QUICK NOTE: USE COUNSEL WHEN PREPARING A NOTICE OF NONPAYMENT

If you are a subcontractor or supplier working on a private construction project, you always want to pull up the Notice of Commencement from the public records to see if there is a payment bond in place.  If there is not, you know you have to preserve your construction lien rights as to the real property (the project).  If there is, you know you will have to preserve your rights against the payment bond.

In an earlier posting, I discussed statutory changes changes to notices of nonpayment that were to take effect as of October 1, 2019.   A notice of nonpayment must be served by the unpaid claimant within 90 days of its final furnishing to preserve payment bond rights (for amounts above 10% retainage).   These changes have gone into effect and are important for a claimant to know in order to preserve rights against an unconditional payment bond issued per Florida Statute s. 713.23.   (If you are unsure about your rights relative to a payment bond, please work with counsel to ensure your rights are protected!)  The notice of nonpayment is a statutory form that will need to be notarized by the claimant.  The claimant should sign/notarize because the notice of nonpayment is reflecting amounts owed including retainage, the amount paid, and the approximate amount of money associated with to-be-performed work.

One of the recent statutory changes is that:

A claimant who serves a fraudulent notice of nonpayment forfeits his or her rights under the bond. A notice of nonpayment is fraudulent if the claimant has willfully exaggerated the amount unpaid, willfully included a claim for work not performed or materials not furnished for the subject improvement, or prepared the notice with such willful and gross negligence as to amount to a willful exaggeration.

It is uncertain how this will be applied to notices of nonpayment other than this mimics language relative to a “fraudulent lien.”  One of the defenses to a fraudulent lien is known as the advice of counsel defense.  It logically makes sense that this advice of counsel defense will also apply to the preparation of notices of nonpayment.  For this important reason, a claimant should work with counsel and have its counsel prepare the notice of nonpayment with the relevant accounting information, whether it be a payment application(s), a change order log, an accounting summary, or potential change orders and issued back-charges.  This will facilitate a discussion as to amounts to include and will support an advice of counsel defense.  No different than a lienor using a lawyer to prepare a lien (and I would encourage all lienors to utilize counsel for lien preparation), a claimant should use a lawyer to prepare a notice of nonpayment.

Please let me know if you need assistance with preserving payment bond rights

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.

 

QUICK NOTE: NOTICE OF CONTEST OF CLAIM AGAINST PAYMENT BOND

imagesOn private jobs where the general contractor has an unconditional payment bond, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and suppliers need to serve a notice of nonpayment to preserve payment bond rights.

 

Just like an owner can record a Notice of Contest of Lien to shorten a lienor’s statute of limitations to foreclose the lien to 60 days, a general contractor can record a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond.  See Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(e).  When a contractor records a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond, the contractor is contesting the notice of nonpayment and shortening the claimant’s period to sue on the payment bond to 60 days from the date of service of the notice.  

 

This tool is used less frequently than the Notice of Contest of Lien; however, it can be a very successful tool for a contractor to use when receiving a notice of nonpayment.

 

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.

WHAT TO DO IF THE PAYMENT BOND IS NOT RECORDED WITH THE NOTICE OF COMMENCEMENT

UnknownThere is an unconditional payment bond for the project but it was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement.  Now there are subcontractor construction liens recorded against the property.  What do I do?  I thought the point of the payment bond was to exempt the real property from subcontractor and supplier liens.

 

No need to worry!  Liens can be transferred to the payment bond even though the payment bond was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement.

 

The payment bond operates to “secure every lien under the direct contract accruing subsequent to its execution and delivery.”  Fla.Stat. s. 713.23(2).  Even though the payment bond was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement as required, the owner or contractor can record a Notice of Bond with a copy of the payment bond that will operate to transfer the lien to the security of the payment bond. 

