California Lien Waivers Guide and FAQs

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California Lien Waiver FAQs

California Lien Waivers Overview

California Lien Waiver Rules

  • Rules At A Glance
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lien waivers regulated
Specific Forms Are Required

California sets out a required lien waiver forms by statute. In order to be valid, a California lien waiver must follow those forms.

lien waivers do not need to be notarized
Notarization Not Required

California lien waivers are not required to be notarized, and should not be notarized.

icon-can't waive lien rights
Cannot Waive Rights in Contract

No, California statute specifically prohibits this practice.

Can Waive Rights Before Payment

There is no specific prohibition on waiving lien rights prior to payment, provided that the statutory lien waiver form is used.

California lien waivers are regulated. This means that everyone connected to a construction project must follow California’s specific lien waiver rules. Among other requirements, California’s lien waiver laws mandate the use of a specific form template. All parties on California jobs must be careful because there are negative consequences to using the wrong form.

Lien waivers are a rather simple concept.  These documents act as a receipt for payment. They are exchanged by people at the time of payment on a construction project. It’s common for subcontractors and suppliers to include lien waiver documents with their pay applications (aka construction invoices). It’s common for general contractors, property developers, and construction lenders to have intricate lien waiver tracking and collection practices.

When it comes to tracking, collecting, sending, and requesting lien waivers in California, everyone must pay attention to the state’s requirements.

California regulates lien waivers pretty tightly. For instance, California is one of the 12 states that provide statutory lien waiver forms. Failure to use these forms or using the wrong form will result in the lien waiver being invalid and unenforceable. As will any attempts to modify or add more provisions to the waiver.

It’s easy to make mistakes.  Even if you use a mandatory form and fill it out completely right, it’s easy to mistakenly use the wrong form!  After all, California has 4 different required lien waiver forms. It’s important to use the right one at the right time. Here are guides on how to fill out the four California statutory lien waivers:

Otherwise, the information on this page provides frequently asked questions, forms, guides, and other helpful information on California’s Lien Waivers. 

California Lien Waiver FAQs

Lien waiver laws vary from state to state. In California, contractors, suppliers, lenders, and other construction job participants are lucky to have the California lien waiver laws in place. California's lien waiver laws are clear and simple. Though it requires everyone to know a little bit about the rules, it is so much better than the situation in other states, where the rules governing lien waivers are left up to a bunch of interpretation. This usually just creates expensive and unpredictable legal arguments.

Lien waivers are exchanged a lot in California. On nearly every project across the state, job participants are stapling their lien waiver forms to pay applications, invoices, and payment demands. Given how important these documents are to the construction payment process, its crucial to get the waiver exchange right. Below are some frequently asked questions about the lien waiver laws and requirements in California.

Common Questions & Answers About The California Lien Waiver Process

Do I need to use a specific lien waiver form in California?

Yes!  Everyone on a California construction project must exchange the same lien waiver forms. These forms are set forth by California law, and the laws explicitly state that you must use these forms, and not mess around with them. In other words, you can’t slip in some other provisions to help protect you against such-and-such.  The forms are what they are, and everyone must use them.  We explored this in detail here: Can I Add Language to the Lien Waiver Form?

Here is an excerpt on this question:

In [our] opinion, adding anything to the standard language carries significant risk, not the least of which is finding yourself in litigation arguing about what changes amount to anything “substantial,” and which do not.  It’s probably a pretty good rule of thumb that if something is worth adding to the form, or if you desire to have something additional in the form, then the thing so worth the risk of non-conformance is going to be “substantial” enough to trigger invalidity under the statute.  And accordingly, you should just leave the thing alone.

While this may be frustrating to some job stakeholders, this is a great thing for California contractors and suppliers. It makes the lien waiver exchange process easier and settles lien waiver language disputes that could delay payments in other states. And as everyone in the industry knows…payments are already quite slow.

