Florida Construction Lien Law (Contractor & Property Owner How to Guide)

Florida construction lien law

If you do work as a contractor or other service provider toward real property, then you should have a firm understanding of construction lien rights in Florida. Florida’s lien law balances the protection of contractors and property owners when it comes to receiving payment for home improvements and other construction contracts. Get your questions answered when it comes to construction liens with our comprehensive guide.

What Is a Construction Lien?

Construction liens are legal filings that contractors, suppliers, subcontractors, and others can place on property to recover owed compensation from homeowners and other real property owners. A construction lien in Florida provides notice to the property owner, lenders, and the public about their interest in the property. The lien holder can then seek to recover owed contract amounts through foreclosure of the real estate.

The construction industry generally involves many different parties that contribute a combination of materials and labor to complete a project. Some of these parties will have direct contracts with the owner of the property. Other parties, however, may only have indirect contracts through general contractors, subcontractors, etc. Florida’s lien rights allow these parties to reclaim unpaid contracts through liens on the property improved from their materials and efforts.

So, What Is a Contractor’s Lien and a Mechanic’s Lien?

The state legislature changed Florida mechanic’s lien statute and retitled it as the contractor’s lien statute, although you will often hear both terms used interchangeably. The statutory framework of the contractor’s lien exists to fill a gap between Florida’s common law, which relied on principles of contract law to enforce rights related to construction contracts. The gap exists because of the nature of the industry where multiple parties participate in a construction project and not all are in privity with each other.

As a result, the construction lien law attempts to balance the interests of homeowners with the interests of the parties who contract on the real property. Some of the parties who may have a claim of lien (i.e., a lienor) because of nonpayment on a contract include:

  • Contractors
  • General contractors
  • Subcontractors
  • Laborers
  • A materialman who contracts with a contractor or subcontractor (i.e., someone who provides materials to a project or job site but does not provide any labor on the installation)
  • Other material suppliers

A person or business that provides certain professional services for the improvement of real property can also have a valid lien claim. Under Florida Statute, professional service liens are available to:

  • Architects
  • Landscape architects
  • Engineers
  • Interior designers
  • Surveyors and mappers

Additionally, Florida requires that contractors have all requisite licensing for the work related to a lien for it to be enforceable.

When Can a Contractor File a Lien?

A contractor can file a lien before, during, or, for a limited time, after the commencement of work on the construction project. To file a valid lien, the contractor must be careful to follow specific statutory requirements for perfecting the lien (e.g., written notices, time limits, and other recording rules).

In other words, it is never too early to file a contractor’s lien so long as required notices to the homeowner and other parties have been given.

What Happens When a Mechanic’s Lien Is Filed?

When a contractor places a mechanic’s lien on a property, the lien holder has the opportunity to force the sale of the property through foreclosure. The contractor with the lien can then take a share of the sale proceeds in the amount of the unpaid contract price.

How Long Does a Contractor Have to File a Lien?

A contractor only has 90 days from the earlier of two possible events to file a contractor’s lien in Florida. That time limit is either 90 days from the last day the claimant provided work or materials to the property or 90 days from the contract’s termination.

How Long is a Mechanic’s Lien Good For?

The duration that a mechanic’s lien is valid in Florida is generally one year after the date the lien’s recorded. However, that time limit can extend or shorten through under different circumstances that require filing an amended lien claim or commencing an action in court.

How to Put a Lien on a Property in Florida

Contractors and others who work in the construction industry should know how to file a construction lien in Florida because it is an invaluable tool for preserving your contractual rights to payment.

The mechanic’s lien process can be complex because of Florida’s strict construction of the lien statute and because of its many rules that are difficult to follow without a legal background. Parties to a construction contract should seek appropriate legal advice when wondering how to file a construction lien. The attorneys at Cueto Law Group are always available for a consultation to discuss construction liens and their notice requirements.

1. File a Florida Notice to Owner

The first step to perfecting a security interest through a contractor’s lien is to send a lien notice letter to the property owner. You must generally file a notice to the homeowner before recording your lien with the county clerk’s office or within 15 days of recording. Failing to provide timely notice can prevent a lien claimant from pursuing available remedies such as foreclosure.

How to File a Notice to Owner in Florida

The notice of lien to an owner in Florida (and the lien itself) must contain key information about the parties, the nature of the contract giving rise to the lien, and other precise language required under the lien statute. Similar to the time limits for giving the lien notice letter, defects in the contents of your notice may create a defense for the property owner to challenge or avoid liability from the lien. Below are some of the essential items a lien notice letter must include.

Names and Contact Information of the Involved Parties

You will provide your legal name and address as the contractor in addition to the name and address of the party to whom you are providing labor and materials. Be sure to use your company’s name as it appears in certain state filings (e.g., articles of organization, contractor licenses, etc.) and as it appears on your contract with the homeowner.

