Just Trying to Get Paid

Here's a long story with color commentary about getting stiffed on a job, filing a lien, contacting the owner, and finally picking up a check. September 27, 2008

I've been building for about ten years and most of what I do is custom commissions - 50% down balance at delivery. I've been building doors now for a few years and I got connected with a GC to do doors for a historic renovation project. This is the first time I've been one of a dozen subs on a job. I installed these eight doors not too long ago and I'm still waiting for about half the money. The GC says they are waiting on a check, and mine will go out when it comes in. How is this my problem? I, along with any other sub on the job has to use credit to buy their materials - why doesn't the GC have to use any to pay people? Am I being unreasonable here? It’s been like 90 days.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
I won't play by their rules - only mine. I will work for the home owner directly and will be paid by the homeowner only. I have plenty of work without playing games. I get a few this way, but most of them I run off with my terms. Did you have a contract with your terms?

From the original questioner:
I did provide the GC with a conditional (upon final payment) lien release. I will try sending a letter, my phone calls have got me nowhere - the guy actually got upset with me for joking about not getting paid! I will think twice about taking commercial work in the future. Too many headaches.

From contributor J:
I'm not sure where you are at but get involved with the ASA or ABC in your area and start learning about contracts, taking whatever classes they offer. Find out how to protect yourself and what exactly the terminology means. ASA is nice because you get to speak with other subs about the pay and work habits of the GC's in your area in a legal setting.

From contributor B:
I think we all hesitate to use a mechanic's lien, but they are effective, and don't have to be a hostile action. We politely explain to all of the GC's that we work with that if they don't have a check for us on the installation date we will file a mechanic's lien until the invoice is paid. Most legitimate businessmen (and women) understand that we are just protecting our best interests, and that we will waive the lien as soon as we are paid with no hard feelings.

From the original questioner:
Well you couldn't pay me enough to work with this company again - so getting more work from them is not a concern! I'll be checking with the owner of the site to verify if they have closed out the job yet with the GC. If they have, can I still apply for the lien? If not, I can always go pull the doors and run.

From contributor B:
Be careful pulling the doors. In some states it does not matter if you have been paid or not, once the product is installed it is not yours to "uninstall" and if you take it you are then committing theft. I found this out the hard way back in the 90's.

From contributor O:
Contributor J's posts are something to look into before taking back your doors. It seems the way the law is written it protects home owners, Builders ( GC's) and the banking system, sub-contractors and cabinetmakers have little to fall back on.

Wouldn't it be nice when a builder shows up at the bank with your invoice in hand, and gets a draw to pay the bill, the money goes to paying the invoice directly.

From the original questioner:
I checked with the party paying the GC and the job isn't closed yet - there is a small amount of painting work left to do in the spring - so no check on the way from them. I called the GC back, asked if I could pick up a check, they said no. I haven't been able to talk to the right guy there, but when he doesn't return calls I was told by the administrator my 5k wouldn't be on the top of his list. I guess the lien will get his attention. Too bad it has to go this way.

From the original questioner:
I guess the law isn't on my side here either. It states: Subcontractor to give notice. (a) Every person who contributes to the improvement of real property so as to be entitled to a lien pursuant to section 514.01, except a party under direct contract with the owner must, as a necessary prerequisite to the validity of any claim or lien, cause to be given to the owner or the owner's authorized agent, either by personal delivery or by certified mail, not later than 45 days after the lien claimant has first furnished labor, skill or
materials for the improvement.

So, even the state thinks 90 days is too long to wait, although there may be an exception to the pre-lien notice since this isn't a residential property. Any other thoughts?

From contributor A:
Take the doors and deal with the legal consequences later. They will not go that route because the GC will not tick off the customer.

The other option is to get in contact with the customer directly if possible. Explain to him the situation. Make it clear that you need to be paid or you will have no choice but to place a lien on his property.

You are about to enter the big blame game. Make sure that you blame the GC, because the customer is already doing that for other reasons that you are not privy to. Do not let the 90 day lien period expire without speaking directly with the customer if possible. Keep in mind that you should not work for this GC ever again. Do not be afraid to step on his toes.

I got burnt last year for trusting a trust worthy contractor, but the architect was bad mouthing me in the background to the customer. It held up my payment for six months.

From the original questioner:
Well I gave the GC one more week and they blew me off again. So I'll be talking with the customer and if they aren't able to cut me a check I'll be filing for the lien or picking up the doors. Thanks for the support and advice.

From the original questioner:
Well I got resolution. I made another call to the property owner, explained the situation, mentioned the word lien and two hours later get a call from the GC. I can pick up the check with my final lien waiver.