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Can a New York contractor file a mechanic's lien when there is no written contract (or even oral estimate)?

New YorkConstruction ContractLien DeadlinesMechanics LienPayment Disputes

While preparing our home for sale, I had asked a local contractor to assist me with redoing the chimney flashing for the wood stove. The labor amounted to 2.5 hours and materials were approximately $125 (1 bundle of shingles, some roofing sealant, roofing nails, ice and water shield). He never provided me an estimate (verbal or written) and did not invoice me prior to our departure from NY. Afterward, he sent me a text telling me the bill was $850.00. I still do not have an itemized invoice to this date. I expected $400.00 - $500.00, as his prices are generally higher than other contractors, but I didn't expect $850.00. I sent him a postal money order via Priority Mail for $450.00 with a letter and he is threatening to speak to the new owners and place a lien on the property. I honestly believe that he is bluffing, however I want to ensure that there is no real recourse here. I paid him an amount which seems to be fair for the time and materials, as my research indicates that this type of repair would run anywhere from $250.00 to $400.00. As I mentioned, he has still not produced a detailed invoice for the $850.00 he's asking for. I appreciate any advice you can provide. Thanks in advance for your time.

1 reply

Sep 11, 2017
There are a few things to consider here, discussed briefly below.

1) Written Contract in General for Home Improvement

New York generally requires that any contract for "home improvement" to be in writing, be in English, and be signed by all the parties to the contract (as well as contain certain information). Violations of this provision can subject the contractor to civil penalties, but is not directly related to the ability to file a mechanics lien. However, since the work was done on a home, it is likely that these requirements may apply - and that the contractor may not want to deal with the hassle of dealing with this issue over a couple hundred bucks. 2) Licensing and Mechanics Liens

New York has strict licensing requirements. If the claimant is required to have a license, the claimant must be licensed and authorized to do business in New York in order to claim a lien. If a direct contractor on a residential home improvement project lacks a home improvement contractor’s license the contractor is not allowed a lien on the property and is forbidden form filing a breach of contract action.

3) Timing and Mechanics Liens

In New York, a mechanics lien claimed pursuant to work on a residential project, may be filed at any time during the project and within 4 months after the completion of the contract, the final furnishing of work or materials, or the final performance of the work. If some time has passed after the work was done, there may not be enough time left to file a valid / enforceable lien.

4) Contract and Mechanics Liens

New York requires a "contract" in order to claim a valid / enforceable mechanics lien, but does not specifically identify or require that the contract be written. The lien claimant will need to identify the work performed and value of the services in the lien, and if there is no written contract, it will be up to the contactor to identify the work and the amount. Not, however, that exaggerated liens are not allowed (although this is difficult to prove and does not stop a lien from being filed).

5) New Owner and Mechanics Liens

In New York, liens are limited to the amount unpaid by the owner to the direct contractor - if the property owner doesn't owe anything for the work, no valid lien can attach. In the situation in which the property was sold, the property owner likely doesn't owe anything for the work - and, accordingly, there may not be a corresponding lien right against the property any longer.

6) Does All This Matter Practically?

While the above factors pretty much come down on the side of the homeowner, does it really matter? The fact of the matter is that, while the contractor may not have the ability to file a valid or enforceable lien - that may not matter with regard to whether he can "practically" file a lien. The recorders offices rarely act as gatekeepers (although New York will often reject lien that are untimely) to prevent the filing of liens that may not be enforceable. This may mean that the contractor, if really wanting to go through with his bluff, could get a lien filed on the property and the owner would either need to 1) get the lien removed; 2) wait it out until it expires; 3) fight the lien's validity if it is attempted to be enforced.
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