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Does my handyman company have the right to file a Lien if NTO was not produced at time of Deposit?

FloridaPreliminary NoticeRight to Lien

We are a small Handyman Company in Deltona, FL business classification S-Corp (if that matters). Customer is disputing invoices & services after making things extremely difficult, gave us 2 options finish partial work on her set date or cut ties & only pay us what is owed? We decided to take the hit only get paid what was owed but now customer is deciding on her own how much she is willing to pay us . After we tried to settle things via email & text (all documented) with pictures of evidence to rebuttal each of her disputes we could not come to terms. Customer blatantly said for us to pursue legal action if we wanted to be paid the rest of the invoice due. To cover ourselves we sent a few past due invoice via email & square invoice reminders & then ultimately sent certified mail an NTO (within 45 days of work being started as we thought was our legal right). But we got hit back with reasons we have no rights to File Lien including that anything over $2,500 needed an NTO at time of deposit signing. We were hired for 2 jobs one for Crown Molding in which we subtracted a company to perform that work totaling original estimate $1,920 & a separate invoice for misc Handyman Work originally Estimate totaling $1853. Customer was well aware the estimates were separate as one job was to be completed by 09/03 (workers had work scheduled for following week already & could get job completed by the 09/3rd as long as all materials & access were provided) & the misc Handyman project to be completed by 09/05. Everything was on schedule but customer was unable to supply all materials by time needed we tried to make due but by 09/03rd (deadline for crown molding) but again by that date unfortunately a wall was still not knocked down by other company the homeowner contracted did not come to demo the wall (so the Crown Molding could not be finished in a separate room upstairs.) Though the work in the upstairs was removed from Final invoice she is now claiming that work to be unfinished. After a few back & forth communications she became very rude with us & became excessively picky, about a Glitter Paint customer provided. She did not want to pay our agreed set price, said the wall did not have enough glitter even though she provided the materials she expected for us to correct the color at no additional fee after work was already completed. She also refused to pay us a defective Shower system she provided for us to install that we found out later after it was leaking from all sorts of holes & joints that the shower head was a store model from a Home Depot (not a functioning piece just decorative item). Our handyman kindly removed it & reinstalled old system so they could have a functioning shower while they found a solution or replacement but customer is unwilling to pay that labor after we cut ties on the project. Customer only Paid in full Crown Molding Invoice, we sent but later decided not to pay us the additional cost to paint the Molding that we had earlier explained was not in her original estimate. She was upset about that but only told us she would not pay the additional paint after the paint to molding was already completed on the Handyman portion of the invoice & workers. There are a few other items she is disputing & being irrational about but nothing worth mentioning. We understand customers have a right to be picky &we have delt with these type of customers in the past but she is making a lot of false & irrational claims. To make long story short is it even true we needed to disclose NTO at time of deposit even if 2 invoices set to be paid at separate dates totalled hire than $2500 in accordance to Chapter 713, Part 1. We read the entire Chapter 713 but see that in Cahpter713.06 in, Part 2a it states "The notice must be served before commencing, or not later than 45 days after commencing, to furnish his or her labor, services, or materials, but, in any event, before the date of the owner’s disbursement of the final payment after the contractor has furnished the affidavit under subparagraph (3)(d)1." Customer is also now claiming reason she is paying short bill due to cover out of pocket expenses she has to now incur to finish unfinished work (not even billed in the 1st place). Not sure if we even have rights at this point, as she states & she wants us to communicate the remainder of her Responses to Justin & Clark Associates she claims will represent her. Which most likely means if we do pursue a Lien she will want to take us to small claims court & be represented by a lawyer. Frustrating situation though we know we have all documentation to cover ourselfs & represent ourselves she seems she is trying to intimidate us with a lawyer. We just want to know if we have Lien rights before pursuing further actions, the Total unpaid is $638 but the time we lost by not taking on other projects (lost work opportunities) & not actually being payed what we were originally expecting set us back about another $1500 most likely more. We are just not sure how to proceed or if we even can proceed at this point

1 reply

Sep 20, 2018
I'm sorry to hear you've had some troubles on this job - I'm sure it's terribly frustrating. First, let's look at notice requirements and the potential for lien rights, then we'll look at what amounts may be included in a potential lien claim. Regarding the $2,500/NTO upon deposit, this sounds like § 713.015 of the Florida lien statute is being misconstrued. Under that section, notice is only affected for "*Any direct contract* greater than $2,500 between an owner and a contractor..." As indicated by the bolded portion, the Florida notice requirements are affected when a single direct contract exceeds $2,500 - but if two separate contracts exist (and they're truly separate agreements for work - not just separated to avoid obligations under the Florida lien laws), this section of the Florida lien statute would not seem to be triggered. Further, even if it were, § 713.015(2)(b) states "The failure to provide such written notice does not bar the enforcement of a lien against a person who has not been adversely affected." Considering this owner received an NTO, it might be hard for them to argue that they were adversely affected by the failure to provide earlier notice. Of course, when a contractor has been hired directly by the property owner, that contractor is not required to send a Notice to Owner. Thus, the timing of that notice, if you were hired by the owner, will be (mostly) irrelevant when it comes to the preservation of lien rights. But since this notice was sent near the start of the job (within 45 days), it could work to support the idea that the owner was not harmed by a lack of notice under § 713.015 - which again, would likely not be triggered unless a singular direct contract exceeded $2,500. Before jumping into a lien filing, there's another step that could be helpful - sending a Notice of Intent to Lien. A Notice of Intent to Lien acts as a warning. It states that if payment isn't made soon, a lien claim will be filed. When the possibility of a lien claim becomes a reality, many owners will work to resolve the dispute so that the lien will not be filed. But if such a warning is ignored, filing a lien claim could become necessary. Finally regarding what amounts may go into a lien filing, it's important to note that amounts for anything not specifically contributing to the permanent improvement of real property are not allowed in a lien claim - even if a project caused you to miss other opportunities. Good luck! I hope this owner becomes easier to work with!
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