When to Withhold Retention Payments on Private or Public Projects

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The California Legislature enacted statutes that impose deadlines and penalties on owners and direct (general) contractors who delay payments.

August 29, 2018
Nicholas Karkazis - Gordon & Rees Construction Law Blog

To ensure that construction contractors and subcontractors receive timely progress and retention payments, the California Legislature enacted statutes that impose deadlines and penalties on owners and direct (general) contractors who delay payments. (Cal. Civ. Code, §§ 8800, 8802, 8812, 8814; Pub. Contract Code, §§ 7107, 10262.5; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7108.5.) However, there is an exception to these deadlines and penalties on both private and public projects. The exception allows an owner or direct contractor to withhold payment1 when there is a good faith dispute between an owner and a direct contractor or between a direct contractor and a subcontractor. (Civ. Code, §§ 8800, subd. (b), 8802, subd. (b), 8812, subd. (c), 8814, subd. (c); Pub. Contract Code, §§ 7107, subds. (c), (e), 10262.5, subd. (a); Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7108.5, subd. (a).)

But the term “good faith dispute” has been a source of confusion where direct contractors owe subcontractors retention payments, but want to withhold the payment because of a dispute.2 California appellate courts were split, with one court finding that any type of bona fide dispute justified withholding, and another finding that only disputes related to the payment itself justified withholding. (Compare Martin Brothers Construction, Inc. v. Thompson Pacific Construction, Inc. (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1401 [any bona fide dispute could justify withholding] with East West Bank v. Rio School Dist. (2015) 235 Cal.App.4th 742 [disputes related to the payment itself may justify withholding].) In May 2018, the California Supreme Court clarified that for a direct contractor to withhold a retention payment on a private project, the good faith dispute must somehow relate to the payment itself. (United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Coast Iron & Steel Co. (2018) 4 Cal.5th 1082, 1097-1098.)

Mr. Karkazis may be contacted at nkarkazis@grsm.com



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