Preliminary Notices
FAQs & Resources

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Preliminary Notice FAQs

What is a Preliminary Notice?

Preliminary notices — sometimes called pre-lien (or prelien, or pre lien) notices or notices to owner (NTOs) — are sent at the start of a construction job.

These notices are sent by contractors or suppliers to let other job participants know who they are and what they are providing to the project.

Sometimes, they are required by state law to be sent. These notice laws are complicated and differ significantly from state-to-state and project-to-project. The rules about sending a “notice to owner” in Florida, for example, are different from the “20-day preliminary notice” requirement in California, and the “monthly notice” in Texas, and the lack of any notice at all in New York.  The rule may allow notice to be sent long after the job begins on a commercial job – such as in Washington, where contractors and suppliers have 60 days to send the notice — but to be very short in the same state on a public or state job – such as the shortened 10 days on public jobs in Washington.

Most states require subcontractors and suppliers to provide the notice to key project stakeholders like the property owner, the general contractor, and the construction lender.

The notice does not create any mechanics lien or bond claim rights, however, it’s possible for a party to lose their lien and security rights if required notice is not sent.

The notices must typically be sent by certified mail, certified mail return receipt requested, or by registered mail. You can learn more in this article: What is a pre-lien notice?

Getting paid in the construction industry is tough, and so the question for contractors and suppliers is simple: How to break through the mess and get your invoices paid? Notices are step one to getting paid in the construction industry.

Sending preliminary notices is common in the construction industry. Parties furnishing labor or materials to a project send these construction notices to protect their lien rights and to comply with local laws requiring these notices. Other parties, such as property developers, lenders, and general contractors, look forward to receiving notices from subcontractors and suppliers because they provide more visibility as to who is contributing to the job. In fact, our research reveals that more than 83% of notice recipients find the documents helpful, or just part of everyday business.

Since notices are helpful and promote better project transparency, they have the effect of prioritizing a contractor or supplier’s invoice above others who have not sent the notice, and thus get companies paid more often and more quickly.

Some companies already appreciate the benefit of sending notices and have sophisticated policies in place that need to be managed. Other companies are contemplating the costs and benefits of engaging in this best practice.

In either case, it’s common for administrators and finance professionals to spend a lot of time doing busy work like researching prelim notice laws, managing notice requirements, and handling the paperwork involved with preparing, mailing, and tracking notices.  This is why it’s a good idea to use some type of service (or software) to help better handle preliminary notices.  Take a look at our review of The 10 Best Nationwide Preliminary Notice Services.

Preliminary notices are also known as construction notices, notices to owner, NTOs, and pre-lien notices, but are distinguished from notices of intent to lien, monthly payment notices, and dunning letters; and they are sent at the start of a construction project before any payment disputes arise, and usually before any payments are due.

This page provides a guide, frequently asked questions, free preliminary notice forms, and all the information you need to know about preliminary notices. Whether you’re collecting and receiving notices, or you’re sending them, this information will help you understand and master the construction notice document and process.

Video: Guide to Preliminary Notices

Watch this fireside chat to learn what a Preliminary Notice does and the concrete steps you can take to speed up payment.

Preliminary Notice Frequently Asked Questions

Everything about preliminary notices is confusing. Even the name! Here are some common questions that will help you master them. Whether you need to send a notice, or are more likely to be collecting and receiving them, this guide will help you understand these notice documents and how to manage them.

What is the purpose of a preliminary notice?

There are many types of notices sent in the construction process. Most of the time, like as is the case with these preliminary notices, the notices are sent for the purposes of passing information between all the different parties on the job. That is precisely why this "Prelim" device exists.

Contractors and suppliers have clear mechanics lien rights on a job. In many cases, these are protected by the state's constitution! Over the years, especially starting in the 60s and 70s, property owners and construction lenders lobbied their government to help them protect against "surprise liens." The result of his lobbying was the creation of these pre-lien notices in many states. The purpose was to give owners and lenders the ability to know and track who was on their job, so that they could be proactive to avoid lien claims filed by them.

How do I fill out a preliminary notice?

The answer: very carefully!

Actually, filling out these documents is quite easy. The documents are pretty clear and contain a number of pretty simple fields. You'll need to identify yourself, identify who hired you, identify the job where work is being performed, and identify your work.

The real tricky part comes in filling in the fields that you may not know. You may not know, for example, who the construction lender is on the job, or even the property owner or general contractor.

For this, you may need to do some research. We've explored this in detail -- see "Research very important when sending notice documents..

This is also another reason why a Preliminary Notice Service or Software may be helpful. Here's our Review of the 10 Best Preliminary Notice Services in the nation.

What information is required on a preliminary notice?

Generally speaking, prelim documents must include the following information:
  • Your name, address, and phone number
  • Name, address, phone of company that hired you
  • Address or identification of the job
  • Identification of your work
  • Name, Address, phone number of the General Contractor
  • Name, Address, phone number of the Property Owner
  • Name, Address, phone number of the Construction Lender
  • Text blocks required by the state law

However, this is really dependent on your specific job. These notice documents are very different depending on your state, and even the type of project being worked.

Can I file a mechanics lien if I didn't send preliminary notice?

The answer to this question depends. If you're required to send a preliminary notice, and you don't, you'll likely not have the right to file a mechanics lien. However, if you aren't required to send a notice (and in many cases, notices are not strictly required), you may still be able to file the lien. We explored this in more detail here: Can I still file a mechanics lien if I didn't send notice?

