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not paid for my labor

CaliforniaLien DeadlinesRight to Lien

we installed signs at a business in San Jose CA. We were hired and were to be paid by the Texas company that made the signs. The business where we installed the sign leases space in a large office building. We did not have an agreement with the building owner or the business. Our agreement is with the Texas company. We completed the job on Dec 11, 2018. The Texas company made the sign incorrectly and we installed correctly, but Texas company said in an email they would send correct signs, but has not nor do they respond to email or phone calls. Is a lien apply to this situation and did the clock start ticking on Dec 11 or is the job still not complete because they said they were going to send corrective material?

1 reply

Feb 11, 2019
That's a good question, and I'm sorry to hear about your situation. First, it's worth mentioning that when work is performed but unpaid, if that work provides a permanent improvement to real property, the party who performed that unpaid work will generally still be entitled to lien rights - regardless of whether there's any agreement directly with the owner of the property. In California, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, suppliers, etc. - any number of parties will have the right to file a lien if work is done but not paid for. There are some notice and deadline requirements to keep in mind though. When a party was hired by someone other than the owner of the property, in order to preserve the right to lien, preliminary notice must be sent by the potential lien claimant in order to preserve their lien right. In California, this notice must be sent 20 days from the first time the claimant provided labor and/or materials to the project. This notice can be sent later than that first 20 days, but when sent late, it will only preserve the right to lien for the 20 days before sending the notice, as well as any work performed afterwards. Thus, in a situation where a substantial amount of work is still left to be done, it might be worthwhile to send late preliminary notice. As for the timeframe for filing a California mechanics lien, California sub-tier lien claimants must file their lien after the claimant ceases to provide work, but no more than 90 days after completion of the work of improvement (unless a Notice of Completion is filed - then, the deadline is merely 30 days after the filing). Thus, when there is still significant work to be performed on the project, the deadline to file typically won't start running. Of course, in some cases, returning to a job to perform corrective work might not work to move a lien deadline - so a more conservative claimant might feel safer basing their 90 day deadline from the time when they'd originally completed the work. Regardless - prior to filing a mechanics lien, many parties find that the mere threat of lien - through a document like a Notice of Intent to Lien - can go a long way to compel payment without the need for actually filing a lien. This is especially true when a Notice of Intent to Lien is sent to both the nonpaying customer and the property owner. Granted, before resorting to any threat or lien claim, if payments are coming slowly, first trying to talk out the issue with the party who failed to make payment is usually the best option for compelling payment while also preserving business relationships. For more information regarding California preliminary notices, as well as lien rights and the applicable deadlines, these resources should be helpful: (1) California Lien & Notice FAQs; and (2) What is a California 20-Day Preliminary Notice?
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