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.

 

APPELLATE ATTORNEY’S FEES AND THE SIGNIFICANT ISSUES TEST

shutterstock_379140319The significant issues test to determine the prevailing party in construction lien actions (which, by the way, also applies to breach of contract actions) applies to appellate attorney’s fees too!  Under this test, the trial court has discretion to determine which party prevailed on the significant issues of the case for purposes of attorney’s fees.  The trial court also has discretion to determine that neither party was the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees

 

In a recent decision, Bauer v. Ready Windows Sales & Service Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1417a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), there were competing motions for appellate attorney’s fees.   Both parties believed they should be deemed the prevailing party under Florida Statute s. 713.29 (statute that authorizes prevailing party attorney’s fees under Florida’s Construction Lien Law).    The appellate court held that neither party was the prevailing party under the significant issues test:  “[W]e conclude that each party lost on their appeal, while each party successfully defended that part of the judgment in their favor on the other party’s cross-appeal. Because both parties prevailed on significant issues, this Court finds that appellate fees are not warranted for either party.” Bauer, supra

 

Attorney’s fees can very easily drive construction lien and bond disputes.  Just remember, the significant issues test to determine the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees applies to fees incurred at the trial court and appellate court levels.  This test has a subjective component that gives a court an easy out—determine that neither party prevailed on the significant issues or, as in the above case, both parties prevailed on the significant issues, meaning neither party is entitled to attorney’s fees. 

 

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.

CONTRACTORS SHOULD NOT FORGET TO DELIVER CONTRACTOR’S FINAL PAYMENT AFFIDAVIT

shutterstock_46898038If you are a contractor and entered into a contract with an owner, then you need to serve the owner with a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit at least 5 days before filing a lien foreclosure lawsuit.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.06(3)(d).    Many times, when I am preparing a lien for a contractor, I like to work with the contractor on the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit at the same time as the lien to (for lack of a better phrase) kill two birds with one stone.  This way, both the lien and Contractors’ Final Payment Affidavit can be served on the owner at the same time and the contractor has perfected its right to foreclose on the lien when it is ready to do so.

 

As Florida Statute s. 713.06(3)(d) states:

 

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.

Failing to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit can be hugely detrimental to an otherwise valid lien.  Without serving the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit, the lien foreclosure lawsuit is not proper and should be dismissed.

 

For example, in Puya v. Superior Pools, Spas & Waterfalls, Inc., 902 So.2d 973 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), a swimming pool contractor hired by a homeowner filed a lien foreclosure lawsuit and received a foreclosure judgment in its favor.  There was one huge problem.  The contractor never served a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit 5 days before filing the lawsuit.   The Fourth District reversed the foreclosure judgment because the contractor’s failure to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit deprived the contractor of the right to foreclose on the lien:  “Where a contractor fails to timely furnish a final payment affidavit, the owner is generally entitled to dismissal of the contractor’s foreclosure lawsuit.”  Puya, 902 So.2d at 974.  See also Nichols v. Michael D. Eicholtz, Enterprise, 750 So.2d 719 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000) (affirming trial court’s dismissal of lien foreclosure action where contractor failed to properly provide contractor’s final payment affidavit).

 

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.