California Preliminary Notice Guide and FAQs

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California Preliminary Notice FAQs

About California Preliminary 20-Day Notices

California Preliminary Notice Rules
At A Glance


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Preliminary Notices Are Required

California requires preliminary notices at the start of every construction job. Frequently called "20 day notices," these documents must be sent by every job participant.


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GCs Must Send Notice

General contractors must send preliminary notices if the job has a lender on it. The notice must be sent to the lender. GCs must send this notice within 20 days from the job's beginning.


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Subcontractors Must Send Notice

Subcontractors must send preliminary 20-Day notices in California to the owner, prime contractor, and lender (if any). The notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing materials or labor.


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Suppliers Must Send Notice

Material suppliers, equipment renters, and other vendors must send preliminary 20-Day notices in California to the owner, prime contractor, and lender (if any). The notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing materials or labor.


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You Can Send Notices Late

California allows late notices. The 20 day notice can be sent late and still be effective to preserve lien rights, but its effectiveness starts only 20 days before the notice was sent. In other words, lien rights are only preserved for work/materials provided in the preceding 20 days.


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Send Notices to Owner, GC, & Lender

In California, the 20 day preliminary notice must be sent to the general contractor, the property owner, and the construction lender. General contractors, since they contracted directly with the owner, only need to send notice to the construction lender.

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Preliminary Notices Are Required

Public jobs (i.e. city, state, government) in California require preliminary notices be sent at the start of the project.


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No Notice Required from GCs

On public jobs, any claims for non-payment are made against the general contractor's bond. Since GCs will not make a claim against their own bond for non-payment, they do not have bond claim rights, and have no preliminary notice requirement.


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Subs Must Send Notice

Subcontractors must send preliminary 20-Day notices in California to the public entity commissioning work, prime contractor, and the surety (if known). The notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing materials or labor.


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DAYS
Suppliers Must Send Notice

Suppliers must send preliminary 20-Day notices in California to the public entity commissioning work, prime contractor, and the surety (if known). The notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing materials or labor.


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You Can Send Notices Late

California allows late notices on public projects. If sent late, a prelim notice on a public job is effective for all the work or materials furnished by the contractor/supplier starting from 20 days before the notice was sent.


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Send Notices To Public Entity, GC, and Surety

Prelims on California state, county, city, and other government projects must be sent to the public entity commissioning the work, the general contractor (i.e. prime contractor), and to the surety (if the surety is known).

California Preliminary Notices (also called 20-day notices) are sent by contractors and suppliers on construction projects in the state to share information about who is on each job and to preserve mechanics lien rights. California prelims are a well-known and highly observed process that helps contractors, developers, lenders, and suppliers smoothly work together on projects. Preliminary notices are required on all California jobs — both private (i.e. commercial, residential, etc.) and public (i.e. state, county, etc.).

The preliminary notice requirement in California is strict.

Contractors, suppliers, and vendors who do not send a preliminary notice will lose their mechanics lien rights and are at a higher risk of non-payment. It is well established that contractors & suppliers who send California preliminary notices get paid faster, mostly because they help owners & GCs with critical parts of the payment process. You can see this confirmed by many sources. Attorney James Wakefield, for example, writes how “preliminary notices will help you get paid faster.”  Smiley Law Firm argues that contractors can “Improve cash flow with a preliminary notice.” Preliminary notices are key to get paid faster according to the AGC’s Constructor magazine’s “Under Used Methods to Get Paid Fast in Construction.”

This means that job participants ought to send these notices on every job.  In fact, since the notice requirement is so crucial to the state’s construction payment process, these notices are required, and a contractor can be fined by the California State Licensing Board for not sending a preliminary notice. Yikes!

For construction lenders, developers, and general contractors, it’s important to collect and track the notices received from subs & suppliers. Construction notice documents contain important information about who is on the job. Since everyone who sends these notices will have mechanics lien rights on the job, it’s crucial to keep track of all these parties, and to request & collect lien waivers from them.

