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State protection for homeowners too late for local residents

A proposed bill would protect Pennsylvania homeowners against mechanics' liens filed by subcontractors, but it is too late for 17 Westmoreland County residents who paid a Texas roofing contractor but face liens filed by a building supplier.

The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives in May and amended in November, includes a provision that would prohibit a subcontractor from filing a mechanics' lien against an owner-occupied residential property if the homeowner paid the contractor in full.

Such a law would have prevented a situation for most of the 17 property owners facing mechanics' liens in Westmoreland because the roofing company they hired allegedly failed to pay the material supplier. One of the properties is an apartment building.

The liens were filed last month by ABC Supply Co. Inc., a Wisconsin-based company with an office in New Castle. ABC claimed in court papers that Prime Roofing Systems of Waxahachie, Texas, failed to pay them for more than $64,000 in building materials delivered to the 17 properties. Property owners have said they paid Prime Roofing for the work, which was done to repair damage from a tornado and hail storm that ripped through the county last March.

Rebecca Ruble of Hempfield, who had a $3,700 lien placed on her home by ABC Supply, said she realizes the bill will not help her. But she's glad the legislature is trying to fix the problem.

"At least there's something going forward," she said. "It may not help us, but it might help somebody. If they can get this bill through, those of us that pay our bills will not be punished for those who don't."

Bruce Hanson, executive director of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said the bill offers several protections for property owners.

Pennsylvania law allows subcontractors to file mechanics' liens on a property if they aren't paid for their work by the general contractor.

"The owner doesn't necessarily know who is all on the job, thus when he pays the bill, he doesn't know who's unpaid and who might file a mechanics' lien," Hanson said. "We're trying to make it easier for the owners to know who is on the job so they know if everybody is getting paid."

Under the bill, a property owner would file a notice when work starts, which would require all subcontractors and suppliers to provide owners with notice of the work they are performing or the materials they are providing.

Ohio has a similar law, Hanson said.

He expects the bill to be amended further to establish a website through the Department of Labor and Industry where all the notices can be filed.

The bill eliminates the ability of subcontractors to file liens on owner-occupied residences when the contractor has been paid in full. In those cases, a subcontractor could sue only the contractor.

"The argument is why should the average homeowner be held liable if they pay the contractor and the contractor doesn't pay the sub?" Hanson said. "Why should the homeowner have a lien filed against them?"

That part of the bill does not protect commercial developers and those who own apartment buildings or rental properties, though they would benefit from knowing who their subcontractors are.

"(They) are well-versed enough in the world to know there are mechanics' liens," Hanson said of those property owners.

He expects the House to vote on the bill in the next month and move it on for consideration in the Senate.

"It's a very important law, and we want to do it right, so we've taken our time with it," Hanson said.

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