What To Do When You Get A Mechanic’s Lien

[This blog post is not “legal advice” – readers should consult a lawyer for all legal matters. Instead, this blog posts reflects what Dan and I, as homeowners, have learned by going through the process of having liens put on our homes and being sued by contractors.]

Our townhouse got its first (and hopefully only) mechanics lien last month. Our contractor decided to not have his stair subcontractor (and “friend” – Adam Wedrychoski of ABC Stairs Builders Corp – aka “Traditional Stairs Corp”) complete the stairs because he was too expensive and the budgets had gotten tight. Adam got disgruntled and is now going after us for $9,600.

We’ve gone through this before when the contractor for our apartment remodel (Bill Angelov of ABS Construction) went after us a few years ago (a blog post is pending on that one). We were amused that Adam Wedrychoski / ABC Stairs Builders even used the same lien service Bill Angelov / ABS Construction had used – Speedy Lien. Unfortunately the New York court system, and companies like Speedy Lien, make it so disgruntled workmen/contractors/subcontractors can put liens on your property without any proof that they have a legitimate claim.

This isn’t a horrible thing… Liens are good in that they alert purchasers of a property that there may be claims on a property. They also insure that people who add value to a property are compensated when the owner sells the property. But ultimately, they’re just a first step and the workman / contractor / sub-contractor needs to prove their claim in court.

In this case Adam Wedrychoski / Traditional Stairs Corp has no basis for putting a lien on our property. He has no contract with us, nor was there an implied contract with us (e.g. we never paid him directly). He was a subcontractor working for our contractor. If he had talked to a lawyer, he would know that all he is legally entitled to do is sue our contractor. We do have a contract with our contractor, but every time he gets a payment from us he signs a lien waiver stating that all of his subcontractors have been fully paid.

The amount of the lien doesn’t even make sense – which seems typical of liens by Speedy Lien… He took the total amount he would have been paid if he had completed the job, subtracted what he had been paid, and then put a lien on us for the difference. So he’s essentially asking for money for work he didn’t do. Thankfully our court system doesn’t think the same way Adam does.

When we contacted Wells Fargo (the lending bank for our mortgage), what they said worried us – they stop all payments of any kind if there is a lien in place. They wanted us to “settle” with Adam Wedrychoski / ABC Stairs Builders Corp and they erroneously told us that they don’t accept bonds.

Thing is, bonding the lien is the correct way to deal with the situation. It’s actually sort of cool how bonds work… You contact a surety agent (ours is Elmer Hyde Agency), and give them 110% of the lien amount plus a few hundred in fees. They bond the lien, and you file that paperwork along with some other affidavits with a clerk at the court building (harder than it sounds) and the lien is discharged. Once the lien is discharged, it no longer exists. That means your title is clean and your bank will be happy.

If the workman/contractor/subcontractor sues you and the court finds in his/her favor, the bond is used to pay the judgement and you get whatever is left over. Liens are for one year and they can be renewed once – so they can only exist for two years total. If the workman/contractor/subcontractor doesn’t sue you during that time, then you get the bond amount back with interest. However, the workman/contractor/subcontractor can sue you for up to 6 years (in NY), but after the bond expires, s/he just has to hope that you can still pay.

While it may seem odd to welcome a lawsuit, we’ve been through the process before and our attitude is “bring it on”. Adam Wedrychoski / Traditional Stairs Corp is in an impossibly difficult position. Because he is a corporation he is not allowed to show up in court without a lawyer. Because lawyers typically take a percentage of the settlement, they won’t take the case on unless they think they’ll get paid. They would typically get 1/3rd – and 1/3rd of $9,600 ($3,200) isn’t enough for them to bother with the case. And that assumes they’ll get the full amount – which they know they won’t. That means the only  way Adam Wedrychoski / ABC Stairs Builders Corp can get a lawyer, and hence the only way he can sue us, is if he pays his lawyer hourly. Bottom line – he will lose a substantial amount of money if he tries to sue us.

