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Seattle, Tacoma, Portland Olympia Attorneys

How Can a Lawyer Help a Subcontractor Secure Payment From a General Contractor?


By Laura Brindley

Q. I was hired as a subcontractor to provide labor for a construction project, but the general contractor did not pay me after I finished the work.  How can I get paid for my work?

A. If an individual or company contracted with a general contractor to provide services to a construction project that consisted of “exertion of the powers of the body or mind performed at the site for compensation,” then the subcontractor provided “labor” for the project under RCW 60.04.011(7).

Recently, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision making it less onerous for a subcontractor who provided labor to a construction project to have a lien placed upon the property or improvement to secure payment for its work.

Based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc., a subcontractor who provides labor to a construction project is not obligated to file a pre-lien notice prior to recording a lien on the property to secure payment. Recording a lien upon the property is a legal means upon which you can secure payment.

Other types of work provided to a project, specifically professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property, require that a pre-lien notice be provided to a property owner and general contractor before the subcontractor can record a lien on the property or improvement thereto. RCW 60.04.031.

A pre-lien notice is a document sent to the property owner and general contractor within 60 days of first furnishings.  The purpose of this notice is to alert the property owner and general contractor that a subcontractor will be providing materials, professional services, or equipment to a property, and you have the right to file a lien on the property if you do not receive compensation for your services.  If all goes according to plan, and the subcontractor is paid after finishing its portion of the project, then this notice will have no effect.

Filing a lien for unpaid labor on a construction project is generally a faster, less costly means demanding payment for services conveyed than filing a lawsuit. If a subcontractor is not paid for its labor services conveyed to the real property or the improvements thereon, the subcontractor has the right to file a lien upon the property or improvements on which it worked, under RCW 60.04.021.

If a general contractor does not pay a subcontractor for labor services on a project, then the subcontractor can file a claim of lien with the county auditor’s office within 90 days after completing the work on the project. The claim of lien must be mailed by certified mail or personally delivered to all parties involved within 14 days of filing.

If the general contractor or property owner do not pay the amount owed to the subcontractor after the lien is filed, then a foreclosure action must occur within eight months of the claim lien being recorded.

To file a claim of lien against a property or improvement on which a subcontractor provided labor services, a subcontractor can:

  1. Reach out to an attorney familiar with the process for filing a lien on a property and the procedure associated with filing a lien against a property for unpaid wages or payments owed for services rendered on a construction project.  At Dickson Frohlich, we have years of expertise in this realm and can get you started with the lien-filing process.
  2. File a notice for a claim of lien in the county where the property is located within 90 days of finishing the work on the property. RCW 60.04.091.
    1. No claim of lien binds the property subject to the lien for a longer period than eight calendar months after the claim of lien is recorded unless an action is filed by the subcontractor claimant within that time in the superior court in the county where the subject property is located to enforce the lien. Service is made upon the owner of the subject property and/or the general contractor within ninety days of the date of filing the action. If the subcontractor’s claim of lien for payment is not pursued within eight months, then the Court will dismiss the action under RCW 60.04.141.
    2. The property or improvements at issue, for which claims of lien were recorded, may be foreclosed and enforced by a civil lawsuit in the court having jurisdiction in the manner prescribed for the judicial foreclosure of a mortgage. The court shall have the power to order the sale of the property, if the property owner or the general contractor do not pay the amount described on the claim of lien. The interest in the real property of any person who, prior to the commencement of the action, has a recorded interest in the property, or any part thereof, shall not be foreclosed or affected unless they are joined as a party under RCW 60.04.171.
  3. If the matter goes as far as a foreclosure action, contact a good attorney to ensure the general contractor or property owner pay the full contract amount owed. 

Because subcontractors who provided labor on a construction contract are not obligated to send a pre-lien notice to the property owner and general contractor, the process for certain subcontractors to file a claim of lien is streamlined and does not require as many steps before commencing work on a project to file a claim of lien after a nonpayment.