The Importance of a Notice of Completion to Contractors, Subcontractors and Suppliers

The recording of a valid “Notice of Completion” with the County Recorder is an event of significance to owners, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers alike. The recording of a Notice of Completion is one of several methods used to trigger the time period for the recording of mechanics liens and service of stop payment notices. Although the recording of a Notice of Completion is not absolutely required on any given project, all those working in the construction industry should understand its significance.

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Understand how the Mechanics’ Lien Deadline Depends on the Validity of the Notice of Completion

Working within deadlines is absolutely crucial to preserving mechanics lien rights under California law. The deadlines differ, depending on whether you are a ”direct” contractor, also known as “original” or “prime” contractor (one who contracts directly with the property owner) or a subcontractor or material supplier. The primary differences are that except as to serving the construction lender if any, the direct contractor is not required to serve a “Preliminary Notice” (Civil Code section 8200-8216), whereas the subcontractor and material supplier are required to do so. Another difference is that a direct contractor has a longer period of time in which to record a mechanics lien after a valid “notice of completion” or a “notice of cessation” has been recorded (Civil Code sections 8180-8190), (60 days for original contractors as compared to 30 days for subcontractors and suppliers – See Civil Code sections 8412 and 8414).

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Penalty for Failure to Release Expired Liens

I was recently contacted by a commercial building owner in the process of trying to sell the building. Two years prior to this, a subcontractor had recorded a mechanics’ lien with the local County Recorder’s office in relation to the owner’s property. The subcontractor recorded the mechanics lien after the subcontractor was not paid by a prime contractor for work the subcontractor had performed on the property. Unfortunately for the subcontractor, the subcontractor then failed to file a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien within the requisite ninety (90) day time period for filing a lawsuit to foreclose on the mechanics’ lien. Since the subcontractor missed this 90 day deadline to file the mechanics lien foreclosure lawsuit, the mechanics lien expired.

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Why Bonding Around a California Mechanics’ Lien can Unintentionally Extend the Deadline to File a Mechanics’ Lien Lawsuit by Six Months or More

Where California mechanics’ liens are concerned there are few dates, the passages of which are more appreciated by property owners than the last day to file a lawsuit to foreclose on a mechanics’ lien. This is because unless the deadline to file a lawsuit to foreclose on the mechanics lien has been extended by a properly drafted and notarized “Notice of Credit” which has been duly recorded with the County Recorder in the county where the property is located, under California Civil Code section 8460, the deadline to file such a lawsuit will expire ninety (90) days after the mechanics lien was recorded. While exceptions may possibly exist when that date falls on a holiday or weekend, for the most part the 90th day is the absolute drop dead date for filing a suit. After that date the mechanics’ lien automatically expires and is no longer enforceable.

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When will a Mechanics’ Lien Claimant be Paid in Full Before the Mortgage or Deed of Trust Holder? (The “Relation Back” Doctrine)

The usual rule in California is that the first to file documents of record with the County Recorder impacting on title to property have priority over later filed documents. This general rule allows, among other things, lenders to view the title to property before granting a loan on the property. The lender can then see if there are existing encumbrances on the property in question. Unfortunately for lenders, this practice does not always work in the case of mechanics’ liens.

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What do you do about your Mechanics’ Lien When the Developer Files Bankruptcy?

The California mechanics’ lien is a powerful tool for contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers to secure payment of unpaid construction related debts. The goal of the mechanics’ lien is to force a sale of the real property where the work was performed in order to obtain the funds necessary to pay the delinquent debt. Under the usual procedure, the first step is the recording of mechanics’ lien in the chain of title to the property at the County Recorder’s office. A lawsuit must then be filed in state civil court within ninety days after the mechanics’ lien is recorded. The goal of the lawsuit is to foreclose on the mechanics’ lien. A successful foreclosure lawsuit will result in a court mandated sale of the property. The proceeds of the sale will be used to pay the unpaid construction debt originally secured by the recording of the mechanics’ lien. While this may seem an oversimplification, it is necessary to grasp this basic process in order to understand the complications discussed below.

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