Determining the Last Date of Work or Furnishing on a Construction Project

New House Building

Introduction

Under Illinois law, a contractor’s last date of work on a project triggers deadlines for lien claimants to file and perfect their mechanics lien claims for their unpaid work. This is one of the most import dates for purposes of the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act, 770 ILCS 60/1 et seq. (the “Act”).

A subcontractor must provide a notice of claim to the owner within ninety days of when it completed its work. All contractors must record their lien claims with the county recorder within four months of their last date of furnishing and labor or materials. Any failure by a contractor to provide timely notice or to make a timely filing can be fatal to his or her mechanics lien claim and the contractor could be left without any lien rights whatsoever.

In order to determine the last date of furnishing, a contractor will normally review his or her timesheets, job log, or delivery tickets and use the most recent date. However, not all work on or delivery to a project will qualify as work that can be used to calculate notice and recording deadlines under the Act. The Act makes a distinction between work that is needed as maintenance or repair of a completed job and work that is needed for completion of the job itself. Determining the last date of furnishing labor or materials becomes especially complicated in instances where there are change orders, ongoing punch list work, warranty or repair work, or the contractor is asked to perform new work under a separate agreement at the same project.

Warranty and Punch List Work

Generally, warranty work is considered remedial and does not extend mechanics lien notice and filing deadlines. For instance, if a contractor installs a new furnace and it later malfunctions or breaks down, the time spent repairing it does not extend the last furnishing date. Furthermore, punch list work or replacing defective materials – such as broken tiles or faulty shingles – usually does not extend the lien or filing deadlines. Similarly, maintenance work such as cleaning an HVAC system months after installation will also not extend mechanics lien deadlines. Furthermore, a contractor cannot extend the last date of furnishing by returning to a project after lien rights have expired with trivial or consequential touch up work or adjustments in hopes of extending lien and notice deadlines. The courts look very unfavorably upon this and will almost never extend lien and notice filing deadlines.

Change Orders

Work that is performed under approved change orders can extend the lien notice and filing deadlines under the Act. The change orders must be for additional substantive work and relate to the original contract. For example, if the contractor has installed a stair case, and the owner issues a change order stating an ornamental rail is to be installed and that rail is the last work the contractor performed, the last date of furnishing is then calculated from the date the railing is installed. Furthermore, if an electrician was originally hired to install 10 light fixtures for a project and after delivery the owner issues a change order for one more fixture, the last date of furnishing will most likely be the date of installation of the final single fixture even though most of the other work is already completed.

New contract at the same project

Sometimes an owner or general contractor will ask a contractor or subcontractor to perform new work that is not related to the original contract. In most cases this new work will not be a change order and will result in a new contract being formed. The work performed under the new contract does not affect or extend the last date of furnishing under the original contract. For example, a carpenter is asked by a homeowner to install kitchen cabinets at her home. Later, the same home owner asks the carpenter to build out a deck in her backyard. If the contractor is not paid for the kitchen cabinets wishes to file a lien claim, the last date of furnishing would be the date he completed the cabinet work and not the deck work. Incidentally if the contractor is not paid for either job he or she would need to assert a separate lien clam for each contract.

There is a fine line between whether additional work constitutes a change order or a new contract and the contractor should review his or her scopes of work, among other factors, to determine how the new work is classified.

Conclusion

In many cases it is never entirely clear whether additional work performed is trivial or not or related to the original contractor or creates a new one. Some work, such as warranty work, is a little more obvious. This is a very complicated issue that could result in a loss of your lien rights if your notice and filing deadlines are calculated by using an incorrect date. It is recommended that you consult an attorney for assistance if you do not know when your last date of work on project was or have any of the above situations.

About the Firm and Author

Grzymala Law Offices, P.C. is an Illinois construction law, mechanics lien, collection, and commercial litigation firm serving the entire Chicagoland area and surrounding counties including Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, and Will. The Firm addresses the needs of small businesses with a focus on construction and related industries.

We deliver quality customer service and aggressive representation of our clients while offering competitive hourly rates and alternative billing arrangements. The firm is conveniently located in Skokie near Old Orchard Shopping Center. The firm offers free initial consultations and always accommodates our clients’ busy schedules.

Attorney Mark B. Grzymala is the Firm’s president and founder.