Why should you talk to a construction attorney before signing a lien release?
Subcontractors and material suppliers know that when it’s time to get paid on a job, they’re going to be asked to sign a lien release in exchange for receiving their payment. So, as their construction litigation lawyer, I always ask them about the lien release they signed. Often I’ll hear, “it’s the standard form,” or, “I signed the one the contractor gave me,” or, “I don’t know, I just wanted my check.” Thinking that all lien releases are the same is the surest way to accidentally sign away your lien rights without getting paid.
All too often subcontractors either do not read, or sometimes do not understand, the lien releases they are signing in exchange for progress payments on a project. A common mistake we see as a construction law firm is subcontractors signing a release that contains language releasing lien rights for work performed through the date the lien release is signed. The problem is that very often the payment being made is only for work done during a specific period of time that ended days or weeks before the payment is actually made. By signing that release under those circumstances, the subcontractor has just released his lien rights for the work done between the date he requested payment and the date he signed the release.
If there is any delay between your request for payment and the date you are signing the release, you must make sure that what you are signing is consistent with the payment that is actually being made. Do not just rely on the title of the document or the honesty or good intentions of the parties you are dealing with. If the lien release does not accurately reflect the work being released and the payment being received, then you or your construction lawyer need to insist that changes are made so that the release accurately reflects the payments taking place and the work being released.
It is always the best practice to indicate exactly the last date of your services being satisfied by that payment or to note any exceptions to your release. Don’t be afraid to make handwritten changes to the lien release you are being asked to sign if it seems like it is too broad. Florida Statutes contain a statutory form of lien release in Florida Statute §713.20. However, the parties to a project are free to negotiate different forms of lien releases when they are negotiating their contracts. So the time to be thinking about the lien release form is BEFORE you sign your contract.
Any document you sign releasing any of your lien rights will be strictly interpreted. Don’t sign a lien release that is not accurate. Once a lien release is signed and exchanged for a payment, there is no “un-ringing the bell”. So if you are not 100% sure what you are signing, make sure to seek the advice of a South Florida construction lawyer, like me Andrew Wyman, before you put your signature on any lien release.