A Description of the Property Subject to the Lien

The lien notice letter must provide a sufficient description of the property to properly inform the owner. This description could be a full legal description of the property in addition to a street address and parcel or tax lot identification number associated with the real estate.

An Explanation of the Work You Contributed to the Construction Project

You will want to provide a statement on the work you did to improve the property subject to the lien. This will include any labor, materials, and other services. The statement should also mention the contract price for the project or an estimate of your work’s value.

Information about the Property Owner

Sometimes, the property owner will be the same as the party with whom you are contracting. The owner could also be a different individual or entity in other cases, which will require their information in the notice (i.e., name and address). To verify the owner of a property, you can check deeds and property tax records to avoid quiet title action Florida surprises or other issues of ownership.

Other Details about the Construction Contract

In addition to a statement on the scope of your work for the project, you will need to include other facts about the arrangement. Generally, this means including the total contract price along with any unpaid amounts or outstanding balances. Florida strictly limits the amount you can recover under a contractor’s lien to the exact amount owed under the contract price (i.e., to avoid unjust enrichment), which often excludes amounts related to attorney’s fees, construction liquidated damages, or other costs accrued to enforce the lien.

The lien should also include dates for when you first and last provided work or materials for the project.

Don’t Forget to Include the Required Statutory Warning Language

The lien and lien notice letter must provide precise restatements of certain language from the contractor lien statute. The purpose of this language is to provide the homeowner with proper notice about the lien claim and what rights and obligations they may have under the law.

Obtain Proof of Service of Delivered Notice

You must provide proper proof of service that complies with Florida law to give effect to a recorded lien. Florida primarily requires lien holders to provide actual delivery of notice to the individual or in the case of another legal entity (e.g., partnership, corporation, LLC), through service to a partner, officer, manager, or other registered agents.

You can also provide service through the use of a common carrier or certified mail. If either of those options does not work, then you may be able to post the notice on the site of the improvement.

2. Record the Lien with the Local County Clerk

After completing the lien form and providing notice to the homeowner, your next step will be to record the lien with the local county clerk. You will record the lien and pay applicable filing fees with the county clerk of the county where the lien property is located. In cases where the property exists in multiple counties, you should file the lien with each applicable county. Again, pay close attention to all filing deadlines and formatting requirements to avoid the clerk’s rejection of your lien.

3. File an Amended Lien Claim if Necessary

Depending on the timing and scope of your construction project, it may be necessary to file an amended lien claim. You should consider filing an amended lien claim to reflect additional work or materials you provide to the project along with any additional unpaid amounts. The amended lien should state the revised last date of work on the project and be filed in the same manner (with the same notices) as the original lien.

Filing an amendment is key to preserving and extending the enforcement period for your lien (i.e., one year from the date of filing the amended lien claim).

4. Enforce the Lien Against the Property Owner

You have one year to enforce your lien claim once recorded with the county recorder. To enforce the lien, you must begin by filing a civil lawsuit in the county court where you recorded the lien to obtain a permanent judgment lien. After you commence a legal action to enforce a lien, it will remain valid until the resolution of the lawsuit.

5. Discharge or Release the Lien Once Paid in Full

If you receive final payment for your construction contract, then you can relate the homeowner’s debt through a discharge of contractor’s lien. The discharge is a filing recorded with the county where you filed the original lien, and the process is similar to the initial lien filing.

Need Help Navigating Florida Lien Law?

The attorneys at Cueto Law Group enjoy every opportunity to help contractors and related parties with issues related to Florida construction lien laws. Our business attorneys are available to assist with your construction contracts while our litigation lawyers provide guidance and representation when it comes to filing and enforcing your rights under a lien. Please consider scheduling a consultation if you have any questions about contractor liens or the information within this article.

Contact Cueto Law Group today.

How to Dispute a Lien on Your Property

A contractor may improperly place a lien on your property. While annoying, you have several options for disputing the lien. Several steps can help in the process of disputing a lien and eventually having the contractor (or a court) remove the lien from your home.

1. Collect Payment Records and Other Documents

As a general rule, keep all documents related to the construction project, which may include:

  • Invoices
  • Checks and other evidence of payment
  • A copy of the written contract
  • Any lien waivers provided from the contractor or subcontractors
  • Correspondence and other documents
  • Photos of completed or unfinished work

If you lack any information about the contractor or outstanding account balances, you can make a written demand for a copy of the contract and statements of account. The contractor must provide these items as though they were statements made under oath. Additionally, when making the final payment, you should request a final payment affidavit from the contractor, which serves as proof of payment and a waiver to future lien claims related to the project.

