What happens when a home improvement agreement turns into a dispute between the homeowner and the general contractor? In my practice, I represent both owners and contractors in resolving disputes. Generally, however, I become involved when payment to a contractor is withheld by the owner, which usually results in a mechanic’s lien being recorded by the contractor on the land records in the town where the owner’s residence is located.
Connecticut General Statutes 49-33 et seq. is known as the Mechanic’s Lien statute. It provides, “If any person has a claim for more than ten dollars for materials furnished or services rendered in the construction, raising, removal or repairs of any building or any of its appurtenances or in the improvement of any lot or in the site development or subdivision of any plot of land, and the claim is by virtue of an agreement with or by consent of the owner of the land upon which the building is being erected or has been erected or has been moved, or by consent of the owner of the lot being improved or by consent of the owner of the plot of land being improved or subdivided, or of some person having authority from or rightfully acting for the owner in procuring the labor or materials, the building, with the land on which it stands or the lot or in the event that the materials were furnished or services were rendered in the site development or subdivision of any plot of land, then the plot of land, is subject to the payment of the claim.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-34 states that “[a] mechanic’s lien is not valid unless the person performing the services or furnishing the materials (1) within ninety days after he has ceased to do so, lodges with the town clerk of the town in which the building, lot or plot of land is situated a certificate in writing, which shall be recorded by the town clerk with deeds of land, (A) describing the premises, the amount claimed as a lien thereon, the name or names of the person against whom the lien is being filed and the date of the commencement of the performance of services or furnishing of materials, (B) stating that the amount claimed is justly due, as nearly as the same can be ascertained, and (C) subscribed and sworn to by the claimant, and (2) not later than thirty days after lodging the certificate, serves a true and attested copy of the certificate upon the owner of the building, lot or plot of land in the same manner as is provided for the service of the notice in section 49-35.” No person other than the original contractor for the construction of the residence or lot, or a subcontractor whose contract with the original contractor is in writing and has been assented to in writing by the other party to the original contract, is entitled to claim any such mechanic’s lien.
The scheme is designed to avoid litigation by providing a mechanism for a general contractor to get paid for labor and materials provided for the benefit of the owner. It is not okay to withhold payment to a contractor because an owner is dissatisfied unless there is contractual language in the parties’ agreements. For example, owners who utilize the services of a licensed architect sometimes include requirements for “pay applications” to be submitted by contractors when certain agreed-upon benchmarks are reached by the contractor, such as when the roof has been finished or windows have been installed. These benchmarks trigger the owner’s payment obligation after the owner’s architect has certified that the construction benchmark has been satisfied by the contractor.
A mechanic’s lien is a powerful tool used by contractors and their lawyers to extract payment from owners who breach their written agreements with contractors.
I provide affordable dispute resolution services to my clients including mediation, arbitration, and litigation. If you are involved in a residential construction or renovation project and would like to learn more about ensuring a smooth contractual relationship, then contact my office to schedule a consultation with me. Ignorance of the statutory scheme can endanger your reputation and result in a substantial loss of assets if you jump into an improvement project without the proper documentation and shared expectations.