By Attorney Edward Jesson
Recently, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 488, key sections of which will go into effect on October 1, 2023. While most of the changes made to this law relate to the energy efficiency rules found in the North Carolina Building Code, there is one big change for people in the construction industry.
North Carolina General Statute 87-1(a) governs who is required to obtain a North Carolina general contractor’s license prior to performing or bidding on work. The general rule was that any person or business that bid on or performed work which was valued at more than $30,000.00 was required to have a general contractor’s license prior to bidding on or performing that work (with a few exceptions).
However, House Bill 488 amends the language of N.C.G.S. § 87-1 to state the following:
[A]ny person or firm or corporation who for a fixed price, commission, fee, or wage, undertakes to bid upon or to construct or who undertakes to superintend or manage, on his own behalf or for any person, firm, or corporation that is not licensed as a general contractor pursuant to this Article, the construction of any building, highway, public utilities, grading or any improvement or structure where the cost of the undertaking is forty thousand dollars ($40,000) or more, or undertakes to erect a North Carolina labeled manufactured modular building meeting the North Carolina State Building Code, shall be deemed to be a "general contractor" engaged in the business of general contracting in the State of North Carolina.
The extra $10,000.00 will allow many people who are not licensed with the state to bid on projects that they would have not been legally permitted to bid on before this amendment. It is important to note that the new law only applies to projects or contracts that are entered into after October 1, 2023—the new law does not apply retroactively.
It is also important to note that whether you need a license to perform a certain item of work has no bearing on whether that work needs to be permitted or inspected by the relevant County. This change in the law does not mean that work which would require a building permit no longer requires that permit.
This is a big change in the law that will likely have an effect on the building industry in North Carolina as a whole—especially on those projects ranging from $30,000 to $40,000 where there will probably be much more competition.
If you need assistance with licensure, or other legal issues in the construction industry, don’t hesitate to reach out to the attorneys at Jesson & Rains.
By Zach Markle, Law Student Intern
A contractor in North Carolina is smart to triple check their state government contract bids because inaccurate bids sometimes cannot be undone. North Carolina divides mistakes in bids into two classes: “judgment error” mistakes and “clerical error” mistakes.
A “judgment error” mistake may not be undone once the bid is submitted. If a contract submits a bid and makes a mistake in judgment, like misjudging the amount of materials or the length of time needed for a project, he may be stuck with the bid as presented if the contract for the work is accepted. And if that is the case, any shortage in revenue to cover excess costs may have to be paid out of pocket. Further, if the contractor refuses to accept the project, he may forfeit their bid deposit or bid bond and potentially be subject to other penalties.
If a mistake in the bid is a “clerical error,” the consequences are not as severe. North Carolina describes “clerical errors” as “unintentional arithmetic error or unintentional omission” that is related to, among other things, the work, labor, and materials included in the bid. This usually arises when a button is accidentally pressed on a calculator during the input of costs into a spreadsheet or bid software, but it can arise in other ways as well. If the mistake is found to be a “clerical error” and the bid was submitted in good faith, and the contractor can prove it during a hearing with the right evidence, the agency in charge of the project may allow the contractor to withdraw their bid from consideration without having to forfeit their deposit or bond.
In order for a contractor to withdraw their bid, they must submit a request to withdraw in writing within 72 hours after the opening of bids, unless a longer period is specified in the instructions to bidders. They must then attend a hearing by the agency responsible for the project where they will be heard on whether or not they can prove that their bid is eligible for withdrawal.
To make sure you do not spend needed resources or have to deal with added stress to an already stressful process, triple check those bids before submitting them! Should you have any questions about the process or need additional help, please don’t hesitate to call Jesson & Rains today.
By Attorney Edward Jesson
The North Carolina Constitution, and North Carolina statutes, give contractors the right to file mechanic’s liens if they are owed money for completing “improvements” on real property. Improvements are defined in a statute, but generally speaking, anyone who performs work on real property, be it renovations, grading, architectural work, or otherwise, can file a mechanic’s lien in North Carolina.