2. Consider a Florida Notice of Contest of Lien

A Florida notice of contest of lien is a legal filing you can submit to the county clerk, which places a 60-day time limit on the lien holder’s opportunity to file a lawsuit to obtain a permanent judgment and foreclosure. The county clerk will then provide notice to the lien claimant using the address given on the most recent lien. If the lien holder does not initiate further action, then the lien discharges from the property.

3. A Florida Action to Show Cause May Also Help

Alternatively, you may opt for a Florida action to show cause, which is a legal filing submitted to the county court instead of recorded with the county clerk. Once filed, the lien holder has 20 days to either file an enforcement action or submit a reason for not yet starting an enforcement action (e.g., awaiting payment from a general contractor). Failure to properly respond to a property owner’s action to show cause can force the court to discharge the lien.

4. Meet with a Contractor’s Lien Attorney

Construction projects and related liens often present many different opportunities for dispute because of miscommunications about payment, unmet expectations related to the work product, or other shortfalls. As a property owner, you should retain all records related to home improvement projects with contractors. If you need help disputing a lien, consult with a Florida construction attorney from Cueto Law to discuss the available options that may provide the most cost-efficient and effective resolution of your matter.

How to Get a Release of Lien on a House in Florida

Property owners with an unwarranted lien on their property may need to take additional steps to obtain a release of lien. Removing clouds on title such as a lien are important for being able to sell, transfer, or use the property as security for another transaction. Below are some steps you may consider taking.

1. Submit a Florida Discharge of Lien

The simplest way to release a lien on a property is to have the lien holder submit a Florida discharge of lien with the county recorder of the initially filed lien. The discharge of lien has a similar process and requires providing information about the original lien and underlying contractor work:

  • Names and addresses of the property
  • A description of the property
  • A statement about the scope of work
  • Dates of final payment and when the contractor last provided labor or materials
  • Information about the owner of the property

2. Wait for the Lien to Expire

You could also wait for the lien to expire, which will happen one year from the date the contractor filed it. However, this option may not be suitable if you have already provided final payment or if you have other reasons to remove the lien (i.e., future sale, lending, etc.).

3. File a Notice of Contest or Action to Show Cause

If the contractor will not voluntarily release the lien through recording a discharge of lien, then you may have to file a notice of contest or action to show cause. The appropriate method will likely depend on your goals and relationship with the lien holder.

Need Advice on How to Fight a Mechanic’s Lien on Your Property?

Florida mechanic’s lien laws exist equally to protect the rights and interests of homeowners from improper collection and foreclosure of debt on their real estate. Our attorneys are available to challenge and defend against inaccurate liens placed on your property that lack compliance with Florida law.

Schedule a consultation with Cueto Law Group about fighting a mechanic’s lien.

Our Final Points on Florida Construction Lien Law

Florida construction lien laws provide important recourse to contractors, subcontractors, and others who contribute to the improvement of real estate when it comes to receiving final payment. Likewise, lien statutes also serve to protect homeowners through the various notice requirements and other strict compliance with the recording and enforcement of a lien.

Homeowners and contracts alike may benefit from legal advice at every stage of the construction lien process to reduce the risk of actions that may serve as a waiver or defense to a lien claim.

FAQs on Florida Lien Laws

The following are some short answers to other common questions you may have about Florida lien laws.

If a Contractor Does Not Get Paid for His Work, What Kind of Lien Will He File?

A contractor, who’s owed final payment for his work or materials provided towards a residential property or commercial property, will file what is known as a contractor’s lien. In Florida, these are sometimes called mechanics’ liens. Florida’s construction lien statute provides the requirements for recording and enforcing such liens.

Additionally, if the contractor provides professional services, (e.g., architecture work), then it may be known as a professional services lien.

Can a Contractor Put a Lien on My House with No Contract?

A written contract is not always necessary for a contractor to put a lien on a house. However, the contractor will likely have to supply evidence of the unpaid amounts or property improvements. The contractor may also have to provide written notices (e.g., mandatory notices for direct contracts over $2,500).

Can You File a Lien Without a Notice to Owner in Florida?

Although you can file a lien without first giving notice to the owner, the Florida notice to owner rules requires that you give notice within 15 days after filing with the county recorder. Compliance with the notice requirements is necessary to later enforce your rights under the lien.

Does a Mechanic’s Lien Expire?

A mechanic’s lien does not last forever, and the lien holder generally has one year from the date of recording the lien to commence a civil action for its enforcement. However, you can extend the period for enforcing a lien under certain circumstances (e.g., filing an amended lien).

How Much Does It Cost to File a Mechanic’s Lien?

The costs for filing a mechanic’s lien will depend on the filing fees of the county clerk where the property you are filing a lien against is located. Additionally, you will likely incur other costs related to filing a lien such as those for serving notice on the property owner.

Cueto Law Group P.L.