OWNER REQUESTING PROGRESS PAYMENT AFFIDAVITS FROM CONTRACTOR

imagesFlorida’s Lien Law provides an owner, in particular, an infrequently used tool to take advantage of before making a progress payment to a contractor.

 

Previously, I talked about a contractor’s requirement to furnish the owner with a final payment affidavit before foreclosing on its construction lien.

 

But, an owner can request for a contractor to serve a progress payment affidavit before making a progress payment to a contractor.  The owner, however, seldom requests this progress payment affidavit before making a progress payment.

 

Florida Statute s. 713.06(3)(c) provides:

 

(c) When any payment becomes due to the contractor on the direct contract, except the final payment:

1. The owner shall pay or cause to be paid, within the limitations imposed by subparagraph 2., the sum then due to each lienor giving notice prior to the time of the payment. The owner may require, and, in such event, the contractor shall furnish as a prerequisite to requiring payment to himself or herself, an affidavit as prescribed in subparagraph (d)1., on any payment made, or to be made, on a direct contract, but the furnishing of the affidavit shall not relieve the owner of his or her responsibility to pay or cause to be paid all lienors giving notice. The owner shall be under no obligation to any lienor, except laborers, from whom he or she has not received a notice to owner at the time of making a payment.

2. When the payment due is insufficient to pay all bills of lienors giving notice, the owner shall prorate the amount then due under the direct contract among the lienors giving notice pro rata in the manner prescribed in subsection (4). Lienors receiving money shall execute partial releases, as provided in s. 713.20(2), to the extent of the payment received.

3. If any affidavit permitted hereunder recites any outstanding bills for labor, services, or materials, the owner may pay the bills in full direct to the person or firm to which they are due if the balance due on the direct contract at the time the affidavit is given is sufficient to pay the bills and shall deduct the amounts so paid from the balance of payment due the contractor. This subparagraph shall not create any obligation of the owner to pay any person who is not a lienor giving notice.

4. No person furnishing labor or material, or both, who is required to serve a notice under paragraph (2)(a) and who did not serve the notice and whose time for service has expired shall be entitled to be paid by the owner because he or she is listed in an affidavit furnished by the contractor under subparagraph (c)1.

 

One reason an owner should want to comply with these provisions in Florida’s Lien Law and request a progress payment affidavit is to safeguard what is known as the proper payments defense.  Under the proper payments defense, an owner will not be liable for construction liens that exceed the owner’s contract price with its contractor.  See Continental Concrete, Inc. v. Lakes at La Paz III Ltd. Partnership, 758 So.2d 1214 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (“The [proper] payment defense provides that where an owner fulfills all the duties the Mechanics’ Lien Law places upon him, his liability for all mechanics’ lien claims cannot exceed the contract price.”) (internal citation omitted).  But, for the proper payments defense to apply, an owner is required to comply with the requirements of Florida’s Lien Law. An owner makes proper payments by obtaining progress payment affidavits in consideration of each progress payment made to the contractor (and a final payment affidavit in consideration of the final payment) and by getting progress / partial lien wavers and releases from the contractor and subcontractors and suppliers that preserved their lien rights (and a final lien waiver / release in consideration of final payment).

 

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.

 

 

LIMITATION OF LENDER LIABILITY ON FAILED CONSTRUCTION PROJECT (FLORIDA STATUTE S. 713.3471)

imagesHere is an interesting lender liability dispute by a contractor against a construction lender on a failed construction project with a potentially harsh outcome to the contractor. 

