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Question DetailsAsked on 12/27/2013

can a contractor put a lien on a home if there was never a written agreement?

Contractor was paid a partial payment. Contractor did not show up on two occasions which was delaying another contractor from doing his portion. There was nothing in writing, no contract. We had to hire someone else to finish the job. now the original contractor says we owe him more money and will put a lien on our home. Can he do this without a contract?

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4 Answers


Since you gave him a down payment an argument could be made that you had a verbal contract. That may or not hold up in some states. I hope you have some proof that he did not show up when requested or promised. If your replacement contractor can show that the amount of work he did is equal to or more than the amount owed you might be okay. Anyone can file a lien but I wonder if he will be able to with out a contract in hand to back it up. I would think it may just be a bluff on his part since any contractor doing a sizeable job without a contract seems to be not that intelligent. Though I have done large jobs on just a handshake but I come from the old school where you say what you are going to do and do what you say. More info as to how much he finished and how much he was paid would help, but if you do have to take him to court it may be small claims depending on your state and they are user friendly and you may not need a lawyer. In my state (NJ) you need a starting and completion date on all contracts along with your license number. It may be worth looking into if your state has the same, if like my state if they get a complaint they can go back and look at all your previous contract with others and fine you if they find past contracts lacking. So he may not want to open that can of worms.


Answered 6 years ago by ContractorDon


We did not put down a down payment. We paid him one third after a portion of the work was done. A third after a third.

Answered 6 years ago by Guest_9590525


Youn seem to be in a better position than him since he sort of started a pay as you go contract if I read it correctly. At this point if the job is complete let him make the next move and work from there. I have been in business for over 38 years and only once did I file a lien and with in an hour I wish I hadn't because I got my payment. Unless you made it impossible to complete his side of the contract you should be able to prevail in court with no problems.


Answered 6 years ago by ContractorDon


Guess I don't have to say that not having a written contract with stipulated price, start and completion dates, etc is not a very good move - lesson learned, I guess. Except for the very few states where all real estate related contracts have to be in writing, the fact you let him start work constitutes a contractual relationship, though without specified timeframe and amount it might not be considered enforceable - though in thast case he would be eligible to receive the fair market value of what work he did do.

Basically, unless the contract is deemed void under state law for reasons like Don stated, any contractor on a property (and usually physical property like furniture, shoes, cars etc in for repair is included) can file a workman's lien on the property being worked on. So, check your state law on contract requirements for work on houses, and also on whether he was required to have a contractors license and does not have one - that would mightly strengthen your case, as well as allowing you to go to the state licensing board with a complaint against him that might subject him to criminal prosecution. I generally agree with Contractor Don on your position probably not being as bad as it could be relative to him. However, lacking a contract, neither of you can really say what the scope or schedule was, so based on my experience a judge might throw you both out for lack of evidence. The one issue I have with Don's suggestions that you treat it as a bluff is if he DOES file a lien, then you have a world of hurt possible - a block on ever selling your home till the lien is lifted (or will automatically be paid out of dsale proceeds by the excrow company) including accruing interest on the lien that will have to be paid to get it lifted (maybe years later ?), a major damage to your credit rating, and worst - possible collateral lender actions. Many loan and mortgage contracts provide that if you have a foreclosure, bankruptcy, or lien filed against you by anyone then other debt can be accelerated and made immediately payable - including credit card debt, car loan, mortgage, etc - so it can be disastrous to have a lien imposed on your property. My advice - weigh how much it would cost to pay him off AND get a lien release asnd contract termination agreement in writing, versus getting an attorney involved. IF this was for a bathtub refinish as the category says, the amount cannot be too much. Then file a complaint with the state licensing board. This assumes he does not have a bond - though you should have called that BEFORE getting a replacement contractor, though the replacement contractor would be a useful witness as to the amount of work that had been done when he arrvied on site. Another option - sue him in small claims court for the amount by which the second contractor's cost plus the partial payment exceeded his original contracted amount for the work. After all is said and done, of course, an Angie's List review would help others avoid your problem.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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