Construction liens can include unpaid finance charges. But, what about late fees? You know, the late fees that certain vendors like to include in their contract or purchase order unrelated to finance charges. An added cost for being delinquent with your payment. Can a late fee be tacked onto the lien too?
In a recent case, Fernandez v. Manning Building Supplies, Inc., 2019 WL 4655988 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), a residential owner hired a contractor for a renovation job. The contractor entered into a contract with a material supplier. The terms of the supplier’s contract with the contractor provided that there would be a 1.5% delinquency charge for late payments and it seemed apparent that the delinquency charge was separate from finance charges.
Florida Statute s. 713.06(1) provides in relevant portion:
A materialman or laborer, either of whom is not in privity with the owner, or a subcontractor or sub-subcontractor who complies with the provisions of this part and is subject to the limitations thereof, has a lien on the real property improved for any money that is owed to him or her for labor, services, or materials furnished in accordance with his or her contract and with the direct contract and for any unpaid finance charges due under the lienor’s contract.
The supplier in this case recorded a construction lien and filed a lien foreclosure lawsuit. The issue was whether a 1.5% per month “delinquency charge” or late fee, as set forth in the contract, should be factored into the lien amount. The First District Court of Appeal held no:
[A] ate payment fee is not a “finance charge” as that term is generally understood…[T]he difference between a finance charge and delinquency fee is recognized by Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) which defines a “finance charge” as “[a]n additional payment, usu. in the form of interest, paid by a retail buyer for the privilege of purchasing goods or services in installments.” As such, a finance charge is the cost of credit — not the cost of paying late. The 1.5% fee required by the [the supplier’s] contract is to be paid only upon default; it is not a cost of credit per se.
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