be the same amount of time).  This is often referred to as “total float” and is the float that I usually focus on since it may pertain to a delay to the substantial completion date of the project and can trigger either the assessment of liquidated damages and/or the contractor’s extended general conditions, whatever the case may be.

 

Consider this hypothetical discussed in Weaver-Bailey Contractors, Inc. v. U.S., 19 Cl. Ct. 474, 481 (1990) that discusses the concept of total float by using a simple example that may apply to a residential house job:

 

To reiterate, a critical path activity is one which, if allowed to grow in duration at all, will cause the overall time required to complete the project to increase. By contrast, an activity with float time may grow in duration up to a certain point, without an adverse impact on the time required to complete the project. Consider the example of a contractor who committed himself to building a house, beginning on January 1, 1989. The contractor has determined that he will need one year to complete the job. Pouring the foundation is a critical path activity because any increase in the amount of time required to complete the foundation will cause an increase in the amount of time needed to complete the house; work on the walls, floors, roof, and utilities cannot begin until the foundation is complete.

***

Suppose that as part of the job, the contractor promised to build a fence along two edges of the property, and that building the fence will take 20 days. No other work depends on the completion of the fence, so delaying work on the fence until December 11, 1989 will not put the contractor in danger of late completion. In other words, building the fence is an activity with a lot of float time. However, float time is never unlimited. If on December 20 the contractor has yet to begin the fence, or if there is more than 11 days’ worth of fencing work to be done as of December 20, then the contractor will not finish the job on time. From the foregoing, one can make the following generalization: regardless of whether an activity is on the critical path of a project, if the time required to complete the activity is greater than the time remaining to complete the project, then project completion will be delayed.

***

Consider now the effect on our hypothetical contractor if on December 1, before fencing work had begun, the buyer of the house told the contractor that he would like all four sides of the property to be fenced, thereby doubling the fencing work. Clearly the contractor could not complete the entire project by the end of the year, but through no fault of his own. The time required for the fencing portion of the job is now 40 days, and the contractor has only 31 days left.

  

Many contracts, particularly in the public sector, contain a float-sharing provision that basically says that total float is for the benefit of the project and not for the exclusive benefit of either the owner or the contractor.  There are different ways this can be worded.  Under this float-sharing provision, construction is taken as it occurs such that use of float is typically applied on a first-come first-serve basis provided parties acted in good faith through the use of the float (good faith, obviously, being a relative term).  This obviously can work for or against a party based on when a delay occurs during construction.

 

There are contracts that include language that provide that float is for the exclusive use and benefit of the owner.  Under such a clause, float is not for the benefit of the contractor to account for contractor-caused delays; rather, it is for the sole use of the owner to apply to delays it may cause.  When I am representing the contractor, I warn them of the risk of this language as it takes away from the anticipated uncertainty that exists in construction, which is why schedules are never written in stone.  Further, if an owner can consume all of the float, it shifts, in my opinion, quite a bit of risk to the contractor since the owner can breach certain time commitments or obligations in the contract under the premise that it was consuming available float.  When I am representing the owner, I generally do not include such a provision as I tend to subscribe more to the presumed equity of a float-sharing provision, as such a provision can certainly benefit an owner with delays that occur early on in the job.

 

There is also the sentiment that float-sharing provisions, no different than provisions that give the owner exclusive use of float, are equally unfair.  There is an air of truth to this sentiment because a contractor generates the schedule and controls the means and methods of construction.  In doing so, the contractor, through experience, tries to conservatively, but flexibly, account for certain delays it can reasonably anticipate that perhaps would be consumed by float in the schedule.  The contractor cannot reasonably account for owner-caused delays and, in reality, an owner would not want the contractor to do so because there would be a huge time contingency built into the schedule to account for such unknown delays (e.g., is the permit going to be issued on time, is the designer going to promptly respond to RFIs and submittals, is there going to be change orders, is there going to be a design issue, etc).  The owner would never agree to this because it would simply delay the completion date. 

 

How does your construction contract treat float?  How does it define float?  How does the consumption of float potentially impact your project based on how you scheduled activities through completion of the project? 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

QUICK NOTE: INSURER’S DENIAL OF COVERAGE WAIVES RIGHT TO ENFORCE POST-LOSS POLICY CONDITIONS

 

imagesThere is ostensibly a big difference between an insurance carrier DENYING coverage and simply asking for additional information, as permitted under the post-loss conditions of a property (first-party) insurance policy, right?  Typically, the answer is yes and there is a big difference.  If an insured refuses to comply with post-loss conditions under their insurance policy, they are shooting themselves in the foot (in most cases) by giving the insurer an out when it comes to coverage.  If an insurance carrier denies coverage, however, the insurance carrier cannot then require its insured to comply with post-loss conditions in the property insurance policy.