While Adam Wedrychoski / Traditional Stairs Corp has to have a lawyer, we’re individuals, so we can represent ourselves (this is one of the advantages of not putting our building in an LLC). The courts are very lenient with pro se defendants – there are actually judges that only hear cases with pro se defendants. Plus pro se defendants can go in and get free help with filing paperwork, etc. So while it can be time consuming to show up at all the hearings, it doesn’t actually cost us much of anything. Meanwhile he’s paying his lawyer hourly, so if you do the math its in our best interest to drag things out and have as many hearings and motions as possible. 😉

If Adam Wedrychoski / ABC Stairs Builders Corp sues us, the first thing we’ll do is a show cause motion – making him prove that he has standing to sue us. He will fail because he can’t produce a contract with us. No contract = no enforceable terms.

Incidentally, people often think that the loser pays the winners attorney fees, but that’s not the case at all (at least not in New York). That only happens if you have a written contract saying that’s what you agreed to – and of course Adam Wedrychoski / Traditional Stairs / ABC Stairs Builders has no contract with us. That is why we’re confident Adam will lose money if he pursues this, but it gets better…

If he does survive the show cause motion, our next step will be a counter suit. The stairs in the rental are not according to plan – they’re too narrow (the stringers are not flush with the sheetrock), and they’re made of red oak, not white oak. On top of that, the stairs in our unit are not square and the contractor had to correct a number of things that Adam / Traditional Stairs didn’t quite get right. In fact things are so bad our architect suggested either we or our contractor sue him for everything he’s received – about $20,000. At one point we detailed a whole list of things that we wanted him to fix and he never came back to fix them – instead the contractor had to take care of it.

In case you’re wondering, Adam’s / ABC Stairs Builders Corp’s lien is an attempt to get paid for having to fabricate and install the flight of stairs from the parlor to the 2nd floor three times. When this was all going down we insisted that he do shop drawings, he refused and promised to fix any problems that resulted from not having shop drawings. I even mentioned that understanding up in a blog post. He even started before our architect gave him the green light. If he had just waited for approval to start we could have avoided at least one of those fabrication/installs. Plus, we’ll have our contractor, and our architects testifying that that we did in fact insist on shop drawings and that he agreed to fix anything that was a problem.

There is simply no way he can win his case, but I’m pretty sure we can win a fair amount of money on our counter suit. That means if he sues us, between lawyers fees and our counter suit, it will be a lose-lose proposition for him. Which is why our attitude is “bring it on”…

Thing is, all of this affects our contractor more than it affect us. The contractor is liable for the actions of his sub-contractors – including any liens they put on us. So the bond money is coming out of what he would have gotten at the end of the project. All Adam has accomplished with the lien is hurting someone who used to consider him a friend.

The bottom line is, be careful in dealing with contractors and subcontractors. Lien waivers and receipts of “final payment” are always a good idea. And summarize important conversations in writing/email after they occur so there’s documentation. Then when you get a mechanics lien, just bond it and put the ball back in the workman/contractor/subcontractor’s court.

Honestly, I think a lot of (sub)contractors don’t understand the process and have never heard of a bond. They just hear that liens scare some homeowners into settling. They don’t understand that they may actually have to sue the homeowner to get any money. They definitely don’t seem to understand that filing a lien starts a process which could result in them losing a considerable amount of money…

As a homeowner just realize you don’t have to settle with someone who is putting a lien on your property to harass and intimidate you – you can bond the lien and regain the upper hand in the situation.

Picking Carrara Slabs For Kitchen Counter

The last post was about the rental kitchen, but we’ve made progress on our kitchen as well. The cabinets are gray lacquer – Ikea’s Abstrakt Gray. Here’s a picture of the kitchen, but realize that most of the cabinets have a protective blue plastic on them. The only area in the picture that’s the correct color is to the left of the range, on the side of the fridge.

parlor kitchen cabinets

Picking a counter material was tough. Black counters look really good against the gray cabinets, but the stairs and the range hood we picked are all about white – black would have just been wrong. A color would have complicated the design, and a busy grain would have been distracting. So we settled on Carrara since we’re using it as a reoccurring material throughout the house.

The problem with Carrara is that most of the Carrara these days is really gray. And gray Carrara next to gray cabinets would just look muddled. At the same time it doesn’t make sense to spend the big bucks on primo Carrara to go along with Ikea cabinets. Ikea kitchens are decent these days, but not that good. So the challenge was to find Carrara that was at a reasonable price point but still pretty white. Luckily we found some at the second stone yard we went to – but just barely. A new shipment had come in and we picked it while it was still in the shipping container – there was just one block that looked right and we only saw about 18″ of it, but when we saw it two days later it was pretty close to what we were hoping for.

