Entities such as subcontractors and suppliers that are not in privity of contract with the owner are required to serve a notice to owner in order to perfect their construction lien rights. See Fla. Stat. 713.06. Not timely serving a notice to owner can be fatal to a lien foreclosure action by an entity that is not in privity of contract with an owner.
The case of Marble Unlimited, Inc. v. Weston Real Estate Investment Corp., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D686b (4th DCA 2013) discusses notices to owners. In this case, a marble contractor contracted directly with the owner to install granite countertops in condominium units. (Due to the privity of contract, a notice to owner was not required.) The owner, at some point during construction, transferred its ownership of condominium units to a related entity. The issue was whether the marble contractor should have served a notice to owner on the “new” owner of the condominium units. The Fourth District said NO!, i.e., this would simply “allow corporate owners to play a shell game with ownership and frustrate the valid claims of contractors who complete work on real property.” Marble Unlimited.
Importantly, the Fourth District discussed cases when there is common ownership between the owner and the contractor. For example, let’s assume an owner and contractor, although maintain separate corporate names, have a common identity. The contractor then hires a subcontractor. In this situation, there is an argument that the subcontractor does not need to serve a notice to owner on the owner because no prejudice would exist to the owner that should be aware of the subcontractor based on its common identify with the entity that hired the subcontractor. See Marble Unlimited discussing Aetna Cas. & Surety Co. v. Buck, 594 So.2d 280 (Fla. 1992) and Boux v. East Hillsborough Apartments, Inc., 218 So.2d 202 (Fla. 2d DCA 1969).
In an abundance of caution, an entity not in privity with an owner should serve a notice to owner to preserve its lien rights as a matter of course, even when the owner and general contractor share a common identity / ownership. The entity should know prior to performing work whether they will have payment bond or lien rights in the event of nonpayment, and undertake actions to ensure they are preserving their rights from the get-go.
For more information on Notice to Owner, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/contractors-and-suppliers-do-not-neglect-the-notice-requirements-in-floridas-lien-law/
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