 

To this point, Florida Statute s. 713.13(1)(e) states in relevant part:

 

[I]f a payment bond under s. 713.23 exists but was not attached at the time of recordation of the notice of commencement, the bond may be used to transfer any recorded lien of a lienor except that of the contractor by the recordation and service of a notice of bond pursuant to s. 713.23(2). The notice requirements of s. 713.23 apply to any claim against the bond; however, the time limits for serving any required notices shall, at the option of the lienor, be calculated from the dates specified in s. 713.23 or the date the notice of bond is served on the lienor.

 

Stated differently, just because the payment bond was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement does not mean the payment bond is worthless.  Rather, it can still be used to transfer construction liens to the security of the bond. 

 

Further, if discovered early enough, and within the effective period of the Notice of Commencement,  an Amended Notice of Commencement can be recorded which attaches a copy of the payment bond.  The Amended Notice of Commencement needs to be served by the owner “upon the contractor and each lienor who serves notice before or within 30 days after the date the amended notice is recorded.”  Fla.Stat. s. 713.13(5)(b). But, the Amended Notice of Commencement can be used to clarify the omission of the payment bond in the original Notice of Commencement.

 

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.

 

CHART SUMMARIZING ENFORCEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION LIEN AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS

Previously, I included a chart that summarizes the preliminary notice requirements for construction liens and payment bonds in Florida.  This chart focuses on steps a potential lienor / claimant must undertake to preserve lien or payment bond rights.

 

Now that the lienor / claimant preserved its rights to record a lien or pursue a claim against the payment bond, what are the next steps to undertake if in fact that lienor is owed money?  To follow-up on this preliminary notice chart is a chart that summarizes these next steps of enforcing the lienor’s / claimant’s rights against the real property (in the case of a lien) or the payment bond.

 

Download (PDF, 281KB)

 

 

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.

CHART SUMMARIZING PRELIMINARY NOTICE REQUIREMENTS FOR LIENS AND PAYMENT BONDS

In previous articles, I discussed preliminary notice requirements to properly preserve construction liens and payment bonds on private projects, payment bonds on public projects, and public payments bonds for Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) projects.  Now, how about a chart that assists in summarizing this information:

 

[ws_table id=”1″]

 

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.

RECORDING THE NOTICE OF BOND TO TRANSFER THE CONSTRUCTION LIEN TO THE PAYMENT BOND

imagesIf a contractor furnishes a payment bond for a private project (per Florida Statute s. 713.23), a copy of that bond should be recorded with the Notice of Commencement recorded in the official records of the county where the project is located. A contractor furnishes a payment bond on a private project in order to exempt the owner’s real property from construction liens.

 
There are times, though, where a subcontractor or a supplier will still go ahead and record a lien against the owner’s real property even though there is a payment bond that was recorded with the Notice of Commencement. This is a frustrating scenario because the point of paying for the payment bond and furnishing the bond is to prevent this very scenario from occurring. No worries, however, because Florida’s Lien Law efficiently addresses this scenario by allowing the contractor or owner to record in the official records and serve on the lienor a verified Notice of Bond (attaching a copy of the payment bond) that will operate to transfer the lien to the payment bond. Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(2). A copy of the Notice of Bond form is provided below.

 
Moreover, this Notice of Bond procedure would apply even if the contractor furnished a payment bond, but for whatever reason, that payment bond was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement. When this happens, and it does happen, the subcontractor or supplier may honestly not know that the contractor actually furnished a payment bond and will move forward and record a lien. Again, no worries, because the contractor or owner should implement the same procedure by recording and serving the lienor with a Notice of Bond. Every lien recorded AFTER the execution and delivery of the payment bond will be transferred to the payment bond through the recording of the Notice of Bond (attaching a copy of the payment bond).

