What is a pre-lien and why did I get one?

In landscape construction, a preliminary notice (prelien) is a considered normal and standard practice. It’s basically a legal document which must be served by most subcontractors and material suppliers in order to record a mechanics lien (a security interest in the title to a property). Failure to serve a preliminary notice may invalidate the subcontractors/material suppliers right to pursue payment in the event that they do not get paid directly by the landscape contractor.

Here’s how it works

Your landscape contractor buys materials for your new paver driveway from Peninsula Building Materials (PBM). You, the owner, will get a prelien from PBM for base rock and pavers and you might also get a separate prelien from the concrete company. These suppliers are typically giving your contractor net 30 days for payment, however they do have the legal right to pursue payment directly with you the home owner if they are not paid by the landscaper. This is why it’s so important to work with a trusted landscape contractor and not a fly by night unlicensed operator (who could in theory take your money, do a shoddy job, not pay the suppliers and skip town/change his name and start the whole process over using a different alias).

What does this notice look like?

It typically says right on top of the form “California preliminary notice. This is not a lien”. It will also contain:

  1. The name and address of the owner
  2. The name address of the landscape contractor;
    The relationship to the persons to whom the preliminary notice is being served (e.g., subcontractor or supplier)
  3. A general description of the materials furnished or subcontracted work to be furnished.
  4. How the preliminary notice was served (e.g., certified mail, overnight delivery, personal delivery)

What you need to do next

While this looks like a scary, legal form, there’s nothing for you the homeowner to do at this point. Your landscape contractor will invoice you for work completed and then pay off the suppliers or subcontractors on your project. You can keep for your records until the project is completed if desired. Oh, and don’t forget to relax…landscape remodels can be stressful enough without having to worry about routine paperwork.