How can I better protect myself from an unreasonable contractor

1 week ago

Hi,

I’m an owner of a new two-unit property in Waterbury, CT. Recently I got into a financial dispute with a contractor, who I don’t know if he has a professional license or an LLC. I was recommended by someone and thought he would be the right person so I gave him a try.

When I first met him, I asked him to give me a contract. He said yes but I never saw one. Everything we did was verbal which I really didn’t like. He said that he would took care of everything for me, from fixing up the places to leasing to tenants because I currently have an empty unit in my duplex. After one month of chasing after him with calls and asking whether he had found the right tenants, he would say yes or promised that soon it would be done. Well, it never got done. He claimed he had the phone problems, apparently not just once. I was frustrated and believed that he wasn’t a professional property manager/contractor because whatever documents I requested regarding his company or the new tenants I just never received them.

I finally took the matter in control. I went to Waterbury and changed the lock myself because he had my keys. Inside the house, nothing was done except one-coat of painting on the wall. Everything was unfinished. Then the next day I got a call from him saying that he had the new tenants moving in (out of the blue)! I texted him and said I NEVER agreed to let anyone moving in until I saw the paperwork (employment, ID, etc), security deposit, and first month of rent. He basically ignored what I told him about everything! He now said that he wanted me to pay for ALL the work he did and the hotel for his tenants; otherwise, he would put a lien on my property!? We don’t have a contractual agreement for the work. He doesn’t have the Power of Attorney agreement to act on my behalf as a landlord. Regarding the leasing, he didn’t have my approval and I never gave the residential lease to his tenant nor collect a dime from his tenants. Can he still file the lien? What should I do now? Thank you.

W

Senior Legal Associate Levelset

Connecticut restricts most potential mechanics lien claimants from filing a lien when they’re working under a contract that’s not in writing. However, for original contractors hired directly by the property owner, it appears that a written contract might not be a necessary prerequisite for filing a Connecticut mechanics lien claim.

Still, a lien claimant can only file a mechanics lien for amounts owed but unpaid for improving the project property. So, if minimal work was done to the property, as long as that little work has been paid for, a lien claimant wouldn’t have the right to claim a lien for other allegations of payments owed. And, services like allegedly securing tenants aren’t lienable.

With that being said – that doesn’t necessarily mean a mechanics lien claim won’t be filed. Lien claimants can usually have their lien claims filed in the property record, even if the resulting lien wouldn’t be valid or enforceable – county recorders offices don’t have the authority or the bandwidth to investigate each claim that’s made.

For more on what may or may not render a Connecticut mechanics lien invalid: Connecticut Mechanics Lien Guide and FAQs.

Preventing a Connecticut mechanics lien filing

It can be hard to procedurally or officially block a mechanics lien filing from occurring. However, an owner may be able to persuade a lien claimant from pursuing their lien by showing them how and why their lien claim would ultimately be fraudulent.

Further, warning a prospective claimant that legal action will be taken against their lien if it is filed, and threatening legal claims of your own – like attempting to collect damages or pursuing a slander of title action – might show a lien claimant that you’re serious about fighting the prospect of a lien claim.

Further yet, and especially when a lien filing would be questionable or even fraudulent, threatening to bond off a filed lien claim can help keep one from being filed. When a lien claim is bonded off, it doesn’t disappear – rather, the lien claimant will then need to file suit on the bond in order to recover payment. And, with a questionable claim, lien claimants tend to avoid pursuing legal action against a bond.

Finally, if it seems like the payment dispute is spiraling, or if it seems like a mechanics lien claim is ultimately inevitable, it might be a good idea to consult a local construction attorney. They’ll be able to review the situation and all communications then advise on how best to move forward.

In the meantime, these resources may be helpful:
I Just Received a Notice of Intent to Lien – What Should I Do Now?
A Mechanics Lien Was Filed on My Property – What Do I Do Now?

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