 

Now, if the contractor did NOT furnish a payment bond BEFORE the lien was recorded, the contractor could move to transfer the lien to a lien transfer bond pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.24. This is different than a payment bond. The lien transfer bond is simply a mechanism where a contractor through a statutory procedure procures and records a lien transfer bond that is designed to transfer a specific lien to the security of the bond. (When a contractor procures a lien transfer bond, the bond must be for the principal amount of the lien, plus the greater of $1,000 or 25% of the principal amount to cover potential attorney’s fees and court costs, plus three years worth of interest on the principal amount at the prevailing statutory rate.)

 

 

NOTICE OF BOND

To (Name and Address of Lienor)
You are notified that the claim of lien filed by you on ___, ___, and recorded in Official Records Book ___ at page ___ of the public records of ___ County, Florida, is secured by a bond, a copy being attached.
Signed: (Name of person recording notice)

 

 

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.

VENUE FOR PAYMENT BOND DISPUTES IN FLORIDA

theVenue(1)Two main Florida payment bond statutes are Florida Statute s. 713.23 (payment bonds for private projects) and Florida Statute s. 255.05 (payment bonds for Florida public projects-not federal projects). Both statutes prohibit a payment bond issued after October 1, 2012 from restricting venue. In other words, if the payment bond contains a venue provision after this date, it is not enforceable.

 

This prohibition is important because there are times where the project is located in a venue that is not where the subcontractor resides and/or is contrary to the venue provision in the subcontract (typically, a venue where the general contractor resides).

 

It is good practice for the general contractor to include in its subcontract a venue provision that applies to its surety such that the subcontractor must sue the payment bond in the same venue that governs the subcontract. While it is uncertain how the new prohibition from restricting venue in a payment bond will apply in this context, the counter-argument is that the payment bond is not restricting venue, rather the “negotiated” subcontract governs the venue of any and all disputes between the parties including claims against the general contractor’s surety (and the general contractor is indemnifying and defending the surety). Worst case scenario is that the venue provision is deemed inapplicable to the surety. However, courts do not favor splitting causes of action (due to, among other things, the concern for conflicting results over the same facts) and should not favor a subcontractor lawsuit against the general contractor in one venue and a simultaneous subcontractor lawsuit against the general contractor’s payment bond surety in another venue. Indeed, courts have refused to enforce venue provisions in subcontracts in order to avoid splitting of causes of action. See, e.g., Miller & Solomon General Contractors, Inc. v. Brennan’s Glass Co., Inc., 837 So.2d 1182 (2003) (refusing to enforce subcontract venue provision when action as to lien transfer bond was filed in correct venue). Including a venue provision that also covers claims against the payment bond surety is useful in the event the general contractor wants to countersue the subcontractor or simply wants to create an argument that its subcontractor disputes should be confined to its preferred venue versus the subcontractor’s preferred venue.

 

On the other hand, there are situations where a subcontractor may not want to sue the general contractor and strategically prefers to just sue the payment bond surety. One situation may be the subcontractor knows the general contractor was not paid and the subcontract contains a pay-when-paid provision which would be enforceable as to the general contractor, but not against the payment bond surety. Another situation may be due to the venue provision in the subcontract; the subcontractor prefers to sue in a venue outside of the venue provision in the subcontract and has a better argument around the venue provision if it does not join the general contractor. There is caselaw that supports an argument to sue a payment bond surety in a venue where the subcontractor (lienor) resides that, depending on the dispute, could be appealing to the subcontractor. See, e.g., American Insurance Co. v. Joyner Electric, Inc., 618 So.2d 799 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (finding that action under s. 255.05 public payment bond was proper where lienor / subcontractor resided); Coordinated Constructors v. Florida Fill, Inc., 387 So.2d 1006 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (finding that venue was proper under s. 713.23 private payment bond action where lienor / supplier resided).

 

Venue is a pretty heavily litigated procedural strategic issue.   Just like any dispute, venue as to a payment bond claim should not be ignored and should absolutely be considered at the onset of a dispute.

 

For more information on venue provisions, please see:

http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/venue-provisions-read-what-you-sign/

and

http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/subcontractors-read-and-understand-the-implications-of-venue-provisions/

 

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.