Florida’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).
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