Can someone file a mechanics lien against my job if they didn't send a notice?

This is just another version of the previous frequently asked question, "Can I file a mechanics lien if I didn't send notice?" This is a really common question, and is exactly the right first question to ask if your job has been hit with a lien

If a contractor or supplier filed a mechanics lien against your job, and they were required to send a preliminary notice, the lien is invalid if the notice was not sent, or was not sent properly.

The key thing here is to determine whether a preliminary notice was or was not required. To do this, check out our state-by-state preliminary notice resources & FAQs. You should be able to figure out whether your contractor was required to send a notice.

If a notice was required, the next thing to determine is whether it was sent correctly. If it wasn't sent at all, that's easy. If it was sent, you may still have a chance of invalidating the lien if the notice wasn't sent correctly. You can also figure this out with our FAQs. Look at the method of notice delivery required and compared that to how the notice was delivered. Also, look at who was required to receive the notice, and what the notice was required to say.

Finally, if you find that the notice was not sent or sent correctly, the lien is likely invalid. However, this doesn't mean the lien just disappears. Mechanic liens are quite sticky and you can't just get it wiped off the title. You need to file some type of court action to get it removed. But, you'll likely have a pretty good case.

Check out these questions posted on our Expert Center for more information on this:

Is a "preliminary notice" the same as a NTO, a pre-lien notice, etc.

The "preliminary notice" goes by a lot of different names. Some of these are pre-lien notice, or just pre-liens, or notice to owner, notice to contractor, NTO, etc. The list really does go on and on.

But, the document is also NOT some other things. It is not a Notice of intent to lien, or a Notice of Completion, or a Notice of Commencement, for example. These are other things.

Is a subcontractor covered by the notice sent by their material supplier?

No!! This is a huge misconception. You aren’t covered by your material supplier’s preliminary notices. For that matter, you’re not covered by your subcontractors’ preliminary notices, either. We wrote about this question in, Are You Covered By Your Material Supplier’s Notice? (Nope)

Do I need to collect a lien waiver from contractors who didn't send preliminary notices?

Collecting and tracking lien waivers is a real pain. Many companies try to simplify the process by just requesting and collecting lien waivers from the contractors, suppliers, and vendors who send preliminary notices. While this could be a good practice, it could also be dangerous.

This could be a good practice when a state has clear preliminary notice requirements. If the state's laws are not crystal clear about preliminary notices, then this is a bad, and dangerous idea.

However, even when the state's preliminary notice laws are clear, it is still problematic, because you must keep track of when notices are required and when they are not. In other words, someone who didn't send you a preliminary notice (but wasn't required to) is still able to file a lien! And every state has exceptions to their notice rules. . See, for example, Can I File A Lien Even If I Didn't Send Notice?, and Can I include preliminary notice in my contract?.

Keeping track of two things (i.e. did someone send notice? were they required to?) is harder than keeping track of one thing (i.e. did I get a lien waiver from the contractor?). As such, it's probably possible to employ this practice, but it's not a best practice, and is more complicated than meets the eye.

Can I deliver preliminary notices by hand?

This depends, but usually the answer is yes. The better question is WHETHER you should deliver these notices by hand. There are a ton of reasons to not do this, most notably, because you want to have proof of delivery. Read more here: Can I deliver preliminary notices by hand?

Most of the time, a contractor or supplier must send their notice by some type of certified mail. This could be certified mail with return receipt requested, registered mail, or just plain certified mail. The most popular is plain certified mail, but it's crucial to check the rules in your state and comply with those rules explicitly.

Should notices be sent on all projects?

Yes. Regardless of whether the notice is required, or not, it's a best practice to send notices on all jobs, and to collect notices on all jobs. Notices help everyone and make payment go much more smoothly, and quickly. Read more in You Don’t Send Preliminary Notice on All of Your Projects. But Should You?, and 3 Reasons to Send Voluntary Notices.

Can I cancel a preliminary notice?

No. As we explored in A General Contractor Asked Me to Cancel My Preliminary Notice. What Should I Do?, this is not really a thing. In short, there’s no reason to ever cancel a preliminary notice. There’s no way to formally cancel a notice document – the mechanism doesn’t even exist. Therefore, not only is it not necessary to cancel a notice, it’s not even possible.

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Free Preliminary Notice Resources & FAQs

Is notice required in your state? The below United States map will give you an answer at a quick glance. Explore our preliminary notice resources more fully, which includes thousands of forms, charts, blog articles, and more, by clicking on the state your interested in learning more about below.

Private Projects
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  • Public Projects
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  • Preliminary notice NOT required
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  • Preliminary notice NOT required

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Preliminary Notice Service That Helps You

Join the thousands of contractors who are empowered & helped by Levelset

Sending and managing preliminary notices is an important task, but can be tedious and complicated. This is why many companies turn to third-party services and tools to help get the notice process right.

At Levelset, we help thousands of contractors and suppliers across the country with their notice processes (and getting paid faster!). Our notice service combines easy to use web-based software with payment experts on your side. Just take a look at all the positive reviews from contractors across the country. We help thousands of administrators, business owners, and accountants just like you.

Levelset, founded in 2007 by construction attorneys and technologists, is headquartered in New Orleans, LA, and has a team of over 150 that helps thousands of contractors and suppliers every day with the preliminary notice process, project research, and more. The company has been building its technology platform and preliminary notice services now for over 12 years, and is always there for its users, as reflected in the 800+ 5-Star reviews published on reputable, third-party sites.

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