Three Options for an Owner if a Construction Lien is Recorded in Florida
This posting discusses 3 options for an owner to consult with counsel about if a construction lien is recorded against the owner's property (other than paying the amount of the lien in consideration for a satisfaction of the lien to be recorded in the public records).
1. Notice of Contest of LienThis is an efficient, cost effective strategy that I oftentimes prefer to use to truly determine whether a lienor (entity that recorded lien) actually intends on foreclosing on the lien. Recording a Notice of Contest of Lien pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.22 shortens the statute of limitations to foreclose on the lien to 60 days after service of the Notice; if the lienor neglects to do so, the lien is extinguished. (A construction lien is otherwise good for one year from its recording.) Section 713.22 provides that an owner or an owner's attorney can record a Notice of Contest of Lien in the official records (same official records where the lien is recorded). The Notice is a statutory form. Once it is recorded, the clerk serves it on the lienor at the address in the lien putting the lienor on notice that it must foreclose within 60 days.
2. Filing a Lawsuit to Show CauseAnother approach to shorten a lienor's statute of limitation to foreclose on the lien is to file a complaint pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.21 where the clerk issues a special summons "to the lienor to show cause within 20 days why his or her lien should not be enforced by action or vacated and canceled of record." Fla. Stat. s. 713.21. Any interested party can file this lawsuit and the lawsuit is typically accompanied with a fraudulent lien claim against the lienor. When a lienor receives this lawsuit, it MUST foreclose on its lien within 20 days from service or else its lien should be discharged by the court. However, this requires drafting of the lawsuit and the special show cause summons, filing the lawsuit, and serving the lawsuit, so it certainly is not as cost effective as the first option. Also, sometimes, by the time the lawsuit is drafted, filed, and served, the 20 day show cause period would be pretty close to the expiration of the 60 days if the Notice of Contest of Lien was recorded. Every situation is different and there are circumstances where filing this lawsuit is a more attractive option than recording the Notice of Contest of Lien.
3. Transferring a Lien to a Lien Transfer Bond (or Alternative Security)Sometimes, an owner needs the lien off of its property immediately and wants the lien transferred from the real property to alternative security such as a lien transfer bond. This is done pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.24 where cash or a surety bond is posted with the court "in an amount equal to the amount demanded in such claim of lien, plus interest thereon at the legal rate for 3 years, plus $1,000 or 25 percent of the amount demanded in the claim of lien, whichever is greater, to apply on any attorney's fees and court costs that may be taxed in any proceeding to enforce said lien." Fla.Stat. s. 713.24. Typically, no one wants to post and tie up cash in the amount of the lien, plus 3 years of interest, plus another 25% of that lien amount to cover potential fees/costs. And, obtaining a surety bond is not always easy without posting collateral or cash to the surety, etc., so that the surety's risk in posting the bond in the event the lienor prevails is mitigated. Now, a lien can be transferred to a lien transfer bond at any time including during the pendency of a lawsuit. For example, let's say you elect option (1) or (2) above and the lienor does timely foreclose on the lien; the option of transferring the lien is still available. The major difference is that if a lien foreclosure lawsuit is underway and the lien transferred to a bond (or cash), the lienor has one year from the date of the transfer to amend its lawsuit to assert a claim against the bond. If the lien is transferred before the lien foreclosure lawsuit, then the one year to foreclose on the lien from the date the lien is recorded still applies.