When a contractor works on a public project, the rules change a bit. Because contractors are dealing with public entities, certain protections must be afforded. One of these protections is the use of surety bonds to protect the public agency from payment disputes while also affording claimants security to payment. Mechanics liens do not attach to public property, so claims must be made on these bonds to secure payment. Another protection for public projects is increased transparency. Because these projects are paid for with public funds, the records surrounding public projects must remain accessible to the public. Recent legislation in the Sunshine State affects how Florida contractors must provide this information.
How New Legislation Affects Florida Contractors
CS/HB 273 was approved by Governor Rick Scott on March 8, 2016 and immediately went into effect. The requirements under the act are outlined below, but here’s the full text and the final analysis by the Florida House of Representatives.
Here’s how the revised Public Records Act will affect Florida contractors:
A public agency contract with a contractor must include a statement that provides contact information for the public agency’s custodian of public records. The statement must be boldfaced and must instruct the contractor to contact the custodian of records with questions regarding a contractor’s duties to provide records relating to the contract.
Contracts between public agency and contractor must stipulate whether contractor will retain records or transfer them to the public agency at the conclusion of the contract. Previously, a contractor was required to transfer records to the public agency at the end of the contract.
Public records requests, regardless of where the records are maintained, must be made directly to the public agency subject to the contract in question. Contractors will not have to worry about requests coming directly from the public. Upon request, if the agency does not hold the requested records, the agency must immediately notify the contractor. The contractor will then be required to either provide a copy of the relevant records OR provide access to the records within a reasonable amount of time. Failure to comply will result in penalties.
Before filing an action to compel the production of records, the party requesting records must provide sufficient written notice. If the documents have not been produced or made available within 8 business days, suit may be filed. Should a contractor comply with the records request within 8 days of written notice, the contractor is not liable for reasonable costs of enforcement.
In the event that an action is filed to compel the production of records and a contractor has unlawfully refused to comply with the records request within a reasonable amount of time, the court must assess and award the cost against the contractor. However, this only applies if the contractor and agency were provided written notice of the records request.
The revisions to Florida’s Public Records Act provide flexibility in maintaining records for public projects. However, they also open up Florida contractors to more potential litigation. As long as construction managers abide by the new revisions, they should see little change.
Previously, we have provided many other considerations in Florida construction and lien law. Additional information regarding Florida Lien Laws and Notice Requirements can be found in Levelset’s resources, here: Florida Lien and Notice FAQs.