And it’s important to want to receive these documents.  After all, according to Construction Executive magazine, more preliminary notices = less lien claims. This is good for everyone!

In California, everyone who does not contract with the property owner must send a preliminary notice within 20 days of first furnishing labor or materials to the construction project. Notice must be sent to the property owner, the general contractor, and the construction lender (if applicable). If that the deadline is missed, a preliminary notice can still be sent, but it will only protect labor and/or materials furnished in the 20 days prior to the date the notice was made.

Everyone directly contracted with the property owner must send a preliminary notice only if there’s a construction lender for the project. This means that general contractors in California are not always exempt from the preliminary notice requirement.

Construction participants in California also have the ability to file their preliminary notice with the county recorder’s office. The benefit to doing so is that the party recording the notice is supposed to be notified directly by the recorder’s office if a notice of completion or cessation is filed. Since lien deadlines in California are determined by the completion of the project as a whole, this can be a help. However, since all parties merely delivering (and not filing) a preliminary 20-day notice are also to receive notice when/if a notice of completion/cessation are filed, and there is no penalty or liability for the recorder’s office failing to send notification, the benefit might be less than it otherwise appears.

Preparing California preliminary notices must be done carefully. The law requires the form contain certain information and text, that it be sent a certain way, and more. This page provides an overview and more information about California’s preliminary notice requirement, including frequently asked questions, forms, guides, and other helpful information.

Preliminary Notice Frequently Asked Questions

If you're sending preliminary notices in California, it's important to get all the details right. If you're receiving prelims, it's important to know what you're looking at and know what to do in followup. Since prelims are subject to a lot of complex rules and requirements, this can all be difficult. Not to mention that the process is tedious for everyone involved. These are some frequently asked questions about the California preliminary notice process.

Prelim FAQs on Private Projects

Do I Need to Send a California Preliminary Notice?

Yes. California law requires that a preliminary notice must be sent prior to recording a mechanics lien, giving stop payment notice, or asserting a claim against a payment bond as a prerequisite for validity.  Plus, California law requires that every job participant sent preliminary notice.  So, the answer is a resounding and clear yes.

And further, it’s important to send the right document, to the right people, in the right way, at the right time!  Not getting every detail right could invalidate the entire thing.

Not sending a California prelim can create a lot of problems.

First and foremost, anyone who doesn’t send preliminary notice will lose their mechanics lien rights. This is important to contractors and suppliers. In the event of slow payment or non-payment, the ability to file a mechanics lien will be super crucial.

Second, not sending a preliminary notice in California can actually get you fined by the licensing board!  We explored this in “Get Fined if you don’t send California’s preliminary notice,” which took a look at California Civil Code §8126, which provides for “disciplinary action” for not giving this notice.

Third, since sending a notice makes payment faster, not sending or collecting these notices slows down the payment process for everyone, and most importantly, you.

It is important note two exceptions: (1) A pure laborer is not required to give preliminary notice; and (2) Anyone with a direct contractual relationship with the property owner is only required to give preliminary notice to the construction lender, and only if the project has a lender.

Read more about the requirement in our Ultimate Guide to California’s 20 Day Preliminary Notice.

Can a contractor or supplier file a lien on my job if they didn't send a preliminary notice?

If you are the lender, developer/owner, or general contractor on a California project, and haven’t received a preliminary notice from someone, you may be wondering, “can they file a lien on the job?” It’s extremely common to ask this question when someone files a lien on the job and they didn’t send a notice.

Before jumping into this question, it’s important to make the point that a contractor or supplier can file a mechanics lien against a job even if they don’t have the right to file. This is an important distinction. Our construction payment experts explored this issue in an Expert Center Q&A about this very issue here — Can a supplier who hasn’t sent a preliminary notice still file a California mechanics lien? As explained by attorney Nate Budde, “County recorders rarely work as gatekeepers to prohibit the filing of liens that may be invalid.”

So, someone who hasn’t sent a preliminary notice CAN file a lien on your job.  But, that lien is likely invalid!

