General construction and contracting work take real-time, skill, and effort. You've probably spent multiple hours, days, weeks, and months coordinating with the site owner, working with suppliers and subcontractors, and of course, doing the physical labor. So, when the property does not pay the bills, it can be extremely frustrating! How can you get the money you're owed?
What can you do about getting paid?
There are a few options you can pursue to get the payment you are owed for your work and supplies. Here's what you should try:
Progressive Payments - If the original bill seems overwhelming to the other party, offer to set up a series of payments. It may be more tenable and lead to you getting paid in full. These payments could be set up in several ways. For example, if the project takes about one month to complete, you could divide the cost and ask the homeowner to pay in 4 equal installments. You could also base the payments on hitting certain construction goals or set a certain percentage to be paid "upfront" before work begins to minimize your risk.
Sue for Breach of Contract - A contractor can sue for a simple breach of contract. This lawsuit can be brought in regular civil court or in small claims court, depending on the amount in dispute. Disputes for $10,000 or less will usually be directed to a dedicated small claims court.
To prevail in your lawsuit, you may be asked to establish that the other party violated the terms of the contract despite your having performed the agreed-upon work. Key pieces of evidence might include:
- a copy of the contract between you and the other party
- before and after pictures of whatever work you completed
- invoices of materials and expenses you've incurred
- demands for payment that have gone unanswered
File a Lien - Sometimes, the other party will be unreasonable, or the small claims court system is not effective. In this situation, the remedy for you could be to file a lien against the home. A lien (sometimes called a "mechanics lien") is an official filing with the county recorder's office that puts the other party and the local legal system on notice of your claim. It shows your "security interest" in the home.
Liens can be quite an annoyance to the other party because it makes it extremely difficult for them to sell assets or refinance. Often, merely filing a lien will be enough to communicate to the other party that they need to settle with you (sometimes called "satisfying the lien"). If they still refuse to settle, you can foreclose on the lien and sue for the amount you are owed. You'll still need to collect, but now you have the legal right to do so.
County clerks are often very specific about their format requirements despite liens being something straightforward to file. You'll usually want to specify your dates of work, the dollar amount claimed, and any other contractors on the project. Any error in the formatting of the lien document can render it unenforceable. Check with your local county clerk's office to see whether it has a set form for mechanics lien filings.
Of course, if you need assistance, we can help you generate, serve and file a lien from your computer or phone in minutes, all without having to go to the courthouse.
It's important to remember that you're not out of options if your first request to be paid for work goes unanswered. Negotiating with the other party, suing in court, or filing a lien are all good options when considering your right to payment.
Please reach out if you have any additional questions.