 

In Jax Utilities Management, Inc. v. Hancock Bank, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D948a, (Fla. 1st DCA 2015), a housing development project went belly up, for lack of a better expression.  The developer defaulted under the construction loan and the lender ceased future disbursements under the loan and ultimately foreclosed on its mortgage.  At the time of the default and the lender’s decision to cease future disbursements, the contractor was owed in the neighborhood of $500,000.  The contractor sued the construction lender for equitable relief:  a claim for an equitable lien (presumably as to undisbursed loan proceeds) and for unjust enrichment.  For unknown reasons, the contractor did not assert a statutory cause of action against the lender pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.3471 which details under Florida’s Lien Law a construction lender’s responsibilities under a construction loan and provides in material part:

 

(2)(a) Within 5 business days after a lender makes a final determination, prior to the distribution of all funds available under a construction loan, that the lender will cease further advances pursuant to the loan, the lender shall serve written notice of that decision on the contractor and on any other lienor who has given the lender notice. The lender shall not be liable to the contractor based upon the decision of the lender to cease further advances if the lender gives the contractor notice of such decision in accordance with this subsection and the decision is otherwise permitted under the loan documents.

(b) The failure to give notice to the contractor under paragraph (a) renders the lender liable to the contractor to the extent of the actual value of the materials and direct labor costs furnished by the contractor plus 15 percent for overhead, profit, and all other costs from the date on which notice of the lender’s decision should have been served on the contractor and the date on which notice of the lender’s decision is served on the contractor. The lender and the contractor may agree in writing to any other reasonable method for determining the value of the labor, services, and materials furnished by the contractor.

(c) The liability of the lender shall in no event be greater than the amount of undisbursed funds at the time the notice should have been given unless the failure to give notice was done for the purpose of defrauding the contractor. The lender is not liable to the contractor for consequential or punitive damages for failure to give timely notice under this subsection. The contractor shall have a separate cause of action against the lender for damages sustained as the result of the lender’s failure to give timely notice under this subsection. Such separate cause of action may not be used to hinder or delay any foreclosure action filed by the lender, may not be the basis of any claim for an equitable lien or for equitable subordination of the mortgage lien, and may not be asserted as an offset or a defense in the foreclosure case.

 

 

The crux of the case was whether the contractor could bypass any of the obligations in this statute (including the statutory liability of a lender for not complying with this statute) and assert common law claims against the lender for unjust enrichment and an equitable lien.  The First District Court of Appeal firmly said NO!  Florida Statute s. 713.3471 precluded the contractor’s common law claims against the construction lender as the contractor’s only recourse, which it did not pursue, was recourse under the statute.

 

What this means is that if a construction lender disregards the requirements of this statute by not properly notifying the contractor when it elects not to fully disburse loan proceeds, the lender’s liability to the contractor is based solely on this statute.  This also means that if the lender complies with the requirements of this statute, it would have no liability to the contractor. 

 

If you are on a failed project, it is imperative to consult with counsel to explore all of your rights and potential avenues of recovery.  In this case, the contractor pursued equitable claims against the lender while strategically trying to bypass the statutory requirements and liability of a lender per s. 713.3471.  Unfortunately, the First District was not sympathetic to these claims for equitable relief holding that the contractor only had statutory relief per s. 713.3471 and did not have any other relief (that would otherwise be available to the contractor under common law).

 

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.

 

SERVING CONTRACTOR’S FINAL PAYMENT AFFIDAVIT BY CONTRACTORS (OR SUBCONTRACTORS) IN PRIVITY OF CONTRACT WITH PRIVATE OWNER

imagesContractors (or even subcontractors) in privity of contract with a private owner must serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit within 5 days before foreclosing on the lien. The objective is to swear to the owner the final payment the contractor is seeking and those unpaid lienors working under the contractor.  This is set forth in Florida Statute s. 713.06(3)(d) which provides:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(d) When the final payment under a direct contract becomes due the contractor:

1. The contractor shall give to the owner a final payment affidavit stating, if that be the fact, that all lienors under his or her direct contract who have timely served a notice to owner on the owner and the contractor have been paid in full or, if the fact be otherwise, showing the name of each such lienor who has not been paid in full and the amount due or to become due each for labor, services, or materials furnished. The affidavit must be in substantially the following form:

CONTRACTOR’S FINAL PAYMENT AFFIDAVIT

State of Florida

County of _______

Before me, the undersigned authority, personally appeared (name of affiant) , who, after being first duly sworn, deposes and says of his or her personal knowledge the following:

1. He or she is the (title of affiant) , of (name of contractor’s business) , which does business in the State of Florida, hereinafter referred to as the “Contractor.”

