Understanding the Rules for Serving a Mechanic’s Lien in Florida
A mechanic’s lien is often a contractor’s most important legal tool for ensuring payment from a project owner. These liens must be filed and served in strict compliance with Florida law. Even an honest oversight or mistake may lead a judge to void an otherwise valid lien.
An August 12 decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Fettig’s Construction, Inc. v. Paradise Properties & Interiors, LLC, offers a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when trying to serve a mechanic’s lien. The defendant in this case hired the plaintiff to serve as general contractor for a renovation project on its premises.
Several months after construction began, the plaintiff filed a mechanic’s lien. The plaintiff said it served the lien on the defendant on May 1, 2018. The defendant claimed it never received service, and as such moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s demand to foreclose on the lien.
Some additional details are necessary to understand this dispute. As noted above, the plaintiff recorded its lien on May 1. Two days later, on May 3, it sent a copy of the lien by certified mail to two different addresses. One was an Orlando address listed with the Florida Secretary of State as the location of the defendant’s registered agent. The second was a Vero Beach address identified by the defendant as its mailing address with a local property appraiser.
Florida law states that service of a mechanic’s lien is “effective” when it is sent to the “last known address of the person to be served.” Here, the plaintiff insisted the Orlando address was the “last known address,” so service there was effective, even if the defendant never actually received the documents. The defendant argued that the statute required the plaintiff to first attempt service on the address identified on the Notice of Commencement for the construction project–and only if that failed could the plaintiff attempt service on the last known address.
A trial court agreed with the defendant’s interpretation of the statute and dismissed the plaintiff’s mechanic’s lien. The Fourth District held such action was premature. Its reading of the statute–which came down to the placement of a comma–was that the plaintiff had the option of serving either the last known address or the address on the Notice; it was unnecessary to attempt service on the latter first.
This clarification of the statute did not, however, fully resolve the issue. The defendant still disputed the plaintiff’s belief that the Orlando address it served was actually the defendant’s “last known address.” The Fourth District therefore returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Speak with a Florida Construction Attorney Today
As you can see, enforcing a mechanic’s lien is often not as simple as you might think. Minor points of legal procedure can lead to significant problems for a contractor. That is why it is crucial to work with an experienced Florida construction lawyer who can guide you through the process of filing and enforcing a lien. Contact Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A., today at 561-626-8880 if you would like to schedule a case analysis with a member of our team.