Laborer of previously unlicensed contractor suing for labor and materials

5 months ago

A laborer furnished by an unlicensed contractor is taking the property owner to small claims court for unpaid wages. He’s suing labor and materials costs for interior paint work. Unlicensed contractor portrayed he was licensed during the renovation and was uncovered he was unlicensed at end of job. 5 months after job completion, the contractor is now licensed, but laborer is still suing the property owner to collect payment for labor and materials. What can the property owner do?

Senior Legal Associate Levelset

That’s a great question. For one, California is clear than an unlicensed contractor, themselves, is not entitled to any payment remedies, and the owner can actually force an unlicensed contractor to return payment. This is true even if the contractor gains their licensure at some point during the contract. More on that in this article: Can Unlicensed Contractors File a Mechanics Lien? However, it’s less clear whether a laborer for an unlicensed contractor would be able to recover payment from a property owner. But, considering that California law provides extra protections for laborers (they don’t need to send a preliminary notice in order to preserve their right to lien), it might be possible for a laborer under an unlicensed contractor to recover payment from the property owner.

However, it’s worth noting that an owner might be able to tie in the contractor into the dispute, and that contractor may be liable to making payment to the laborer, rather than the owner themselves. This is especially true if payments were properly made to the contractor, but the contractor failed to pass those payments down the chain.

But, when facing potential liablity after a construction project has gone sideways, it’s generally a good idea to consult a local construction attorney – even where one might not be required (like in small claims court). They’ll be able to review the situation as well as any relevant documentation and advise on how best to move forward.

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