2. Contractor, pursuant to a contract with (name of owner) , hereinafter referred to as the “Owner,” has furnished or caused to be furnished labor, materials, and services for the construction of certain improvements to real property as more particularly set forth in said contract.

3. This affidavit is executed by the Contractor in accordance with section 713.06 of the Florida Statutes for the purposes of obtaining final payment from the Owner in the amount of $___.

4. All work to be performed under the contract has been fully completed, and all lienors under the direct contract have been paid in full, except the following listed lienors:

NAME OF LIENOR  _______AMOUNT DUE

Signed, sealed, and delivered this ____ day of ____, ____.

[Add signature and notary seal] 

 

The contractor shall have no lien or right of action against the owner for labor, services, or materials furnished under the direct contract while in default for not giving the owner the affidavit; however, the negligent inclusion or omission of any information in the affidavit which has not prejudiced the owner does not constitute a default that operates to defeat an otherwise valid lien. The contractor shall execute the affidavit and deliver it to the owner at least 5 days before instituting an action as a prerequisite to the institution of any action to enforce his or her lien under this chapter, even if the final payment has not become due because the contract is terminated for a reason other than completion and regardless of whether the contractor has any lienors working under him or her or not.

 

 

Not timely serving the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit 5 days before commencing the construction lien foreclosure action has the unkind affect of invalidating the contractor’s construction lien.  See Timbercraft Enterprises v. Adams, 563 So.2d 1090 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990) (contractor hired to clear land lost its construction lien by failing to timely serve Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit); Sunair Development Corp. v. Gay, 509 So.2d 1361 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987) (contractor hired to perform painting and carpentry lost construction lien by failing to timely serve Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit); Bishop Signs, Inc. v. Magee, 494 So.2d 532 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986) (sign contractor lost its construction lien by failing to serve Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit).

  

If a contractor fails to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit before filing its lien foreclosure action, it needs to (a) promptly serve the Affidavit and file an amended complaint within the applicable statutory limitations period, (b) argue that its noncompliance should be excused, or (c) argue that the owner waived the right to invalidate the contractor’s lien through the contractor’s failure to serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit.

 

A. Serving Affidavit and Amending Complaint within Statutory Limitations Period

 

The Florida Supreme Court in Holding Electric, Inc. v. Roberts, 530 So.2d 301 (Fla. 1988) held that if a contractor fails to timely serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit before initiating a lien foreclosure lawsuit, the contractor can remedy this noncompliance by serving the affidavit and amending its complaint within the statutory limitations periodSee Holding Electric, 530 So.2d at 302 (“[A]n amended complaint may be filed to show delivery of the contractor’s affidavit, provided the statute of limitations has not run prior to the filing of the amended complaint.”).

 

B. Noncompliance should be Excused

 

In Coquina, Ltd. V. Nicholson Cabinet Co., 509 So.2d 1344 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984), noncompliance with the timely service of the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit was excused when the owner contested the lien by recording a Notice of Contest of Lien that shortened the statutory limitations period to foreclose the lien to 60 days and the contractor served the Affidavit 3 days (instead of 5 days) before filing suit.  Notwithstanding, the Fourth District in Pierson D. Construction, Inc. v. Yudell, 863 So.2d 413 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) still held that the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit needed to be served within the applicable statutory limitations period (even if it was not served within 5 days before filing the lawsuit). In other words, not serving it at all could be fatal to the contractor’s lien foreclosure action.

 

Also, the Fourth District in Bishop Signs held, “[t]he applicable concern should be whether it is the type of contract which, by its nature, does not entail the services of subcontractors or the furnishing of labor or material by others.”  Bishop Signs, 494 So.2d at 534. Hence, if the contractor failed to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit, it may want to argue that its noncompliance is excused because the type of project it was hired to perform does not entail the services of suppliers or subcontractors.  Though, on most projects, this is a difficult argument to realistically make!

