David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates
When preparing a contractor’s final payment affidavit, I always suggest for a contractor (or anyone in privity of contract with the owner) to identify the undisputed amounts their accounting reflects is owed to ALL subcontractors, etc., regardless of whether that entity preserved their lien rights. If the contractor provided a payment bond, I footnote this simply to support that none of the lower-tiered subcontractors have lien rights or are the traditional “lienor.” (Thus, there is no prejudice to the owner if an entity is inadvertently omitted from the affidavit.)
There are times, however, where a contractor does not identify a subcontractor that did not serve a notice to owner and, therefore, has no valid lien rights. Or, a contractor omits a lienor that actually did serve a notice to owner and preserve its lien rights; this happens.
There was an older First District Court of Appeals case that harshly (and, quite, unfairly) held that the contractor must identify everyone in the final payment affidavit regardless of whether that entity timely served a notice to owner or their lien is invalid. This case, however, predated, a 1998 statutory change to Florida’s Lien Law.
Today, the statute (in Florida Statute s. 713.06) currently provides:
(d) When the final payment under a direct contract becomes due the contractor:
1. The contractor shall give to the owner a final payment affidavit stating, if that be the fact, that all lienors under his or her direct contract who have timely served a notice to owner on the owner and the contractor have been paid in full or, if the fact be otherwise, showing the name of each such lienor who has not been paid in full and the amount due or to become due each for labor, services, or materials furnished….
The contractor shall have no lien or right of action against the owner for labor, services, or materials furnished under the direct contract while in default for not giving the owner the affidavit; however, the negligent inclusion or omission of any information in the affidavit which has not prejudiced the owner does not constitute a default that operates to defeat an otherwise valid lien. The contractor shall execute the affidavit and deliver it to the owner at least 5 days before instituting an action as a prerequisite to the institution of any action to enforce his or her lien under this chapter, even if the final payment has not become due because the contract is terminated for a reason other than completion and regardless of whether the contractor has any lienors working under him or her or not.
Fla. Stat. s. 713.06(d)(1).
The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Fetta v. All-Rite Paving Contractors, Inc., 50 So.3d 1216 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), claimed that the purpose of the statute is for the contractor to identify all lienors who have timely served a notice to owner that has not been paid in full. (Hence, you do not need to identify those that did not timely serve a notice to owner even though, from a practical standpoint, identifying all makes sense as a just-in-case.). Further, even if there was an omission, that would not render a lien invalid unless the owner can prove prejudice and prejudice is not so easy to prove.
When in doubt, consult counsel when finalizing or filling out a contractor’s final payment affidavit. Rights can be preserved and items footnoted as appropriate for clarification purposes, such as the fact that the amount in the affidavit may not include amounts that are not available under the lien law (i.e., delay damages).