Believe it or not, this isn't the first time a situation like this has come up on the Construction Legal Center. The available options for recovery will vary depending on a number of factors - including when the work ceased. Perhaps the most powerful way to recover payment for construction work is to file a mechanics lien. One factor that will impact potential lien rights is the type of work that was performed. Under Texas Property Code § 53-021(a), a party who "labors, specially fabricates material, or furnishes labor or materials for construction or repair..." and has a contract directly with the property owner will be entitled to lien rights. Generally speaking, this includes those acting as a general contractor on the job. But when a party acts as a construction manager on the job, things can get a lot fuzzier (zlien discusses this idea more here: Can Construction Managers File Mechanics Liens?). Without knowing more about what work was actually done in the oversight of the construction, it's hard to tell where a claimant's work might fall. But if the work falls within the definition provided above pursuant to § 53-021(a), it would seem like lien rights are likely available for a party who has performed work but gone unpaid. Of course, when it comes to residential property in Texas, there are more considerations to take into account. First: the deadline to file a mechanics lien. On a Texas residential project, the deadline to file a mechanics lien is the 15th day of the 3rd month after the month in which the lien claimant last furnished labor and/or material to the project. If this deadline is missed, a claimant likely cannot file a valid mechanics lien (though a constitutional lien may still be in play - more on that in a second). It's important to know whether or not the residential property is considered a Homestead though. If the property is a homestead, additional requirements will be in play, which you can read about here: Texas Mechanics Lien on Homestead Property. As mentioned briefly above - Texas is home to what's called a "constitutional lien", which can make life a lot easier for direct contractors. For those providing work under a direct contract with the owner, a self-executing constitutional lien for unpaid construction amounts attaches to the property automatically. This can be a little confusing, but basically, regardless of whether anything is filed, the direct contractor has a lien on the property. Now, to compel payment, that contractor may need to file an affidavit with the county recorder much in the same way that an ordinary Texas mechanics lien is filed. However, there is no deadline to "file" this lien (though it's wise to file it sooner than later, and filing too late could ultimately result in the loss of some rights). Regardless of whether the right to lien exists, it's worth noting that a Notice of Intent to Lien can often compel payment all by itself. It's essentially a warning shot - it states that, if payment isn't made and made soon, a mechanics lien will be filed on the project property. Because mechanics liens represent such a drastic remedy, the mere threat of a lien is often enough to begin settlement talks. Plus, it's inexpensive and relatively risk-free, so if a claimant remains unpaid, they may continue to resolve the claim how they see fit. Finally, mechanics liens may be the most powerful way to recovery construction payments, but they're certainly not the only one. First, sending a demand letter is often effective - especially when the threat is made via an attorney. Demand letters seem to work best when they notify the recipient that legal action will be taken if payment isn't made (such as a breach of contract action or an unjust enrichment action). Nobody likes litigation, so a claimant may be compelled to resolve the dispute. If that doesn't work, going to small claims court or recovering via traditional litigation are also options - and both have their pros and cons. Of course, these are just a few of a number of available options - and for more clarity, it's a good idea to reach out to a local construction attorney. They'll be able to review your situation more in depth and look at relevant documentation and communications then advise on how to move forward.
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