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Need to know where I stand legally and what to do next.

Florida

I own a cleaning business and was hired by a business 7 years ago to clean 3 of their salons on a weekly basis. The owner became very belligerent over the years, always behind in payments as well as returned checks.March 1st they replaced us with another service without notice. Most companies have final payment in hand. This business did not and at the time was two months behind. I have faithfully sent invoices to include late payments totaling $2810.00. I received checks last week stating FINAL PAYMENT, HOWEVER they were short $1645.00. With the help of Levelset, we have sent Notice to lean to the Property owner(the business I worked for rents the building) also sent Notice to business owner with intent to lean. (Mechanics Lean) Owner of property called me yesterday 05/14/2020 and stated I do not have right to lean his property.Do I ??? What to do? I know if I accept these checks/deposit them, I am accepting final payment. Can't do. I will send copies of invoices again today with balance due. Legally where do I stand & what's the next step I should take? Thank you! Donna Smith Impeccable Cleaning LLC. info@impeccablecleaningllc.com

3 replies

May 15, 2020
The only type of cleanup that is lienable in Florida is "final construction cleanup to prepare a structure for occupancy." The cleaning services you describe are routine cleaning services of an occupied building, not cleaning of a construction site. So you do not have lien rights. As for cashing the check, you are correct. Cashing the check very likely acts as a release. If you don't want to accept that amount as final payment, return the check and file suit in small claims court.
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May 16, 2020
Thank you Mr. Reese for your response. Seems Levelset associates have steered me in the wrong direction the past few weeks.
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May 17, 2020
Reese is correct here, but I'd like to add a few nuances to the mix.

Generally, Cleaning Services in Florida is Lienable When Associated with a Construction Project

In Florida, the lien right is available to many different parties performing many different services when their work or material are "for the improvement of real property."  You can see an overview in Levelset's FAQs page under the "Who can file a Florida Mechanics Lien" section. The question boils down to the definition of what an "improvement" is: "any building, structure, construction, demolition, excavation, solid-waste removal, landscaping, or any part thereof existing, built, erected, placed, made, or done on land or other real property for its permanent benefit." Almost every state has some version of this problem.  The definition of "improvement" requires courts to decide what does and does not qualify under the definition.  There is a string of case law in Florida that grapples with the "improvement" definition as it relates to landscaping work and cleaning work.  For the general treatment of these two services, you can refer to these blog posts: Reese's above answer is correct with respect to the Florida case law that exists on this topic.  I'm presuming that he is referring to the Third District Court of Appeals decision in Parc Central v. Victoria Group Services (2011). That case acknowledged that the case law was sparse on the question of cleaning services, but ultimately concluded that "cleaning the mess of demolition and construction is lienable...while mere maintenance of the property is not-lienable." I will note two nuances with the Parc Central case, though:
  1. It does not offer a test, and - in my opinion - there is still quite a bit of gray area between "cleaning the mess of demolition and construction" and "mere maintenance."  Claimants will need to consider where their cleaning works falls on such a spectrum; and
  2. This is a Third District Court of Appeals decision, which means that it is not the decision of the Florida Supreme Court.  This case does not cite much Florida case law in support of its ultimate conclusion, and instead cites Illinois case law (which is interpreting a different "improvements" definition).
To conclude on this point, while the Parc Central case is really well reasoned, I don't know if there is a bright-line rule in Florida to distinguish between what "cleaning work" is or is not covered by Florida lien laws.  However, certainly, the definition of "improvement" requires that the work be done to create a "permanent benefit" to the property, and that, together with the Parc Central reasoning, will very, very likely eliminate maintenance or janitorial cleaning work.  But, this will depend on the facts of your specific cleaning work.  A good rule of thumb is to distinguish between "construction" jobs and non-construction jobs...but, it's not necessarily the only way to slice the issue. In your case, you say, "I own a cleaning business and was hired by a business 7 years ago to clean 3 of their salons on a weekly basis."   This sounds a lot like "mere maintenance," and therefore, is highly likely to not qualify for lien rights.

Sending A Notice of Intent to Lien May Still Be Beneficial

Let's say that it is quite unlikely that a business has the right to file a mechanics lien.  In that case, the business should think long and hard about whether they file a mechanics lien. Even if they have a colorable argument, the risk of filing a "frivolous lien" can be high.  If the courts later decide that the lien right was so questionable that the filing is "frivolous," the business can be on the hook for attorney fees and other damages. But. That risk does not necessarily extend to a "notice of intent to lien."  While there are some very remote arguments and situations that can cause trouble from sending a notice of intent to lien, those risks are quite remote.  Especially if there is some argument that lien rights could possibly apply. To me, it seems that landscaping and cleaning businesses could explore this if they find themselves "on the edge" of what is considered lienable.  Sending a notice of intent to lien could very well get the other party to pay quickly, because, after all, they too don't want to spend a pile of money arguing over the nuances of Florida lien law. If the other party responds (as they have done in your case) that you don't have lien rights, then each of the parties will have to consider how far they want to take the argument.  But, this may only happen in a minority of cases when sending a notice of intent.
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