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Does a subcontractor retain lien rights when performing work for an unlicensed prime (general) contractor in Washington state?

Bothell, WA |

I hired a contractor for a residential remodel who represented he was licensed in the State of Washington. During a dispute over work performed by the contractor, I learned that his license was suspended prior to the commencement of the project and remains suspended. In addition to not being licensed, he does not appear to be bonded or insured. I have given him enough money to pay his subcontractors, but not much more. My understanding is that he has no right to enforce our contract and no lien rights. I would like to know if his subcontractors, laborers and/or suppliers retain their lien rights against me as the homeowner.

I should add that the project is partially completed. The dispute arose over his progress invoice being substantially over budget with respect to a number of items.

Attorney Answers 1


  1. As you noted, one must be a registered contractor to have lien rights in WA. In order for subcontractors to have lien rights, they must contract directly with you, the owner, or with your agent, the prime/general contractor. In order for the lien of the subcontractor to be effective, the person above them in the chain (who they contract with) must be registered. Only registered persons can create a lien. If you contracted directly with any of the subcontractors, then they would retain lien rights. (assuming that they are registered as well) If the facts are as you indicate and the general's license was expired prior to commencement of the project, anyone who contracted through him will not have lien rights, it is the subcontractor's duty to understand the status of the person with whom he contracts.

    In situations such as this, they are dependent upon a given set of facts, often they will be in dispute. I would be careful with any additional work. You may want to discuss this situation with an attorney to discuss the detail and/or steps that you can take to preempt possible claims.

    Posting questions and reviewing information received from AVVO does not create a lawyer client relationship and such information should not be construed as creating such a relationship.

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