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20-Day Preliminary Notices

By Diane Dennis

The Owner Paid Your Customer But ... Your Customer Didn't Pay You!

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 serve your 20-Day Preliminary Notices.

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 preliminary notice which told him that you are present on the job.

The importance of 20-day preliminary notices

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

No ifs, ands, or buts about it, the preliminary notice MUST be mailed out within the time allowed by the law. Lien rights are often lost due to this mistake.

The 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 incurring 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 incurring of labor costs.

No matter which state your company might be located in, you need to follow the prelim laws for the state that the project is located in.

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.

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).

Article Series: Preliminary Lien Notices

(Please note: links with an asterisk (*) will take you to my other website - Download-Construction-Forms.com - until I can get those webpages moved here. A separate window will open, allowing you to easily return here.)

Preliminary Notice Forms: The Owner Paid Your Customer But Your Customer Didn't Pay You

  • Can you still lien the property?

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

  • *Make sure they're done proper and you're golden

Certified Preliminary Notice mailings that are refused

  • *California civil code protects you when your certified mailing of the 20-day preliminary notice is refused

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?

Arizona 20-Day Preliminary Notices

  • Arizona's laws are very strict on what a preliminary notice is supposed to 'say', the text of the proof document, the timing of service, etc.

Preliminary Lien Notices: What You Don't Know

  • What you don’t know about the pesky preliminary lien notices can hurt you.

Preliminary Notices: Don't Get Stiffed!

  • It's YOUR responsibility to let everyone know that you have a financial stake in the project - don't stiff yourself!

Preliminary Lien Notices and Reputed Owners

  • When filling in various construction documents such as the Preliminary Notice forms you'll see something along the lines of...


At one time this form was mandated by California to be titled "20-Day Preliminary Notice Form". The California mandate has since changed and the form is now known as the "Preliminary Notice Form". Each state that requires this type of notice will have its own requirement in regard to the title of the form.




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