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20-Day Preliminary Notices

The owner paid your customer but your customer didn't pay you...

By Diane Dennis

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What to do? You still file the lien because it's the legal responsibility of the Owner to insure that everyone gets paid. Please note that filing a lien is only allowable if you properly served the 20-Day Preliminary Notice.

This may mean that the Owner/Lender has to:

  • Require lien releases/waivers
  • Pay bills with joint checks
  • Place phone calls to the creditors to verify that they have indeed been paid; etc.

That's why you still lien, because the Owner didn't do what he was supposed to do, which was to make sure that you got paid.

He can't say that he didn't know you were owed money, because you have proof (the proof is explained a bit further on) that he did indeed receive your 20-day preliminary notice which told him that you are present on the job.

Now let's take a look at the importance of processing the 20 day preliminary notices in a timely manner.

The preliminary notice MUST be mailed out within the time allowed by the law.

This time-frame varies from state to state, so you must check to see what the requirement is in the state the job is located in.

Couple examples: It's my understanding that in one state the preliminary notices must be processed within 8 days of the first shipment or incurrence of labor costs, whichever applies to your situation.

I'm told that a couple other states require that these notices be processed before the first shipment or incurrence of labor costs.

California contractors and suppliers have up to 20 days after the date that work starts or material is supplied. The lien statutes in most states must be followed precisely, courts do not afford much latitude with respect to timelines and compliance with statutory forms.

As mentioned above, the time-frame for California is 20 days.

For contractors, this means you've got to process and mail 20 day preliminary notices within 20 days of the first day you either start work or supply material to the project (or place the material order if it's a special order item).

For material suppliers, this means within 20 days of the first day you supply material to the project (or order it if it's a special order item).

The 20 day preliminary notices cover all work, material, etc. for up to 20 days prior to the postmark date on the mailing of the preliminary notice.

So, if you've been on the job for 30 days and are just now sending the preliminary notice, you'll be covered for 20 days back (or from after the first 10 days forward).

Here are some additional articles regarding all states preliminary lien notices:

Articles in this series:

(Please note that some of these links will take you to my other website - Download-Construction-Forms.com - until I can get them all moved here. A separate window will open so that you can return here if you'd like)

Preliminary Notice Forms
Important: Even if the Owner has paid YOUR customer in full, you STILL file the lien. Here's why...

California 20 Day Preliminary Notices, the 20 day mark
What the 20 days means...

Getting the California 20 day Preliminary Notice info from your customer
Don't be nervous about getting the prelim info from your customer

California law governs the text of the preliminary notice form
Make sure your preliminary notice form has the correct text or you may end up without lien rights. Please note that this article is currently out-of-date and needs to be updated.

California 20 day Preliminary notices protect your lien rights
Learn how preliminary notices protect your lien rights

Certified Preliminary Notice mailings that are refused
California civil code protects you against refused certified mailings of 20-day preliminary notices

Photo-Copied Signatures on California 20-Day Preliminary Notice Forms
The preliminary notice form itself can be a photocopy but the signature must be original or "wet"

Amending Preliminary Notices
You've issued your preliminary notice and now your customer is increasing the amount of work he wants done. Should you amend your preliminary notice by sending another one?

Preliminary Notices and Non-Responsibility Forms
The Owner filed a Notice of Non-Responsibility. Should the contractor/supplier still send the Owner a preliminary notice?

Dollar Amounts on Preliminary Notice Forms
Do you need to include a dollar amount on preliminary notices or can you send it without a dollar amount?

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