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Can an over charged contacted file a lien on an amount I never agreed?

TexasMechanics Lien

My small property got water damage during the Feb. freeze, the mitigation contractor my broker found sent in a quote of $20k, I agreed, but during the migration, my broker called and said it would be much more, but didn’t say how much more. Them, I got an invoice for $76k for 4 days work. Later we found that they rape off everything below 4 feet, all floor/drywall/cabinets/sinks/expensive medical faucets/toilets/granite countertops and threw away, but the water damage was only a few inches. We asked for a more reasonable price to pay but they refused, we did not every agree with the $76k, could they file a lien on my property?

1 reply

May 17, 2021

You have two issues: (1) improper construction work; and (2) a threatened mechanic's lien.

(1) You need to create a paper trail, so I suggest that you consider the following.

You should write the contractor a letter by certified mail to request that the contractor return to correct/complete his work. In that letter, you should advise generally what work needs to be corrected/completed. You should also indicate that if the contractor does not return to correct/complete his work, you will have to retain another contractor, and will hold the first contractor responsible for the costs. Finally, indicate in your letter that if the contractor does not advise that he will return to correct/complete his work within one week, you will presume that he has no intention of doing so, and you will hold him responsible for the costs of correcting/completing his work.

When the contractor does not return, you can retain another contractor to correct/complete the first contractor's work. Make sure that the second contractor itemizes his invoices and lists the costs to correct/complete the first contractor's work. You cannot charge the first contractor with the cost of work that was not within the first contractor's scope of work. For example, if the first contractor was supposed to install carpet, you cannot charge him for the second contractor's installation of ceramic tile.

Once you have tallied the costs associated with correcting/completing the first contractor's work, you can consider suing him to recover those costs. The jurisdictional maximum for small claims court in Texas is now $20,000. So, if your claim exceeds that amount, you will have to sue in County or District Court. In small claims court, you can represent yourself. In County or District Court, you will have to retain an attorney. However, under Texas law, you would be entitled to recover attorney's fees if you prevailed.

Make sure that you take a lot of photos of the first contractor's work. Digital photos with the date of the photo imprinted on the photo are best. You should document the condition in which the first contractor left the work and what it took to correct/complete the work.

(2) I assume that the work was for your house, and that your house is your homestead. For the house to be your homestead, the house has to be titled in your name and you must live there. The contractor that contracted with you is called the "original contractor" under Chapter 53 of the Texas Property Code (which governs the propriety of mechanic's liens). If the property at issue is your homestead, then for a contractor to be entitled to file a valid mechanic's lien against your homestead, he would have to comply with Chapter 53 of the Texas Property Code. Among the requirements are a written contract signed by the owners of the homestead (husband and wife), certain homestead warnings, and filing of the contract with the county clerk. Those formalities do not usually happen. Without them, any attempted mechanic's lien filing would be invalid.

If the original contractor did not properly perfect a homestead mechanic's lien contract, then no contractor, subcontractor or supplier can file a valid mechanic's lien against your homestead. You should write a letter by certified mail to the lien claimant to demand that no lien be filed, or if one is filed, that the lien be released, pointing out that the property is your homestead, and that the original contractor has not perfected a homestead mechanic's lien. If the lien claimant does not voluntarily release the lien, he could be liable for a fraudulent lien under Chapter 12 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. Chapter 12 can award damages of $10,000 or actual damages whichever is greater, plus attorney's fees.

You can also demand that the lien be released under Section 53.160 of the Texas Property Code, which provides for a summary procedure (no trial necessary) for the removal of an invalid lien on someone's homestead.

Good luck.

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