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Bill aims to protect homeowners against unfair liens

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A bill aimed at protecting homeowners from nefarious home contractors cleared the state Senate Labor and Industry Committee Tuesday and will be forwarded to the full Senate for vote.

Senate Bill 145, introduced by Sen. Kim Ward, a Hempfield Republican, seeks to protect homeowners from unfair mechanics' liens. The proposal was unanimously approved by the committee.

The legislation would eliminate mechanics' lien rights for subcontractors who performed work on residential property, if the property owner already has paid the prime contractor in full.

Long a problem for homeowners, it became especially acute recently when several out-of-state roofing companies set up shop to replace tornado-damaged homes throughout Ward's Senate district in Westmoreland County in 2011.

One company completed several jobs for residents and failed to pay its roofing supplier. In turn, the roofing supplier exercised its right to file mechanics' liens against the property owners even though the property owners had already paid the contract price in full.

The contractor they hired, Prime Roofing Systems of Waxahachie, was accused of failing to pay for $64,000 in building materials supplied by ABC Supply Co. Inc. of Wisconsin, which has an office in New Castle.

“Even with proper documentation showing they paid the primary contractor, the subcontractor still filed the lien in accordance with existing Pennsylvania law. When the main contractor left town and disconnected their contact sources, they left these residents to fight the subcontractor on their own,” said Ward.

“This is unacceptable and unfair to those homeowners, who now have to pay twice because a contractor has skipped out on the job. This legislation will protect homeowners from that nightmare.”

Under Ward's bill, if a subcontractor would file a lien, the homeowner or tenant can file a petition or motion with the court to throw it out if the homeowner or tenant has paid the full contract price to the contractor.

When the homeowner or tenant has only paid part of the contract to the contractor, the bill directs the court to reduce the amount of lien to the amount still owed on the contract.

Ward introduced similar legislation in the previous legislative session. The bill would require approval by the state House of Representatives.

“The vast majority of contractors perform their work in good faith, but those who don't cause plenty of expense and stress for families,” Ward said. “By changing current law, we can make sure that consumers who pay their bills aren't penalized by the deeds of an unscrupulous contractor.”

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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