The purpose of filing a mechanic’s lien is to have the debt owed to the contractor paid by the responsible party (often, the owner of the real property). A contractor has 120 days from the “date of last furnishing” to file the lien. The “date of last furnishing” is simply the last date that the contractor (or architect, etc.) performed work on the real property. It is best to be conservative with this date as courts have ruled in the past that punch list items performed after the date of last furnishing do not push that date out further. The mechanic’s lien has to be filed with the clerk of court in the county where the real property is located and formally served (like a lawsuit) on the property owner and any other contractors that may be affected by the lien. It is important that the lien be properly drafted when it is filed—if there is a mistake and the 120-day deadline passes, you cannot simply amend a lien. Instead, the lien must be released and a new lien filed in its place.
The contractor then has 180 days (again, from the date of last furnishing) to “enforce” the lien. To enforce a lien, you file a lawsuit and ask the court declare that your lien is valid and confirm the debt amount. Oftentimes, a lien enforcement lawsuit will also include other claims, such as a claim for breach of contract. If the contractor is successful, he/she can then request that the court order what is essentially a foreclosure sale on the property to satisfy the debt. If there are other liens attached to the property, like a mortgage, the contractor will have to get in line. The existence of other liens is something to take into account when evaluating the benefits of moving forwards with a lien enforcement action.
In reality, most lien situations are resolved prior to a foreclosure sale, because (1) property owners don’t want their property sold and (2) attorney’s fees may be awarded in the lien enforcement lawsuit. North Carolina’s mechanic’s lien statute contains an attorney’s fee provision that awards attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. That is very rarely the case in the United States (normally, parties are responsible for their respective fees, regardless of whether they win or lose), so it can be a powerful negotiating tool.
If a contractor loses, they may have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees, which can often total more than the debt owed itself, so it is important to seek the advice of a construction lawyer when evaluating whether you should file a mechanic’s lien.
There are many other factors to consider when getting ready to file a lien, and there are other types of liens that can be filed by subcontractors and others involved in the construction process. Should you have an issue with collecting money from a client or have had a lien filed against your property, please give us a call to help with your issue.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
You may know that Jesson & Rains, PLLC offers a variety of legal services including estate planning, probate administration, business law and litigation, and construction contracts and litigation. But you may not know that they are also licensed in other states as well.
Kelly Jesson, Edward Jesson, and Danielle Nodar are licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Florida. Katheryn Currie is licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Alabama. Hopefully, Ed and Katheryn will be licensed in South Carolina by the end of the year!
By maintaining our licensure and good standing in multiple states, we are able to provide legal services to our clients that may reside in North Carolina but have businesses or real estate located in another state. For example, if you own real estate in Florida and need to retitle it, our attorneys can draft and record your Florida real estate deed. As our practice has become more virtual over the last few years, we are also able to assist our clients who reside out-of-state with drafting documents that must be from the client’s resident state, such as wills and powers of attorneys.
If you have questions about how we can assist you with your legal needs in or outside of North Carolina, Florida, or Alabama, please let us know!
By Attorney Edward Jesson
Delays in construction are often unavoidable. This rang especially true over the last few years while the world has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Contractors have had to deal with material shortages, price increases, and difficulty finding labor, among many other issues. However, legal issues tend to arise when those delays start costing people involved in the project money.
The first thing to look at when evaluating whether you may have a claim for delay damages is the construction contract. Most contracts address delays, though the level of specificity will vary greatly. Generally speaking, the parties will be bound to whatever the contract says with regards to delay damages. Assuming that delay damages are recoverable, the burden is on the party claiming those damages to show: (1) what caused the delay; (2) that the person or entity claiming the damages was in no way responsible for the delay; and, (3) that the damages requested were, in fact, caused by the delay.
Under North Carolina law, delay damages can, for the most part, be quite easily categorized. For example, there are excusable and non excusable delays. Generally, excusable delays will be delays caused by circumstances outside of the contractor’s control—COVID-19 being a great example. An example of a non excusable delay is failure to properly schedule and coordinate the work. In most instances, parties will not be able to make a claim for excusable delays and may be able to make a claim for non-excusable delays.