Our fabricator had to buy two slabs to do our kitchen since the slabs are smaller than the granite we bought for the rental. (This afternoon when we saw him he was grumbling a bit about the cost of the slabs). Here’s the one we’ll use for the island…

carrara slab for kitchen island

The template for the island is the big one to the right. The bottom is towards the door, and you can see where the sink will be on the other side. We are a little worried about the cantilever portion breaking since marble isn’t as strong as granite. Since marble is most likely to break along veins, we kept the heaviest area of veins over the dishwasher where the marble will be most supported. The veins are much less in the cantilevered area.

The little template to the left will be the piece that goes under the microwave in an area that’s not too visible.

We almost went with a stainless counter along the wall since stainless is a lot more practical than marble next to a cooktop. But I’m not a big fan of different counter surfaces in the same kitchen (in most cases). And a white counter will look better than a stainless counter, so we went with the Carrara. Plus stainless cost a bit more. This is the slab that will be used along the wall – on either side of the range…

carrara slab for kitchen island

The two slabs are neighboring slices from the same block – so the veining is pretty much the same. But instead of using the bottom of the slab, like on the island, along the wall we’ll use the top part of the slab (where you see the tape). The big template will go to the right of the range, the little template will go to the left.

One other thing – 90% of the time people say Carrara in the kitchen should be honed, not polished. Apparently you can seal honed marble better than polished marble, and polished marble gets scratched up pretty easily in kitchens. But as Dan pointed out, honed marble next to high gloss cabinets would be a bit odd. Since the cabinets are high gloss, the marble needs to be polished (visually). We’ll just have to work harder to keep it looking good. And if we hate it, apparently wiping it down with vinegar and letting the vinegar sit for 20 minutes or so will dull the polish and make it look more or less honed.

Believe it or not, the fabricator is working over the weekend on the counters and they’ll be installed on Tuesday. It will be great to see that final piece really come together – the kitchens will look so complete.

Colonial Gold Won For Counter In Rental

[UPDATE: I’ve swapped out the pictures of the slab we got with a new better one that shows how the pieces will be cut…]

After my post the other day we decided against Rosewood granite for the rental – it just competed too much with the brick wall. Yesterday we went back to the stone yards and looked for other options. This time we took samples of the cabinets with us and it really helped. Some of the granite slabs just went better with the color of the cabinets. The one we chose was “Colonial Gold” granite.

On the slab below the peninsula will use the lower half of the slab. It’s reversed from the picture of the kitchen below… So the darker side will be next to the sheetrocked wall and the lighter side will be next to the hallway and brick wall.

granite slab for rental apartment

Since it’s a light colored granite, it’s going to be a pretty light/bright kitchen – almost white on white. The good part is the Colonial Gold won’t compete with the brick wall, but the dark bits are still strong enough to stand up to it (hopefully). Here’s the picture of the cabinets and and the wall again…

rental kitchen cabinets

There’s a slightly darker more yellow version of Colonial Gold called Colonial Creme. When we went to a different stone yard earlier in the morning they had slabs marked Colonial Creme that were as light or lighter than the Colonial Gold we bought – so the naming seems to depend on the source.

Here are few other slabs we saw that were either contenders or generally interesting. I gotta say, there’s so much cool granite out there – but of course there are a lot of factors that make each one best for a particular use…

Here’s one Dan really liked and wanted to use in the rental kitchen. It’s cool, but I’m not sure if it would have been as successful as the Colonial Gold…

varigated granite

Here’s one that looks like wood – it would be pretty overpowering as a kitchen counter, but I think it would make a great coffee table…

wood like granite

This was another that might have worked as the counter in the rental – light color with dark rust-like spots. But it didn’t work quite as well as the Colonial Gold.

granite with rust-like spots

Today we’re off to meet the architect at the house, then we’ll go see the stone fabricator and discuss cuts so we get the most interesting bits of the slabs in most visible location. Then after that it’s back to the house for a meeting with the ironworker about the rear deck/pergola.

