The construction industry is one of the places where disputes often arise over unpaid bills, the scope of work, and whether or not work is done correctly. The end result is that tradespeople are often left fighting to get paid for the work that they performed on a project. Add in the fact that many construction projects are done based on a verbal agreement and a handshake, and you have a recipe for contentious disputes. Even worse, if you are a subcontractor, the head contractor with whom you reached an agreement might go bankrupt, leaving you with a dry judgment that cannot be easily enforced.
The law has evolved to recognize that disputes often come up in construction, and that there are unique factors that may make it difficult to get paid. The culmination of the legal solution to this problem is the British Columbia Builders Lien Act (the “Act”). In order to protect contractors and subcontractors, the Act establishes special remedies. In order to qualify for these remedies, you must comply strictly with the Act. If you miss a deadline or make a mistake in filing your lien, your lien will likely be invalid and may be struck if the owner of the property, or anyone else interested in the lien claim, takes you to court. If you lose in court, you may also have to pay the successful party’s legal fees.
The Act allows a person who supplies work or material to an improvement on a property, and has an unpaid invoice, to file a builders lien against the title of the property. The lien then goes on the title, like a mortgage or other encumbrance. People who search the title of the property, such as people who are interested in purchasing the property, will see the lien and be alerted to your claim.
Once you have filed your lien, the owner of the property and any head contractor may be more willing to negotiate the payment of your invoice. If filing the lien is not enough and there is still a dispute, then You may ultimately have to take your case to court and enforce your claim of lien.
The lien gives you security for your claim, against the title of the property that you worked upon. Even if the head contractor goes bankrupt, and you have no contract directly with the owner of the property, you can still potentially recover at least part of your unpaid invoice from the owner. This may seem unfair to owners at first, but keep in mind that the tradespeople who worked on the property improved the property and presumably increased its value.
Unfortunately, while the Builders Lien Act provides valuable protection to tradespeople, it also is extremely complicated, and cannot be fully explained in a short article. The Act also involves a series of holdbacks kept all the way down the chain from the owner, to the head contractor, and to the sub-contractor. Unfortunately, these holdbacks are often not dealt with properly, especially on smaller projects where the parties may be used to doing things more informally. If the holdbacks are dealt with improperly, it can further complicate matters.
If you are facing a builders lien issue, it likely makes sense to consult with a lawyer. There are tight timelines involved, and if you fail to file your lien within the timelines, then you may completely lose the right to file a builders lien. In some situations the deadline can be 45 days from when you finish the job. This makes it a very tight timeline indeed when you factor in that many invoices are not due and payable until 30 days after they are issued. Because of these tight timelines, you should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible If you get the suspicion that your invoice is not going to be paid on time.
If you are facing a builders lien situation, Velletta & Company offers a free consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help you obtain payment for your invoice.
Cadeyrn Christie is a civil litigation lawyer and business lawyer with Velletta & Company. A former tradesperson, business owner, and high performance athlete, Cadeyrn focuses his practice on providing dynamic representation to individuals and businesses.