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Subcontractor Question

Washington DCBonding Off LienMechanics LienRight to Lien

We were trying to sub out a job and the subcontractor said he was gonna show up and complete and he never did then shows up for two hours we asked him for his new subcontractor forms(direct deposit, W9) and he leaves the property when we asked.. We agreed to pay him for the 2 hours worth of work for materials which he asked for, but then started threatening us for payment but this never gave us a W9, direct deposit or any other forms. I don’t even have an address.. He’s a huge SCAM we’re asking for his paperwork so we can send payment and he’s refusing.. SMH who does that!!! Crazy now he’s threatening to put a lien on a property that he didn’t complete any work on and we have no Photos for $600.00

1 reply

May 30, 2019
I'm really sorry to hear about that - it sounds like an incredibly frustrating situation, and it's always awful to hear that mechanics lien laws are being used in a way that abuses their power. Let's look at some options to fend off a lien claim in Washington DC.

For one, it's worth noting that mechanics lien rights will only exist for work that permanently improves real property but ultimately is not paid for. So, in a situation where no work has been performed (or when the work performed hasn't actually improved the property), a mechanics lien claim will not be appropriate. It's also worth looking into whether the subcontractor is licensed in DC. In Washington DC, if a subcontractor isn't licensed to do the work they performed, that work can't give rise to a valid mechanics lien filing. In fact, the Washington DC recorder's office is very strict about this - and lien claims typically won't even be filed in the records if there's an issue with licensing or business standing. While these factors don't necessarily mean that a lien claim can't or won't be filed, they're still important. If a filed lien claim would be invalid or unenforceable, that will help decide how best to prevent a lien filing in the first place.

When a lien claim has been threatened, it's hard to actually prevent a lien filing from attaching in the first place - procedurally, at least. But if a contractor can show the lien claimant that their potential claim would be frivolous, exaggerated, or even fraudulent, it might be easier to convince them not to pursue a lien filing. A mechanics lien that's made fraudulently or exaggerates the amount of what's owed can open a lien claimant up to serious liability - potentially even criminal liability - so by informing them of the legal consequences of their prospective lien, it might be easier to prevent it from happening in the first place. Further, alleging other legal claims against that subcontractor, where appropriate, can help to convince a subcontractor to stand down. When done with the help of an attorney, this can be even more effective. For more on fraudulent liens, these resources should be helpful: (1) Don't File Fraudulent Liens; and (2) There's a Difference Between Fraud and an Honest Mistake.

Unlike some other states, a contractor or owner does not appear to be able to secure a bond for the property that will divert a lien filing against the property itself. However, if a lien is filed, owners and contractors in Washington DC have the option to secure a bond or otherwise pay funds into the court in order to have a field lien released from the property and transferred to the bond (also known as "bonding off" the lien). It's an imperfect solution, and it only comes into play after a lien has actually been filed, but at least it can help with owner relations, and the basis for the lien can still be challenged. For more information on that subject, here's a good article: Primer on Mechanics Lien Bonds and Bonding a Mechanics Lien.

Once a lien has actually been filed, another option may be to challenge the filed lien in court. If the claim is flawed or unfounded, it might be relatively easy to prove that to the court, and the lien could be discharged. Also, costs and attorney fees might also be awarded if a claim was clearly flawed or fraudulent.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that a filed mechanics lien can cause a great deal of trouble, headaches, and cost. So, in a situation where a lien claim is on the table, negotiating payment might not be the worst outcome. Obviously, fending off a would-be claimant is always the preferable option - especially when their threatened claim is bogus. But, if push comes to shove and a lien claim seems imminent, it may ultimately be worth considering paying the would-be claimant some small amount of money to go away. While extremely frustrating and unfortunate, it could save time and money in the long run.

For more information on Washington DC liens, as well as what to do when a lien claim has been threatened or filed, these resources will be valuable:
Washington DC Lien & Notice Overview
I Just Received a Notice of Intent to Lien – What Should I Do Now?
A Mechanics Lien Was Filed on My Project – What Do I Do Now?
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