 

In a recent decision, Ifergane v. Citizens Property Ins. Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D12198a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), the appellate court held that there was a factual issue as to whether a letter sent by the insurer constituted a denial of coverage versus a request for additional information per the post-loss policy conditions in the property insurance policy.  This was a significant issue because the appellate court, in a prior appeal in the same case, found that the insured’s non-compliance with participating in an examination under oath would preclude coverage under the property insurance policy.  But, if it turns out that the insurer actually denied coverage first, then the insurer, as a matter of law, waived its right to enforce post-loss policy conditions in the property insurance policy such as requiring the insured to participate in an examination under oath.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

RECOMMENCING CONSTRUCTION ON A PROJECT DUE TO A CESSATION OR ABANDONMENT

shutterstock_733809610There are instances where the owner of a construction project terminates its general contractor prior to the completion of the project.  There are instances where the owner suspends the work prior to the completion of the project, meaning there is a cessation in the construction.  And, there are instances where the project is simply abandoned.  I have been involved in all instances, and the owner’s reasons vary…from an owner claiming a termination for default, termination for convenience, or a suspension or abandonment due to the market or financial factors. Regardless of the owner’s reasoning, at some point—hopefully—the owner will want to resume or, more properly stated, recommence construction and complete the project. 

 

Based on the length of the cessation, when the owner finally recommences construction, oftentimes the right approach is for the owner to strictly comply with the recommencement procedure set forth in Florida Statute s. 713.07(4):

 

 

If construction ceases or the direct contract is terminated before completion and the owner desires to recommence construction, he or she [1] may pay all lienors in full or pro rata in accordance with s. 713.06(4) prior to recommencement in which event all liens for the recommenced construction shall take priority from such recommencement; or [2] the owner may record an affidavit in the clerk’s office stating his or her intention to recommence construction and that all lienors giving notice have been paid in full except those listed therein as not having been so paid in which event 30 days after such recording, the rights of any person acquiring any interest, lien, or encumbrance on said property or of any lienor on the recommenced construction shall be paramount to any lien on the prior construction unless such prior lienor records a claim of lien within said 30-day period. A copy of said affidavit shall be served on each lienor named therein. Before recommencing, the owner shall record and post a notice of commencement for the recommenced construction, as provided in s. 713.13.  [Per Florida Statute s. 713.13(5)(a), if an owner changes contractors, the owner must record either a new notice of commencement or notice of recommencement.]

 

Under this statute, when the owner wants to recommence construction, the owner has two options. 

 

First, the owner can pay all lienors in full or pro rata pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.06(4), which lists the priority of payments to lienors.  I like the idea of getting final releases or a release through the date of payment with no carve-out (for retainage or otherwise).

 

Second, the owner can record an affidavit stating his/her intention to recommence construction and that all lienors giving notice (the contractor and those that served a notice to owner) have been paid in full except those specifically listed.   Thirty days after the affidavit is recorded, the rights of any person that acquires an interest in the property or liens the property is superior to any lien on the prior construction (before construction ceased) unless such lienor records a claim of lien within the 30-day window.   If the lienor already recorded a lien, the lienor would need to re-record the lien within this 30-day window to preserve its lien priority (although, importantly, the re-filing does not extend the one year period for the lienor to foreclose on its lien).   See Foy v. Mangum, 528 So.2d 1331 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (re-filing the lien ensures the lienor has priority over lienors performing recommenced work, but it does not delay the lienor’s requirement to timely foreclose the original recorded lien).  Any lienor identified in the affidavit would get served with a copy of the affidavit.

 

The owner also records a new notice of commencement / notice of recommencement for the recommenced work where any liens relating to the recommenced work would relate back, from a lien priority standpoint, to this notice of commencement.

 

A value to the owner complying with this procedure is that it can apply the remaining contract balance to the recommenced work and if the funds are expended the total amount the owner will be liable for liens recorded before the cessation could be reduced or eliminated (i.e., the proper payments defense). See Alton Towers, Inc. v. Coplan Pipe & Supply Co., 262 So.2d 671 (Fla. 1972) (if owner complies with the recommencement procedure, the owner’s liability is limited to original direct contract price, thus where completion costs exceeded defaulting contractor’s direct contract amount, supplier was not entitled to recover from owner).

 

If you are an owner or contractor involved in a ceased project, or a project where construction will be recommencing, it is in your interests to engage legal counsel familiar with the recommencement procedure.  It is important that you understand construction lien priority, how the recommencement can impact lien priority, and the owner’s potential liability if it properly complies with the recommencement procedure.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.