Sending a preliminary notice is an absolute requirement in California with very few and rare exceptions. As such, anyone who doesn’t send a prelim is likely without lien rights.  As such, any liens filed by them are invalid.

If a mechanics lien is filed against your California project by someone without a lien right, you’ll need to contest/fight to remove the lien. There are a few great places with information to help you with this:

  1.  Levelset Q&A Center:  I Need Advice on How To Fight A Lien On My Property Placed By An Unlicensed Laborer
  2. From Sacramento Public Law Library:  Petition to Remove A Mechanics Lien.

When do I Need to Send a California Preliminary Notice?

The notice must be given no later than 20 days after the claimant has first furnished labor or materials to fully protect the lien claimant. A lien claimant who failed to provide a 20-day notice within 20 days of first providing labor or materials may provide the notice at a later date, but will only retain lien rights for materials and/or labor furnished within the 20 days preceding the late notice, and the labor and/or materials provided thereafter.

It’s common to wonder…what if you send notices too late, and can you send notices too early? Check out these articles:

What if I Send the California Preliminary Notice Late?

If you miss the required date, all is not necessarily lost. California prelims can be sent late…but not too late.

The best practice is to send your preliminary notice on time, so let’s quickly review that.  A notice is sent on time if it is sent within 20 days of starting work or first providing materials to a job. So, contractors and suppliers want to send their notices out right at the start of a project.  There is an interesting question about whether you can send notices “early,” and we see that question often. You can see that answer here: Can I send a California Preliminary Notice Early? And the answer is yes, you can send these early.

But what about sending them late?

California prelims can be sent late, but will only retain lien rights for materials and/or labor furnished within the 20 days preceding the late notice, and the labor and/or materials provided thereafter.

A notice should be filed, even if it is late, because the failure to provide a notice at all is absolutely fatal to a mechanics lien in California. You can read more about sending late preliminary notices in our Ultimate Guide to California Preliminary Notice.

How Should the California Preliminary Notice be Sent?

The Preliminary 20-day Notice shall be given by registered or certified mail, express mail, or overnight delivery by an express service carrier.  Return receipt requested is not required, and as described in our comprehensive write-up on the different methods of sending preliminary notice, it’s generally not a good idea to send notices by “return receipt requested” unless you are absolutely required to. For many of the same reasons, you should not deliver your CA prelim by hand.  While it may technically be allowed, it has problems.

One problem is proof.

A key part of sending preliminary notices in California is to make sure you can prove you’ve sent it, and more specifically, that you have the proof required by the statutes. This proof is called a “Declaration of Delivery.”  You may also want to refer to “What you need to keep track of when sending preliminary notices.”

Do I Have to Send the California Preliminary Notice to Someone Other than the Owner?

Yes. In California on private jobs, the preliminary notice must be given to the owner or reputed owner, the direct contractor, and the construction lender (if any).  If there is a tenant on the property, you may also want to consider sending a notice to the tenant, as this is a best practice and may negatively impact your lien rights.

Don’t know who the property owner is?  This is common, but this is a pretty easy one to figure out. Check out this guide to Finding the Property Owner when preparing California Preliminary Notices.

More complicated is figuring out who the construction lender is, or even the general contractor.  This is a common and complex issue without many easy answers, and we explored it in our Ultimate Guide to California Preliminary Notices: How to Find The GC, Owner, Lender, Surety. The short answer is you have the right to request this information, and by making the requests, you are protecting yourself.  But, unfortunately, the law is unclear about what happens if the other party doesn’t give it you!  This has been asked a few times in our Expert Center, which you can find, as an example, with these two questions:  about how to find a lenderabout when a contractor refuses to answer a Pre-Lien Info Request.

The best practice is to just make the request, and do as much diligence as possible.  As mentioned in our Ultimate Guide, this is one of the major reasons why a preliminary notice service may be helpful.

Do I Need to File a California Preliminary Notice?