There are also compensable and non compensable delays. A compensable delay would be a delay caused by circumstances within the control of the owner but not the contractor making the delay claim. For example, failure of the owner to provide materials which were required to be purchased by the owner which causes a delay in construction could be considered compensable delay—one that would entitle the contractor to additional time to complete the project or, under certain circumstances, monetary damages. Non compensable delays are, under most circumstances, going to be delays that do not allow anyone claim for monetary damages.
Of course, in order to make a claim for monetary damages from a delay you have to show that you have suffered actual financial damages. Examples of monetary delay damages could be an owner’s lost profits from not being able to open a business on time, or increased material costs due to a delay from the contractor. Examples of monetary damages for a contractor may include the costs of idle equipment and labor, extended project overhead, and potentially lost profits from jobs that the contractor could not take due to delays caused by the project owner.
There are many other aspects to delay damages under North Carolina law—many of which can be costly to owners and contractors alike. The good news is that many of these risks can be mitigated using effective contractual language. If you are curious whether your business is protected or if you have a delay issue, don’t hesitate to give the attorneys at Jesson & Rains a call.
By Attorney Edward Jesson
In January of this year, the North Carolina legislature passed some significant changes to North Carolina’s mechanics lien laws that went into effect on March 1, 2022. The main changes to the law make void and unenforceable contractual provisions requiring lien waivers as a condition for progress payments, modify the attorneys’ fee provisions contained in the lien statutes, and affect the design-build contracting process.
Chapter 22B of the North Carolina General Statutes, titled “Contracts Against Public Policy,” has been amended to include a new Section 22B-5, which provides that requiring someone to submit a waiver or release of lien as a condition to receiving progress payments under a construction agreement or design professional agreement are void and unenforceable unless limited to the progress payments actually received in exchange for the lien waiver. In other words, broad blanket lien waivers in exchange for progress payments are now unenforceable unless the lien waiver is specifically drafted and narrow enough in scope to only apply to the money actually being received by the party applying for payment.
The attorneys’ fee section of the mechanics lien statutes has been updated to specify the method that the court or arbitrator must use to determine which party is the “prevailing party” in circumstances where attorneys’ fees may be at issue. Instead of the Plaintiff in a lawsuit having to obtain a judgment of at least 50% of the amount it claimed, which was the case prior to March 1, the court or arbitrator will look to the party whose monetary position at the beginning of the trial is closest to the amount of the final judgment or arbitration award. The new statute also specifically allows the court or arbitrator to look at several factors, including the economic circumstances of the parties or whether one party unreasonably exercised its superior bargaining power (e.g., a very wealthy general contractor working with a relatively small subcontractor). This process, while a big change to the existing law, should have the effect of giving much more certainty when evaluating whether the court or arbitrator is likely to grant attorney’s fees when it comes time to try a case.
The changes to the design-build process only appear, at this time, to affect the design-build process as it applies to State funded projects. The changes include adding statutory definitions for “design builder,” “design professional,” “first-tier subcontractor,” “licensed contractor,” “licensed subcontractor,” “unlicensed subcontractor,” “costs of the subcontractor work,” “general conditions,” and “key personnel.” The changes also now require design builders responding to requests for proposals from the government to select their project team by one of two methods that are outlined in the new law. Furthermore, the law makes some changes specific to the bidding process for publicly funded bridging contracts and makes it clear that the requests for proposals public notice provisions require the owner to provide a list of general conditions for which the design builder needs to provide a fixed fee in its response to the proposal. This is not an exhaustive list of the changes that have been made, but given the nature and number of changes to the public design-build process, it is important to carefully review these new requirements prior to bidding on publicly funded design build projects.
These new laws will have a significant impact on many contracts used in North Carolina, litigation over attorneys’ fees in lien claims, and those design-builders engaged in the public bidding process. Should you require assistance with any of these changes, please do not hesitate to call Jesson & Rains.
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