Losing Your House Over a Construction Lien?

(WSVN) - As South Florida starts to rebuild, many of you will be using contractors. Did you know if they don’t pay the people they get supplies from or people who do the work for you, you could lose your house? It’s called a construction lien and Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser will tell you how to avoid that nightmare.

If you are gonna do something, you might as well do it right…

Chris Norfolk, hit with construction lien: “It’s gotta be the Predators, because that’s probably my biggest addiction.”

And when it comes to collecting action figures, Chris goes all out. Not a shelf or two … a room full.

Chris Norfolk: “From the beginning as a kid, I started with Ninja Turtles, and then from there it just kind of grew.”

Then when Chris and his wife decided to put in a new concrete driveway, they did it the right way — doing research to make sure they hired a good person.

Chris Norfolk: “Professionalism that we didn’t see from the other ones.”

Doing their homework paid off. The contractor did a nice job installing the concrete driveway, then they got a surprise in the mail.

Chris Norfolk: “We received a notification from the concrete supplier that they were putting a lien on our property, saying that the check that the contractor had paid with bounced.”

If Irma damaged your property and you have to hire a contractor, this could affect you, and you might think what Chris did. “Don’t blame me. I paid the driveway installation company.”

Chris Norfolk: “Why are we going to have to pay another $1,600 for this lien that isn’t our fault.”

First question Howard — what is a construction lien?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “If you hire someone to work on your property and they don’t pay their workers and suppliers, those people can file a construction lien against your property to force you to pay or convince the contractor to pay.”

The concrete company said, “We won’t release the lien on your house until we get our $1,600 for the concrete. So Chris called the driveway contractor and said, “Your check bounced.”

Chris Norfolk: “He gave me the run-around saying, ‘Oh I’m working on it. They’re difficult.’ And after that, he stopped answering our phone calls.”

The contractor refused to pay the concrete company, leaving Chris with a a nice driveway and a lien on the property.

Chris Norfolk: “It’s frustrating. We paid everything. We did everything we were supposed to do on the contract.”

Well Howard, what can happen to Chris now?

Howard Finkelstein: “If that lien isn’t paid, the lien holder can foreclose on the property and sell your house, even if you have a homestead exemption. So, if you can’t convince the contractor to pay, you have to pay the lien. So before you make the final payment, get a release of lien from the contractor, meaning the subs and suppliers have been paid — that protects you.”

We first contacted the concrete company, they told us they told the driveway contractor they were going to place a lien on the property is he didn’t pay the $1,600 he owed them. They said he ignored them.

We then spoke to the driveway contractor. At first he told us he had paid the $1600. When we showed him proof that he had not, within an hour he gave the concrete company a $1,600 money order.

Chris Norfolk: “My wife and I are really happy about this. Couldn’t be happier.”

The lien on Chris’s house is satisfied, and he has some advice for people starting to hire contractors to do repairs from Hurricane Irma.

Chris Norfolk: “Make sure the people that they get their supplies from, make sure they get paid before you fully pay.”

If you have to pay the subs or supplier to get rid of that lien on your property, go after the contractor’s license and file a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. They can suspend their license, which could then force the contractor to repay you.

Contracted a problem you want to be released from? Drive our way, and lean on us ’cause we’ll help you construct a solution.

To file a complaint against contractor:

To verify if a general contractor has a license:

Information on construction liens:

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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