No. There is no requirement that a California preliminary notice be filed. However, California law specifically allows a construction participant to file a 20-day preliminary notice with the county recorder for the county in which the project is located. If the preliminary notice is filed, the county recorder’s office is required to inform the filing party when/if a notice of completion or cessation is filed with respect to the project. This can be useful for determining deadlines for retain age payments, and/or deadlines related to mechanics lien filings.

However, since there is no penalty or liability associated with the recorder’s failure to provide notice of a filed notice of completion/cessation to a notice filer, and any party delivering a 20-day preliminary notice to the owner and GC is to be notified of such filing anyway, the utility of recording the notice may not be worth the additional effort and filing fees.

Is the California Preliminary Notice Requirement met when sent or delivered?

In California, the preliminary notice must be sent within the 20-day notice period, and actual delivery is not required within the period. The requirement is considered met if properly sent within the period.

This is made explicit within California’s Code §8116, which provides that preliminary notice is “deemed to have been given…when deposited in the mail” in the appropriate manner.”

I've received a California preliminary notice. Now what do I do?

Preliminary notices are received by construction lenders, owners, developers, contractors, and others every day across California. If you have just received one, you may be wondering what to do in response, and what to do next. There are some best practices to follow.  But remember, this is a really good thing.  If you’re unconvinced, go take a look at this article, “Why you should love receiving preliminary notices!

This is a summary of a construction attorney expert’s answer to this question in the Expert Center: I received a preliminary notice. What to do next?:

  1. There really isn’t any required follow-up action;
  2. Make note of everyone identified on the notice, when it comes time for payment to flow on the job, you’ll need to track lien waivers from all these parties;

Another thing to add is that if something is wrong on the notice, you may want to follow up and get it corrected. If the notice you received was sent through Levelset, you can do this electronically in seconds right here:  Look up your Levelset document.

Prelim FAQs on Public Projects

Do I Need to Send A California Preliminary Notice?

On public jobs in California, a preliminary notice is required for most participants. If notice is not sent on the job, the participant will be unable to make a payment bond claim, or to use the Stop Notice process.

Everyone on California public jobs must send a preliminary notice except wage laborers and direct contractors (i.e. contractors who have a contract directly with the public body commissioning the work).  So, this means everyone else:  subcontractors, suppliers, equipment rental companies, vendors, etc.

The two exceptions as above identified are:

  • Direct Contractors:  The direct contractor — or general contractor — is the party who contracted directly with the public entity commissioning the work. Since any bond claims or stop notices will be against them, there is nothing for these parties to protect, and therefore, a preliminary notice is not required.  Note that on private job the opposite is true.
  • Wage laborers:  These are not contractors, but are the employees/wage laborers on a job. They are not required to send any preliminary notices.

When do I Need to Send a California Preliminary Notice?

For both stop notices and claims on the payment bond, preliminary notice (when required) must be given within 20 days after the claimant first furnishes labor and/or materials to the project. Service by mail is considered accomplished when mailed.

What if I Send the California Preliminary Notice Late?

If preliminary notice is not timely given, the claimant may still be entitled to a claim if notice is given prior to the completion of the project or the recordation of the notice of completion. However, this is not made clear by California statutes and there is some confusion related to the new changes to California law, and whether a claim may be completely lost by failure to give timely preliminary notice on a public project.

How Should the California Preliminary Notice be Sent?

For both stop notices and claims on the payment bond, preliminary notice (when required) must be given by certified or registered mail, or by personal service.

To Whom Must the California Preliminary Notice be Given?

For both stop notices and claims on the payment bond, preliminary notice (when required) must be given to the general contractor, and the public agency concerned. It may also be best practice to send the notice to the subcontractor with whom the claimant contracted, although this is no longer specifically required by statute.

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California Preliminary Notice Form Template

The California preliminary notice form is regulated by statute. This doesn’t mean that the form has to look a certain way, but it does mean that the document must contain certain information. The forms provided here for free by Levelset are compliant with the California rules. You can download them for free, or use our system to send or request them easily.

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California 20 Day Preliminary Notice Form

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