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The 101 on Lien Waivers in Construction

When a contractor agrees to take on a project for a set price, they expect to get paid for their work. If a project owner decides not to pay them, the contractor then has the right to file a lien against the property. While this does initially put the contractor in the driver’s seat, another document exists to protect project owners as well: lien waivers. 

So, what is a Lien Waiver?

A lien waiver is a document that a contractor or subcontractor can sign to give up their lien rights in exchange for payment. This form is exchanged during the payment process, and it states that for a certain amount of money, the contractor will agree not to file a lien against the owner’s property.

This is a powerful document.

If a contractor has lien rights, they can file a lien against the property if they don’t receive money for their work. If the owner still doesn’t make good on the payment, the contractor can act on the lien and force the sale of the property. Once the property sells, the contractor is able to take their cut from the proceeds.

This creates a lot of risk for the project owner. Although most owners want to pay their contractors to keep them happy, they also prefer a bit of reassurance that the contractor won’t file a lien against the property. That’s exactly what a lien waiver does. 

Two Types of Lien Waivers

There are two types of lien waivers: unconditional and conditional. If a contractor signs either one, they’ll give up their rights to a lien. However, exactly when they give up their rights changes based on the waiver type.

  • Unconditional waivers essentially state that the moment the contractor signs them, they give up their rights to a lien. These are excellent documents for project owners because they essentially wash their hands of risk. For contractors, they might be signing this document before receiving any money, meaning they’re shouldering all the risk. If the project owner doesn’t pay, there’s no recourse other than a long, drawn-out lawsuit process.
  • Conditional waivers are a bit more diplomatic. A signed conditional waiver states that a contractor will give up their right to a mechanics lien when they get paid for their work. These forms are essentially like receipts for the project owner and create very little risk for the contractor. If the contractor doesn’t get paid, they still retain their right to a lien. 

Nailing the Lien Waiver Process

These documents carry a lot of weight, so it’s important that they’re handled correctly. Project owners need to ensure they’re receiving lien waivers from the general contractor before or at the time they pay them. However, it’s also important that the GC get lien waivers from their subs as well.

One missed lien waiver throughout the payment chain can lead to a lien.

So how should a project owner or general contractor handle the lien waiver process? The best route is through automation. 

Automated Lien Waiver Generation

Tracking down lien waivers from every contractor, sub, trade, or material supplier can be a nightmare. And, it can drag the payment process out far longer than necessary. Instead of manually handling the process, lean on automatic waiver generation.

Premier Construction Software can be programmed to generate lien waivers automatically. Contractors and subs can generate them and send them when submitting invoices, or the system can require them before issuing payment. The system’s customizable workflows can send these documents to everyone who needs them, including internal and external personnel.

This automated process can provide a bit of relief for the GC or project owner. As the system automatically generates proper lien waivers (unconditional, conditional, or even final payment), they’ll know that money won’t switch bank accounts until the document is signed. This lessens the risk for these parties tremendously. 

Electronic Signatures

When a contractor or sub receives or submits a paper lien waiver, they have to sign in and include it in their payment application paperwork. This creates yet more risk, as the document could easily get misplaced, leading the project owner’s accounting staff to believe the contractor never submitted the document, so they withhold payment until they receive it. Since the contractor isn’t getting paid, they might consider filing a lien. 

It’s a nasty cycle caused by one misplaced document. 

Since Premier Construction Software allows for electronic signatures, the risk of losing a lien waiver is almost non-existent. Contractors are able to access documents on any mobile-enabled device. Once they review the form, they can sign it and submit it to the project owner. This happens in real-time.

Storage and Review

Keeping all those lien waivers organized in hard copy form can be challenging for office staff, and it allows more room for human error than is necessary. Poor file management can mean time wasted looking for a specific lien waiver, or not knowing who even submitted them.

Premier Construction Software puts secure storage at the users’ fingertips. Premier automatically stores signed agreements on its cloud, and then sends the contractor or sub a copy of the signed document. The project owner knows who’s submitted the doc, and the contractor knows their lien waiver is on file. 

And, once the waiver is in the system, it enters an approval inbox. Users can access this inbox to view approved documents (such as signed waivers) and drill down for important information like payment amount, dates, and who signed the document. 

Customizable and Repeatable Lien Waivers

Depending on the owner, GC, and sub, lien waivers can look very different between each party. The owner’s customary lien waiver they send with payment could look different than the version coming from the GC or subcontractor. While they all serve the same purpose, standardizing them into one document can streamline the payment process.

Premier Construction Software offers users the ability to configure and customize their forms. This gives the owner and GC a standardized form they can use across the payment tiers. Subs submitting invoices will be filling out the same document the project owner sends to the general contractor. This consistent language not only makes the form easier to produce and send but also ensures everyone understands the form, allowing better transparency and communication. 

Lien Waivers Require Careful Handling, and Premier Can Do It

Lien waivers are vital to both project owners trying to keep their properties clear from litigation and contractors and subs looking to speed up their payment. Both entities can benefit from a system like Premier, like automatic generation, real-time electronic approval, and cloud-based storage takes the guesswork out of lien waiver management.

To see how Premier Software can help you structure your business for success, schedule a demo today.