Residential construction disputes can sometimes take nasty turns. This is not attributed to one specific reason, but a variety of factors. Sometimes, there are not sophisticated contracts (or contracts at all). Sometimes, relationships and roles get blurred. Sometimes, parties try to skirt licensure requirements. Sometimes, a party is just unreasonable as to their expectations. And, sometimes, a party tries to leverage a construction lien to get what they want. In all disputes, a party would certainly be best suited to work with construction counsel that has experience navigating construction disputes.
An example of a construction dispute that took a nasty turn involving an interior decorator is SG 2901, LLC v. Complimenti, Inc., 2021 WL 2672295 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021). In this case, a condominium unit owner wanted to renovate his apartment. He hired an interior decorator to assist. As his renovation plans became more expansive, the interior decorator told him he would need to hire a licensed contractor and architect. The interior decorator arranged a meeting with those professionals and, at that meeting, they were hired by the owner and told to deal directly with the interior decorator, almost in an owner’s representative capacity since the owner traveled a lot. The interior decorator e-mailed the owner about status and requested certain authorizations, as one would expect an owner’s representative to do. At the completion of the renovation job, the owner did not pay the interior decorator because he was unhappy with certain renovations. The interior decorator recorded a construction lien and sued the owner which included a lien foreclosure claim. There was no discussion of the contracts in this case because, presumably, contracts were based on proposals, were bare-boned, or were oral.
The owner argued that the interior decorator should not be entitled to any monies because she was illegally acting as a general contractor, i.e., engaging in unlicensed contracting. (The owner was arguing under Florida Statute s. 489.128 that states contracts entered into by unlicensed contractors are unenforceable as a matter of public policy.) But there were problems with this argument, as found by the Court. First, the evidence showed the owner did hire a general contractor who had met with the owner and was responsible for the work. Second, the evidence showed that any person who performed a service in connection with the project was approved by and hired by the owner or the general contractor. Third, the Court found the evidence showed the interior decorator’s scope was “specifically limited to providing design/decorating services and acting as the point of contact in a representative or agency capacity on [owner’s] behalf.” SG 2901, LLC, supra. In other words, the evidence showed the interior decorator did not do anything wrong but acted like many interior decorators on renovation jobs by providing a service and assisting the owner with licensed professionals an owner would need to engage.
The owner also argued that the interior decorator was not entitled to a construction lien. The trial Court disagreed because under Florida Statute s. 713.03(1), any person performing services as an interior designer are entitled to a lien for their services used in connection with improving the property or in supervising the work of improving the property. The Court importantly noted that because the interior design services were for a residential property, an interior decorating license was NOT required. See Florida Statute s. 481.229(6)(a) (discussing exemption for interior decorating for residential application).
The scenario discussed in this case is not an uncommon scenario on residential construction projects. Had contracts been formalized or included certain sophistication, perhaps this dispute could have been avoided. Possibly not. But importantly, despite the owner’s arguments to the contrary, the residential interior decorator did nothing improper. She wasn’t required to obtain a license for residential interior decorating. She was not acting as the general contractor. And, she was entitled to a construction lien for unpaid services.
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