1. What Is a Mechanic's Lien?
2. How Can a Notice of Nonresponsibility Help?

A notice of non responsibility is an often ineffectively used and misunderstood legal tool that property owners can use under California construction laws. The tool was created to help owners protect their property from foreclosure if unable to pay subcontractors and suppliers for property improvements. 

Owners often misuse nonresponsibility notices. When used properly, however, this notice can be a very important tool for protecting your property ownership. To make sure a nonresponsibility notice is effective, you must know and adhere to the proper deadlines and conditions. 

One of the many common mistakes associated with this notice is the owner failing to sign an agreement with the tenant indicating there might be property improvements in the future. It is important to note that posting a notice of nonresponsibility cannot eliminate a California Mechanic's Lien from being put into effect. 

What Is a Mechanic's Lien?

A supplier or subcontractor who has provided materials or work for a home improvement or other building project and has not received compensation can issue a mechanic's lien. When a mechanic's lien is in place, the person filing the lien can hold rights to the property until they get compensated for their materials or labor. This can occur even if the claimant has not had direct contact with the property owner. 

How Can a Notice of Nonresponsibility Help?

If a notice of nonresponsibility has been used properly, it can make a mechanic's lien on the property unenforceable. A property owner might use this tactic to prevent the mechanic's lien from leading to a foreclosure sale on the property. Most frequently, however, the notice is not used correctly and becomes ineffective. At this point, it cannot protect the property owner's rights. 

You can find the rules for the proper use of a notice of nonresponsibility in the California Civil Code under Section 8444. The rules state that an owner who was unaware of improvements being made to a property can fill out a form to post a nonresponsibility notice within 10 days from the time they first discover improvements on the property have occurred. The owner must post this form on the property where work is being done and record it with the County Recorder. This helps prevent a mechanic's lien from being brought on the property. 

Reasons a nonresponsibility notice might be ineffective include:

  • The owner authorizing the tenant to make improvements.
  • The owner providing authorization in the lease documents to allow the tenant to make improvements.

Many times, owners might mistakenly believe they have 10 days to post the notice once the work commences to protect themselves, even if they know about or have authorized the improvements. The notice can only be used to protect the owner from improvements they did not know were occurring. So once the owner has given approval, he or she cannot file a notice. What typically occurs in these cases is that:

  • An owner will give a tenant permission to improve the property either in the lease or before the project begins.
  • The tenant authorizes the improvement but fails to pay for the work.
  • The contractor is unable to pay the vendors.
  • The unpaid claimant can file a mechanic's lien.
  • Foreclosure proceedings can proceed within 90 days to satisfy the debt.

Many owners will try to post a notice when work begins, but the notice will not be enforceable because they have been made aware of the improvement projects and have given the tenant permission to perform them. Owners' cases often fall apart in court due to provisions set in the lease agreement giving permission for improvements. Owners often allow for improvements to be made in lease agreements because they might ultimately benefit the property and its value.

This system has also been set in place to help prevent owners from setting up "false" tenants to be able to make improvements to the property without paying for the services, putting the blame on the tenant while protecting their property. The fake tenants "disappear" when the work is done, leaving the contractor and suppliers with the bill for improvements. This type of practice is referred to as duplicity.

If you need help with a notice of non-responsibility, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.