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Lien for undocumented work?

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Oleg's Forum Posts: 8
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By Oleg in San Diego, CA on 1/17/2008

My house was burned down in the recent California wildfire. I've been contacted by a licensed builder, who wanted to help me to rebuild my house. I did not check the prices, did not sign any papers with him. I've verbally asked him to clear the lot and remove the slab and do a soil compacting. Hid did it, presented bills, which I paid in full. After that, I realized that he actually charged me twice as much as other subs were charging, so I fired him.

Despite the fact that no paperwork existed, he ordered soil inspection for my lot without my approval and that time presented a bill three times more than others were charging. I've ignored it.

Two questions:

1. Is there a way he can file a lien? As I mentioned, no paperwork exists of any kind. Plus I did not order that service.
2. Is there a way to get a part of my money back? Will California Contractor Licensing Board accept a claim for overcharging?



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By George in Wharton, TX on 1/19/2008


You will want to talk to an attorney who knows this area of the law in California. In Texas, the contractor cannot file a lien without a written contract. Hopefully your state has a statute that requires a written agreement. You should be able to get that info from an attorney at a free initial visit, if the attorney practices in real estate law. Good luck.


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By Pat in San Diego, CA on 3/19/2008

Yes. A general contractor or contractor hired directly by the owner does not need to furnish preliminary notice and can still file. California Business and Professions Code however, does require that contracts for construction of single-family homes be in "writing" and "signed". It doesn't prevent that he can file. Anyone can file a lien, which is so aggravating. I had a sub who filed a lien on the house adjacent to my client's house by accident and he just left it on. You would have to pursue the avenue of having the lien expunged and then there are legal fees that you can recover up to $2,500.  

Contractors State License Board will come down on him because they do require contracts be written, and it is easy to file a complaint with the license board: The license board also requires certain notifications be provided along with the written contract. Notice of Lien Rights is one of them. If that was not provided it is a violation.     

Contracts in general in CA are not required to be written. Oral contracts in general are fully enforceable. The primary reason written contracts come into play in trades such as construction, is so that everyone is sure the homeowner is aware of the terms and scope, since the result of unclear things leave the potential for their own homes to be subject to lien. That is a big deal when it is your home. 

However, even when there is not a written contract, a contractor can claim error or some other reason and still be able to sue for "reasonable value."

If he filed a lien, I would certainly proceed to have it expunged and threaten legal fee allowance.


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By Gabriela in Readington Twp, NJ on 4/29/2008

Hi Oleg,

I'm sorry to hear about your case. I don't know much about California contract law in this case, but we are located in NJ, and found out (the hard way) that even if a contractor's proposal says they require you to sign a work order prior to work starting, if you respond via email to a proposal indicating it looks acceptable, it is construed as a binding contract and will be upheld by a court. This is despite NOT having signed an actual contract, and the contractor having begun work PRIOR to the date the work order indicates.

The judgment of our judge in small claims court was that an email response indicates a contract and project order signatures/paperwork is "just a formality". SCARY when you always thought signatures and physical contracts were the standard practice. Just wanted to share that because I don't think many homeowners are aware of this minor kink in the law -- very contractor friendly, while undermining the homeowner and leaving them very open to liens.


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