Time and time again I receive calls from subcontractors and suppliers who find themselves faced with a customer who is either unwilling or unable to pay for labor or materials supplied for a private works project. As an attorney, the first question I usually ask is “did you serve a Preliminary Notice?” The second question I usually ask is “did you serve the Notice within twenty (20) days after first furnishing labor, service, equipment or materials to the job site?” The answers to these questions will often determine the ability to collect on the claim.
The excuses for failing to serve the Preliminary Notice range from “for the last ten years the customer has always paid on time” to “I didn’t want to imply the contractor was not going to pay me” to “it is too much trouble to do on every job” or, simply, “I forgot”. Contractors and suppliers are well advised that any subcontractor or supplier who fails to properly and timely serve a Preliminary Notice is depriving itself of the most powerful tool available for compelling payment of construction related debt on a private works project. For all but the smallest contracts failure to serve the Preliminary Notice is also a violation of contractors’ license law and constitutes grounds for discipline by the Contractor State License Board, up to and including suspension of the contractor’s license.
Most of these rules are found in California Civil Code Section 8200-8216. The requirements of these sections are far too numerous to itemize here. Suffice it to say every contractor, subcontractor and construction material supplier to private construction projects should be familiar with these sections of the California Civil Code. They set forth most of the rules which relate to Preliminary Notices on private construction projects. Some of the most important features are as follows: