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Home>Levelset Community>Legal Help>Hired a California licensed contractor to perform stucco work. I paid the entire contract except for $600 (under dispute) and he did not repair some damage made and did not remove materials. The stucco contractor sent a preliminary notice for $5,500. He is within the 20 days to serve the notice. A few questions- 1. Can you dispute the 20 day notice on its face for inflating the disputed balance owed ($500) 2. Since I am still expecting work to be complete, i.e. repair of damage the did, is it better to serve a notice of cessation 3. If he files a lien, what are my defenses to make the lien invalid that the contractor is attempting to collect/ extort extra funds from me?

Hired a California licensed contractor to perform stucco work. I paid the entire contract except for $600 (under dispute) and he did not repair some damage made and did not remove materials. The stucco contractor sent a preliminary notice for $5,500. He is within the 20 days to serve the notice. A few questions- 1. Can you dispute the 20 day notice on its face for inflating the disputed balance owed ($500) 2. Since I am still expecting work to be complete, i.e. repair of damage the did, is it better to serve a notice of cessation 3. If he files a lien, what are my defenses to make the lien invalid that the contractor is attempting to collect/ extort extra funds from me?

CaliforniaMechanics LienPreliminary Notice

Hired a contractor. Paid 90% of the invoices sent with evidence of check cashing. Remainder of the balance ($500) in dispute b/c they damaged the property and failed to remedy. They refuse to come back to fix or compromise on the $600 balance due. They filed a CA prelim notice for $5,500, within the required timeframe. -Can you dispute the notice b/c the estimate is extremely inflated? - Since work is not complete, how does a notice work so I can protect my rights with lien filings? - If a lien is filed, what are my defenses to making the filing invalid or arguments that are successful to rule a lien incomplete.

1 reply

Oct 1, 2018
I'm sorry to hear this project has gone awry. Before getting too into the weeds, it's worth noting that the amount on a California preliminary notice does not reflect amounts owed and unpaid. The amount listed on a preliminary notice reflects an estimate of the total price of the sender's work (regardless of what's been paid to-date). Regarding disputing a notice as inflated - there is not an official way to do this since the preliminary notice does not indicate a dispute is at hand. Of course, if the estimate for the total amount of work is excessive, it might be worthwhile for an owner to notify the party who sent notice. Re: the completion of work/filing a Notice of Cessation - that's an interesting balance. On one hand, under § 8412 of the California Civil Code, a direct contractor may not file a lien until the completion of the work of improvement. Of course, this is a tricky requirement - because there's certainly a chance that if a contractor filed a lien prior to completion of the project, the lien could actually be filed. However, at least as it's laid out in the California Civil Code, such a lien should be considered invalid and/or unenforceable. On the other hand, when an owner files a Notice of Completion or Cessation, a direct contractor will only have 60 days from that filing to file a mechanics lien (if no Notice of Completion or Cessation is filed, the direct contractor will have 90 days from the completion of the improvement to file a lien). Based on those two competing factors, it can be hard for a property owner to decide how to proceed - if a Notice of Completion or Cessation is filed, that will signal the completion or cessation of the job which could start the clock for a prime contractor to file their lien. At the same time, that prime contractor could certainly attempt to file a lien before the project is considered complete, and disputing the filing would require legal action (and the decision as to whether the lien is valid or invalid would ultimately be up to the court, too). Thus, filing a Notice of Completion or Cessation could be beneficial to cut down the lien filing timeframe by 30 days. Finally, in regards to contesting a lien claim, an owner has any number of arguments for why the claim should not be enforceable - such as poor workmanship, incomplete work, that all debts have been paid, that the lien was not timely filed, that the contract was breached, etc. However, to challenge a filed lien claim, an owner will likely need to file legal action - and if legal action is required, it's wise to consult an attorney. They will be able to advise you on what grounds to dispute the lien claim and will be able to guide you through the process of filing a lien. Of course, that would only become necessary if the lien claim were actually filed.
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