Do I file a lien on the property against the home owners or do I go after the GC bond? Can I do both? If so, should I?
We were hired on as an electrical subcontractor. On a remodel that was supposed to take 6 weeks but turned into a year. We had an original contract for a few rooms in a residential property but the home owners asked our GC to add more to our original contract so there was a change order, then another contract for a panel change, then another change order but a verbal agreement that at the end of the project we could turn in all the change orders. Well the supervisor employee of the GC who made the verbal agreement got fired at the end of project 2 days before we agreed to send in the remaining change orders. We explained to the new supervisor employee of GC our agreement with the fired supervisor and he said that if it was never in the original contract then we needed to take the bill to the home owner. We reached out to the fired supervisor who verbally asked us to do the change orders and he signed a statement stating that he gave the approval for the change orders. Since getting that signed we have tried contacting the GC. He has ignored our emails, calls, and text which forced us to send a notice of intent to lien. That too has now been ignored. So, I reached out to the home owner while being ignored by the GC and let them know the situation. They informed me that they had paid the bill in full to the GC and that we needed to discuss the matter with the GC. We reached back out to the GC with still no reply, we sent the home owners a notice of intent to lien that was ignored, sent the home owner emails explaining our situation and it was ignored. I need legal advise on moving forward. We cannot afford to not be paid for the materials and labor we put into this project. Thank you so much for your time.
1703 Answered Questions
Legal Associate Levelset
First, it's worth mentioning that Washington is what's called a "Full Price" lien state. Basically, that means a subcontractor, supplier, or some other sub-tier claimant can file a mechanics lien for their unpaid work regardless of whether the general contractor has been paid in full.
So, with that knowledge in hand, informing the property owner that the nonpayment actually is their problem and that they should put pressure on their GC to pay might be a good first step. And, if neither party is willing to make payment, proceeding with a lien claim will presumably be an option, too. As Levelset discusses in this article, mechanics liens are often the best tool available for recovering construction payments. Certainly, it's typically a good idea to first attempt recovery via a less abrasive method (such as via a Notice of Intent to Lien, as discussed above), but lien claims often get the job done, when necessary.
Further, there are always other options for recovery outside of the mechanics lien process. For one, threatening or actually pursuing legal action (like a breach of contract claim, an unjust enrichment claim, or a claim under some other legal theory) could be an option. Or, depending on the amount of the claim, small claims court might be an option.
But, as mentioned above - if an owner knows that their property title can be liened, regardless of whether their GC was paid in full, they might be more open to discussing the payment issue. An owner can help put additional pressure on a non-paying GC, plus if they don't, recovery might still be made from the owner, themselves.
For a deeper look at the rules and requirements for Washington mechanics liens, here's a great resource: Washington Mechanics Lien Overview.