Mechanics liens and other construction notices must be recorded at the county recording office where the property is located to be official. Once these documents are recorded, copies need to be served to the other parties on the project, posted on the job site, and kept as a record for the files. If you go to a clerk’s office and ask for a copy of a document, they may ask you if you’d like a conformed copy or a certified copy. So, what’s the difference?
In this article we’ll look at the difference between a conformed copy and a certified copy, and when you need to request each one.
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What is a conformed copy?
A conformed copy is an exact copy of the recorded document without the signatures. Instead of signatures, the names of the parties or the judge are typed on each signature line. The clerk usually includes an official stamp stating that the document is a conformed copy, as well as notes about when it was signed or who signed it if it isn’t clear.
A conformed copy can be admitted as evidence when an original isn’t available, so it’s just as good as a signed original. It can be requested after a document has been recorded and can then be sent to other parties named on the document to notify them it’s been filed.
What is a certified copy?
A certified copy is an exact copy of a recorded document as it was filed, signatures and all. The copy is guaranteed as an exact replica of what is on file. The County Clerk attaches a signature or seal, or both, to the certified copy.
A certified copy is more “official” than a conformed copy because it has live signatures. It’s important to note that a certified copy is a conformed copy, but a conformed copy is not a certified copy. The main differences are there’s no signatures on a conformed copy, and a certified copy includes a guarantee of accuracy.
“The only use [of a certified copy] is for attorneys who want to introduce the lien into evidence and overcome an objection about whether the copy is authentic,” says construction attorney Raymond Bass of Bass Law Office in Naples, Florida. “The certified copy, by law, is authentic.”
Requirements for document copies
You may be wondering when to use a conformed copy, when to use a certified copy, and when a plain photocopy is sufficient.
According to construction attorney Alex Benarroche: “Certified or conformed copies are only really necessary or applicable when introducing documents as evidence in court. For most general purposes, like record-keeping or serving a copy on a property owner, a photocopy is generally enough.”
In general, the first step after filing a mechanics lien is to send a copy of the lien to the property owner and certain other parties.
“In almost all cases where a lien needs to be served after filing, a photocopy of the claim with the recording date and stamp on it is more than sufficient to give the owner notice of the claim,” says Benarroche.
Attorney Raymond Bass concurs, at least in an interpretation of his state’s law. “By [Florida] statute a copy of the lien can be sent before or after recording it,” says Bass. “A photocopy of the lien is sufficient.”
However, in New Jersey, “the lien claimant must serve a copy of the lien (signed and dated by the claimant and stamped by the county clerk) on the property owner.”
Notice of commencement
A notice of commencement needs to be filed and recorded if the project is located in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, and Iowa. This notice is optional in Texas, South Carolina, and South Dakota. These documents need to be recorded, and often must be posted at the job site. In this case, a photocopy showing the recording information should generally be sufficient.
Notice to owner
In Florida, lienors who do not have a direct contract with the owner must deliver a notice to owner.
“These are not notarized, and they don’t even have to be hand-signed,” says Bass. “The statutory form need only contain the required information and the original or photocopy is sufficient. A conformed copy is sufficient to additional persons if they must be served.”
Notice of completion
The Notice of Completion is a document filed at the conclusion of a construction project. It’s a compliment to the Notice of Commencement, which is filed at the start of a project. The Notice of Completion is filed with the county and is recorded. These documents are not distributed, so a photocopy should be sufficient.
Contractor’s final payment affidavit
“One document that must be original [in Florida] relates to lienors who have direct contracts with the owners,” says Bass. “They must serve a ‘contractor’s final payment affidavit.’ The original of this document must be delivered to the owner at least five days before a lawsuit to foreclose the lien may be filed. I cannot imagine why anyone would make a conformed copy and send it as an original. Without a signature, it would not be sufficient as an affidavit.”
The mailing type is often more important
After recording a lien or construction notice, a regular photocopy is sufficient to satisfy most statutory requirements. But pay close attention to the type of mailing required under the law. For example, according to Georgia’s mechanics lien laws, “the lien claimant shall send a true and accurate copy of the claim of lien by registered or certified mail or statutory overnight delivery to the owner of the property.”
As the saying goes, “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” While a regular photocopy is enough for most uses, a certified copy of a construction notice will stand up in court and is the most “official” copy available. If you think you may need an official copy of a notice sometime in the future, it pays to get a certified version for your own records.
As with all legal matters, we recommend that you contact an attorney, especially one that specializes in construction, before taking any action. Laws vary in each state, so be sure you know what is required in the states where you work.