NCSA Legislative Committee Annual Report

The following is the Legislative Committee Annual Report as presented by Association Counsel Edward McNaughton at the NCSA Annual Business Meeting on June 18, 2014:

Legislative Committee 2013-2014 Summary Report

The NCSA Legislative Committee has been very busy over the last year, both in keeping the membership current with the recent changes to NC law, and in actively advocating for subcontractor rights with the state legislature in Raleigh.

The Legislative Committee monitored changes in statutes and case law for issues that would affect subcontractors and the construction industry, and kept the NCSA board and the membership up to date through regular presentations and Q&As at the monthly meeting. The changes discussed included:

1. Legislative:
a. Changes to the lien agent requirements for single-family residential property;
b. Expanded workers’ compensation liability for a subcontractor’s employees;
c. New e-verify requirements;
d. New underground utility damage prevention law.
2. Case Law:
a. Allowing the 6 year statute of repose overriding longer express warranty periods;
b. Elimination of the “open and obvious” defense to unsafe site conditions;
c. Allowing subsequent behavior to modify a construction contract, despite a written clause in the contract requiring all changes to be in writing;
d. Holding the director of a GC liable to a subcontractor for non-payment under a fiduciary duty to creditors, where “circumstances amounting to a winding up or dissolution” of the GC.

The biggest victory was NCSA’s advocating for subcontractors during the latest legislative changes to NC’s mechanics’ lien laws. Under current application of NC law, contractors do not have a lien on the actual real property when their contract was with a tenant. Two years ago, however, NC Court of Appeals Judge Sanford L. Steelman wrote in an case dismissing a subcontractor’s lien for work done for a terminated Section 8 housing developer that: “the present state of our law does not provide adequate protection to suppliers of labor and materials as envisioned by Article X, section 3 of the North Carolina Constitution” and that “the increasingly complex real estate arrangements now being used make it virtually impossible for a supplier of labor or materials to protect themselves under our lien laws.”

Fearing that this judicial observation could set a legal precedent for liens attaching to rental property, the NC Land Title Association lobbied the legislature to “clarify” the state’s mechanics lien laws to expressly exempt rental property from liens for work performed under a contract with a tenant.

NCSA became aware of the NCLTA’s proposed changes through its legal counsel and immediately reacted to protect subcontractors’ rights. NCSA published a detailed position paper on February 19, 2104, dubbing the issue the “Hidden Owner” and calling on the legislature to formally extend mechanics liens to rental property to satisfy contractors’ constitutional right to an “adequate lien.” This position paper was formally submitted to the assigned Legislative Research Commission, and copies were sent to various trade organizations and individuals. The “Hidden Owner” name was picked up by numerous blogs and by the NC Construction News editors.

Two delegations of NCSA members went to Raleigh, one in February and one in March, to participate in the Legislative Research Commission hearings on the proposed changes. NCSA’s attorney was one of the speakers the March meeting. While NCSA was ultimately unable to get the legislature to agree to formally extend contractor’s lien rights to rental property, it was instrumental in defeating both the NCLTA’s proposal, along with a second “compromise” proposal, that would have required contractors and subcontractors to give written notice to a landlord of any work being performed for a tenant, while still allow the landlord to avoid liability.

Moving forward, the Legislative Committee plans to continue monitoring legislative changes and case law, and to mobilize advocacy efforts as needed. Issues being considered as the membership continues to grow are establishing a PAC to actively advocate for subcontractor sights and interests, and hiring a Raleigh based lobbyist.