 

C. Owner Waived the Right to Argue Noncompliance

 

In Rivera v. Hammer Head Constr. & Development Corp., 14 So.3d 1190 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009), the contractor failed to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit.  The contractor’s complaint pled that all conditions precedent to bringing the action had occurred, had been performed, or were waived.  In response to this allegation, the owner pled is was “without knowledge” as to whether this allegation was true.  The owner, however, did not plead that this was not true because the contractor failed to timely serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit.  As a result, when the owner raised this issue at trial to invalidate the contractor’s lien, the court held that the owner waived its right to raise this argument because the owner never pled the contractor’s non-performance with any particularity.

 

In conclusion, it is always good practice to timely serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit within 5 days before filing suit, even if the statutory limitations period is shortened through a Notice of Contest of Lien (or even a lawsuit to show cause).  But, if the Affidavit is not timely served, there are arguments a contractor can raise under the law to try to defeat an owner’s efforts to invalidate the lien due to this noncompliance. 

 

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.

 

INCLUDE PROPER (LIENABLE) AMOUNTS IN YOUR CONSTRUCTION LIEN!

images-1Contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers need to appreciate what amounts to actually include in a construction lien before preparing and recording that lien.  Stated differently, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers need to appreciate what items are lienable and what items are not.  In a nutshell, the item needs to relate to a labor, service, or material constituting an improvement to the real property—the item needs to bestow a permanent benefit on the real property and should be performed under another’s (e.g., general contractor) direct contract with the owner. 

  

Not every item constitutes an improvement / bestows a permanent benefit to real property

 

Items that have NOT been found to be properly lienable include without limitation:

 

  • Extended general conditions / delay damages;
  • Residential cleaning;
  • Maintenance services including landscaping and pool upkeep (see example below);
  • Materials from a supplier not incorporated into property (excluding specially fabricated materials);
  • Lost profit;
  • Expert witness services;
  • Insurance and property tax payments for partially constructed home (see example below);
  • Constructing a removable kiosk at a mall (see example below); and
  • Extras (change order work) not performed in good faith, pursuant to the terms of a contract, within a reasonable time, and were unnecessary to finish a job.

 

 

imagesFor example, in Palm Beach Mall, Inc. v. Southeast Millwork, Inc., 593 So.2d 1121 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992), a contractor constructed a kiosk in a mall and recorded a lien for unpaid amounts.  The kiosk was not a permanent improvement to the mall, but was removable at the termination of the tenant’s lease.  The Court held that the contractor could not lien for constructing the kiosk.

 

As another example, in Levin v. Palm Coast Builders and Const. Inc., 840 So.2d 316 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), a contractor recorded a lien that included costs for lawn maintenance, pool upkeep, utility charges, and association maintenance fees. Not only did the Court hold that these items were not lienable, but affirmed that the lien was fraudulent!

 

And, as the last example, in Sam Rodgers Properties, Inc. v. Chmura, 61 So.3d 432 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011), discussed in detail in a previous posting, a contractor was building a custom home when a payment dispute arose.  The owner stopped making payments and the contractor ceased construction and recorded a lien.  Subsequently, the contractor performed additional work to protect the unfinished structure from the elements and amended its lien to include these amounts as well as property taxes and insurance the contractor paid on the property.  Regarding the additional work to protect the unfinished structure, the Court held that these amounts were lienable: “All of these items were contemplated by the contract, and all of them were completed in a good faith effort to secure the property and mitigate damages so that a bad situation did not become worse.”  Chmura, 61 So.3d at 439.   But, as it related to the property taxes and insurance, the Court held these items were not lienable as they pertained to the maintenance of the property as opposed to improvement of the property.

 

By including inappropriate amounts in a lien, a lienor runs the risk of having its lien declared fraudulent under Florida’s Lien Law that would not only render the lien invalid, but expose the lienor to liability.  Do not let this happen to you!

 

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.