Any way you slice it, sending a preliminary notice makes a lot of sense. In many states, they’re required to protect your lien rights. But in any state — regardless of statutes — preliminary notices offer your company the visibility it needs to get paid. If you’re fresh in the minds of the check writers, you stand a better chance of getting paid. But, you might not know how to send a preliminary notice.
Step into our office: We’ll go over the ways to send a preliminary notice and some specific state statutes that apply.
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How to send a preliminary notice
If you’re new to sending preliminary notices, congratulate yourself on taking this step. Preliminary notices are the sign of a professional outfit that values growth, fair deals, and cash flow — all essential traits for a successful construction company.
There are only a few acceptable methods to send a notice, so the options shouldn’t feel overwhelming. And while there could be one catch-all answer, it’s not always the right move — and we’ll explain why.
In most states, hand-delivering your preliminary notices is an option, though generally not the best one.
This applies in states where the statutes don’t clearly state that a certain mailing method must be used as well as states where preliminary notices aren’t a requirement. Hand-delivery is a simple, straightforward process that is always under your control.
But there are a few issues that come with hand-delivering your preliminary notices.
For one, in a state where preliminary notices are required, you have to prove you delivered this document.
Can you bring copies with you and have them signed for proof? Sure, but you’ll have to wait around until the right person is available to sign them. Can you take pictures of yourself delivering these documents by hand? Sure, but your selfie might not bring the type of spotlight you’re hoping it does in court.
Also, if there are already payment issues on the project — with you or another contractor — hand-delivering your lien protection might come off a bit crass. That might not be the impression you want to make.
Send via standard mail
In states that don’t require preliminary notices, it’s acceptable to send your notice via standard mail. For the cost of a stamp, you’ll be notifying the project participants that you know your rights to payment. You’ll also be able to show the court that you’re a reasonable person who believes in clear communication.
Sending a preliminary notice via standard mail is not the best idea. This method offers no accountability. You won’t know when your notice landed, who received it, or prove that you even sent it. And when you go to court and mention that you sent a preliminary notice without any tracking, regardless of whether it’s required, your business acumen and believability might come into question.
Send via registered mail
Many states allow contractors to send their preliminary notices via registered mail, and it’s an attractive option to consider. Registered mail offers constant accountability for the document, so you’ll always know where it is.
To send a document via registered mail, you must go to a physical post office address. This is to ensure an air-tight chain of custody. The post office will then track the letter’s every stop until it’s delivered at the intended address. But, mail custody records are not provided to the customer unless they file a claim for them.
The downside of using registered mail is that all the additional securities and custody chain accountability can slow the process down tremendously, making it a poor choice for tight deadlines.
Send via certified mail
Another option for sending preliminary notices is to send them via certified mail. In many states, the mechanics lien statute clearly states that certified mail is the accepted method for sending these documents, and meeting those guidelines should be paramount.
When you send a document or letter via certified mail, you get a receipt from the post office that shows you paid for the service. You also get a tracking number that will show exactly when and where the document was delivered. The post office is then under contract to deliver that mail to the appropriate address and get a signature that acknowledges receipt. USPS then records that signature and keeps it on record.
In most states, this is all that’s required to meet preliminary notice requirements.
Send certified mail with return receipt
You can also send your preliminary notices via certified mail with a return receipt. With this option, you pay a little more for the same service as certified mail — but you get sprinkles on top. You get a transaction receipt and tracking number, USPS delivers the letter and records a signature, you can track when and where it was delivered, and you get a receipt mailed back to you with a copy of the signature.
And since we know accountability is important, this must be the best method, right?
Not so fast: If a state doesn’t require you to send a preliminary notice certified with a return receipt, you might want to rethink your decision. For one, it’s more expensive. But more importantly, it can increase your accountability.
With that receipt in your possession, you might be under obligation to prove the person who signed it was the right person or legally allowed to sign for it.
Say you send your notice to the project owner’s home, and their 17-year-old son is the only one around. With the son’s beard and six-foot stature, the mail carrier assumes that he’s at least 18 and allows him to sign the receipt.
Technically speaking, that certified return receipt is not valid, which means you haven’t met the requirements for sending a preliminary notice. The same could occur if the notice is delivered to a construction site and an intern or third-party contractor signs. With that signature on the receipt in your hands, you could be under obligation to prove it’s legit.
Preliminary notice requirements vary by location
The project’s location has a large bearing on how to send a preliminary notice. State mechanics lien laws usually designate exactly how you should send them, and it’s best to follow the order to the T to avoid complicating your life.
We’ll go over a couple states with different requirements here, but you can reference this map of US notice requirements to stay up-to-date with preliminary notice requirements in the state where you work.
How to send a preliminary notice in California
While California laws on preliminary notices are pretty strict, they’re relatively flexible in how you can send one. You have the option to send a preliminary 20-day notice (as they’re known in California) via registered or certified mail, express mail, or overnight delivery by an express service carrier. A return receipt is not required.
How to send a preliminary notice in Texas
Texas has its own rules about preliminary notices, down to the fact that it completely restructured how they work and what they’re called. It’s even a little murky on how it will accept sending these notices.
By statute, all notices should be sent registered or certified mail. Note that it does not require a return receipt.
But, Texas statutes also state:
“Any notice or other written communication may be delivered in person to the party entitled to the notice or to that party’s agent, regardless of the manner prescribed by law” and “[i]f a written notice is received by the person entitled to receive it, the method by which the notice was delivered is immaterial.”
So basically, Texas says you need to send your notices registered or certified, but if they reach their intended target, it doesn’t matter how it happened.
How to send a preliminary notice in Florida
Florida refers to its preliminary notices as Notices to Owner, and they’re required to preserve lien rights. Contractors can send NTOs by registered mail, Global Express Guaranteed, or certified mail, or delivered by hand. They can also be posted on the job site if service isn’t possible by the other methods.
Read the guide: How To Prepare & Send A Notice to Owner in Florida
How to send a preliminary notice in New York
New York doesn’t require contractors, subs, or suppliers to send preliminary notices in order to protect their lien rights. With that said, you should still be sending these documents for every project you work on.
Because there aren’t any requirements, any method of sending a preliminary notice in New York is acceptable. But, some are better than others, so be sure to consider the options discussed above.
Read the guide: New York Preliminary Notice: Guide + Free Forms
How to send a preliminary notice in Illinois
In Illinois, the only projects that require preliminary notice to retain lien rights are those on owner-occupied, single-family residential projects, and only subcontractors and material suppliers need to send them.
As far as how these notices should be served, the statutes require that the notice be served either personally or by certified mail with return receipt requested. However, sending these notices by certified mail, return receipt requested is best practice; for two reasons. First, the inherent challenges with hand-delivering notices as we discussed above. But second, and more importantly, if the notice is sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, then the notice is considered “served” at the time of mailing. A particularly useful feature when faced with a tight deadline.
Read the guide: Illinois Preliminary Notice Guide – All You Need to Know
Simplify sending your notice with software
If you’re worried about sending your notice via the proper chains and meeting the appropriate deadlines, Levelset can do it for you.
Whether or not you are required to send a notice on all of your jobs, notices are a key player in getting customers to pay you on time and in keeping your lien rights protected no matter what.
Discover how a Florida contractor’s average DSO went from 60 days to 14 days after sending notices on every job.
To learn more about what it would look like for your business to start sending notices on every job, check out what the Levelset team can do and send a notice for free today.
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