It’s also important to point out that if someone just asks a contractor or supplier to use a non-required type of lien waiver form, it could land them in real trouble. The California licensing statutes warn that contractors can be penalized if they ask for non-statutory lien waiver forms!  Check out a more detailed discussion of this here: Request the Correct California Lien Waivers to Reduce Stress and Avoid Violations 

In sum, California provides statutory lien waiver forms which must be used in order to be considered valid and enforceable.

Can a contractor or supplier waive their lien rights in their contract?

No. Contractors and suppliers cannot waive their lien rights in their contract before work begins.

California is one of many states that specifically prohibits this, although even more states indirectly prohibit this.

The right to file a mechanics lien is something established very early on in American law — in fact, it was first invented by Thomas Jefferson (See: Short History of the Mechanics Lien).  The right to file a mechanics lien is actually a type of labor & laborer protection law! Anyone who has danced with the Department of Labor knows how hard it is to circumvent a labor law…

It’s part of the fabric of American law that you cannot ask someone to waive certain rights that are established for public policy reasons. In the case of California, the lien right is even written into the state constitution!

California isn’t going to let developers and lenders just force contractors and suppliers into waiving this right with a contractual provision. And in fact, the state has explicitly invalidated this.

Can a contractor or supplier waive their lien rights after work begins, but before payment is made?

The answer to this question is maybe, but it will be difficult.

It’s crystal clear that contractors and suppliers cannot waive their lien rights in a contract before work begins. It’s also clear that contractors and suppliers can waive rights after they are paid for the work completed. But, can contractors and suppliers waive their lien rights after work began but before payment is actually made?

Practically speaking, this comes up frequently. When contractors and suppliers are asked to sign an unconditional lien waiver before being paid, there is a question about the validity of that “unconditional lien waiver.”  We’ve written about this timing catch-22 here: Unconditional Lien Waivers vs Conditional Lien Waivers and the Construction Payment Catch 22.

California has clear rules regarding this, but it’s possible to sign a valid unconditional lien waiver even if you haven’t received payment.

Unconditional lien waivers are valid, even if payment is not received, but only if the lien waiver strictly follows the form provided by California statutes. The form contains bold warning language stating:


Though the state has a ton of protections for contractors and suppliers and strictly regulates lien waivers, if a contractor or supplier signs an unconditional lien waiver before payment, and ignores this bold and obvious language…then, there’s only so much California can do.  The lien rights are likely waived.

Do California lien waivers need to be notarized?

No, California lien waivers do not need to be notarized, even though it’s common for businesses to ask that waivers be notarized.

In fact, it’s possible that notarizing a California lien waiver could invalidate it since it would change the statutory form. Accordingly, it’s best practice NOT to notarize a California lien waiver.

What happens if I request the wrong lien waiver form?

If you use the wrong lien waiver form in California, there could be bad consequences.  For example:

  • If you don’t use the statutory forms:  The lien waiver will likely be void and unenforceable. Further, licensed contractors who require waivers in violation of the statutory requirements may also be penalized by the CA Contractors State License Board anywhere from $100-$1,000!  Yikes.
  • If you use a statutory form, but the wrong one:  This could cause the parties to agree to stuff (or not agree to stuff) unintentionally. While it may result in a windfall for one side, it’s never a good practice to do something unintended.

Using the wrong lien waiver form is a very common occurrence. It’s one of the most common California lien waiver mistakes.

Do California lien waivers waive all of my rights?

That depends. Under the progress payment form, it states “This document does not affect any of the following: (1) Retentions, (2) Extras for which the claimant had not received payment, (3) Contract rights including, (a) rights based on rescission, abandonment or breach of contract, and (b) the right to recover compensation for work not compensated by payment.

The final payment forms simply include a section where the claimant can fill out the exceptions and add a dollar amount for disputed claims.

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Free California Lien Waiver Template & Forms

California has specific lien waiver forms that must be used by everyone on a California construction project. The forms provided here for free by Levelset are compliant with the California rules. You can download them free, or use our free system to send or request your compliant California lien waiver form.

Free California Lien Waiver Forms

These California lien waiver forms are compliant with the state's requirements. Make it easy, and use forms from the source you can trust.

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