Lots Of Choices Picking Countertops

A fair amount has gotten done since my last blog post, but once again some of it isn’t all that photogenic… We passed our plumbing inspection – so we can finally get water and gas working properly. They’ve continued working on the stairs. They’ve painted the bathrooms, but until the protective wrappings are off everything and the fixtures fully installed the pictures don’t make complete sense.

One thing we struggled with today was picking the countertops for the two kitchens. Our kitchen still has blue plastic wrap on most of the cabinets, so the color in the pictures is all off – so more on that later. But in the rental kitchen we first started with this demo kitchen being our concept…

Ikea Adel white cabinets with dark gray counter

That’s Ikea’s Adel white with a dark gray counter. That was pretty much my vision of the kitchen color scheme complete with a Carrara backsplash. That counter isn’t quite as dark as you might think – here’s a close up picture…

dark gray counter

But then Dan didn’t want to go so dark since the room doesn’t have a whole lot of natural light. So he started thinking outside the box, but a light color counter with white cabinets would look anemic – there had to be some darkness to it. Dan also didn’t want anything too uniform in color. The stuff you get at places like Ikea & Home Depot is really uniform because they want the sample to match what you get. When you go with a stone that has more variation you sorta have to pick a particular slab – which the big stores can never accommodate.

Here’s the slab we found today that we liked – it’s rosewood granite…

rosewood granite slab

It’s got a lot going on and when we got home we seriously started double guessing our choice. Was it too pink? Was it too busy? It didn’t look contemporary enough. And so on… But what got us back to thinking it was a good choice was looking at a picture of the kitchen…

rental kitchen cabinets

The biggest issue is the brick wall. It’s got pinks and oranges in it like the slab. And as I looked at the picture of the kitchen, while an almost black might work, a more medium gray just seemed wrong given the color of the wall.

I’m still not 100% convinced, so we’ll see… I think we’ll look a little more before making a final decision.

Our kitchen is a whole other story – but that’s for another day. The short version is that we’re going to go with polished Carrara marble counters with gray lacquer cabinets. Yes, most people say to do honed Carrara in kitchens, but Dan’s emphatic about polished. And we were thinking about just having Carrara on the island and having stainless along with wall, but I think ultimately it will look better with Carrara everywhere – even if it’s not quite as practical.


We’re now thinking the rosewood granite isn’t right for the rental… We’ll go Friday morning to pick something else. I’ll update this post when we pick the new slab…

Progress On Parquet Floor & Stairs

Our contractor has been making progress on a few things the past week. The parlor floor was sanded, and stained with 5% white Monocoat – it will get the first two coats of sealer tomorrow.

living room parquet

We went with a basket weave sort of pattern in the living room and dining room. It’s a pattern I found by surfing the Internet – not sure what the proper name of it is…

basket weave parquet

We like it because it makes the room feel wider. We were afraid if we went with the standard linear pattern it would make the parlor floor feel like a bowling alley. We do have a standard linear pattern in the kitchen, but since it doesn’t go the whole way so it looks fine.

One thing that we have been a little ambivalent about is the color variation – we were expecting less variation. The 1930s apartments that we’ve been living in for 15 years now have pretty consistent floors – but the wood was higher quality back in the 1930s because it came from older trees. These days the engineered floors are so highly processed they have consistency of color, but “real wood” isn’t as high quality as it was back in the day. If I had it to do all over again I might get “clear grade” instead of “select grade” even if I had to go down to flat cut (from quarter/rift sawn) to get the better, more consistent grade of wood. We’ve also heard bleaching the floors can make the color more consistent – but we didn’t think seriously about that until after it was too late. Still, I think what we have is pretty good and it does seem more consistent once it’s sealed.

The other thing that’s progressing is the staircase in our unit. The top flight has been painted white…

white steel

And they’ve been working on the treads. Quite a few of them have been stained and will be sealed soon…

stair treads stained

We’re going with flat cut on the top two flights of stairs and quarter/rift on the lower two flights. They’re starting from the top down, so what you see is the flat cut treads.

You can see some of the variation I’m talking about in those treads – there’s one against the wall and another in the second big panel that are pretty dark except a strip down the edge that’s quite light. They still look pretty cool though.. 🙂

The contractor has also started putting the kitchen cabinets together – seeing them go in is yet another thing that makes the house feel like it’s “getting there”. Pictures of that soon…