Construction professionals at work

WARNING: Massive spoilers for the television show True Detective are in this article. Read at your own risk.

It’s not often that massively popular television shows reference liens. It’s even more unconventional that a television show as wildly popular and controversial as True Detective uses liens as a major plot point. The season two penultimate episode “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” illustrates an over-exaggerated example of how liens can affect a property owner – namely, Vince Vaughn’s character Frank Semyon.
This season has focused on four main characters – or “true detectives,” so to speak – including three law-enforcement officers and a career criminal named Frank Semyon. The crime boss turned entrepreneur Frank (played by Vince Vaughn) sets out to unravel the central mystery behind season two in order to recover his illicit fortune.
By the penultimate episode, Frank has lost most of his fortune and has reopened several shady clubs that front illegal activities as a way to stabilize his income. In this episode “Black Maps and Motel Rooms,” he finally loses his wealth and cool demeanor because of liens. Throughout the episode, Frank learns that his mobster rival Osip has acquired his clubs from underneath him by buying the liens on the property. Frank retaliates by shutting his clubs down, killing any of Osip’s men that are in his way, and burning the clubs to the ground.
Yes – True Detective just used liens as a major plot point to ignite a rampage of arson, destruction, and several deaths.
It is unclear if the liens in question are mechanics liens or tax liens, and we don’t have any particular specifics on Frank’s lien trouble. However, we can imagine what Frank or his contractors could have done differently to prevent this disastrous plot twist.

Since season two of True Detective takes place in Vinci, California, let’s look specifically at some California Mechanics Lien aspects that might have changed this dark outcome:

  • Frank could have paid attention to any Preliminary 20-Day notices. In California, generally all subcontractors, laborers, and material suppliers must serve a Preliminary 20-Day notice on the property owner, prime contractor and lender (if one exists). This notice is due within the first 20 days after providing materials or labor. Late notices are generally only effective for work performed or provided in the 20 days preceding. Frank should have had some type of warning in the form of this notice from any extraneous workers performing construction on his clubs. Transparency on who is working on the job can often lead to working out payments and preventing liens from being filed in the first place.
Notice of Intent to Lien Illustration

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  • Frank could have received a Notice of Intent to Lien. It is very possible that a General Contractor could have placed a lien on one of Frank’s clubs. In California, a General Contractor on a project generally only needs to serve a Preliminary 20-Day notice on the construction lender (if one exists on the project), which may be why Frank was not alerted to pay the General Contractor before a lien was placed on the property. If a non-required Notice of Intent to Lien had been sent, it may have been able to notify Frank that a lien would possibly be placed on his club. While generally this type of notice is not required in California, a Notice of Intent to Lien could have ensured transparency of money owed and possibly alerted Frank to pay his General Contractor, and prevent the lien.
  • Frank could have possibly had a stronger lien waiver, especially if he did not use one in the first place. California has a legislatively configured construction lien waiver form and is one of twelve states with statutory forms. California may prohibit lien waivers from including “no lien clauses,” however lien waivers still may have helped Frank’s cause and circumvented liens from being filed on his property (and prevented him from embarking on a string of arson and murder.)

The season two finale of True Detective premieres on Sunday August 9th, 2015, and make sure you investigate the facts on California Mechanics Lien & Notices as well as how to file a California Mechanics Lienbefore then.

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