Mechanics liens are a powerful tool for members of the construction industry. The ability to cloud a property owner’s title is invaluable because nothing speeds up payments like the threat of potential foreclosure. However, intricacies of mechanics lien law can cause problems for contractors, subs, and suppliers by creating tripwires on the path to recovering payment. On the other hand, these laws also protect property owners from unfounded lien claims.
Striking a balance between these interests should be the goal when mechanics lien laws are written. The need for this balance has become abundantly clear during the recovery from natural disasters. This year’s Louisiana flood has been no exception. Post flood contractor fraud has lead to at least one arrest.
Post Flood Contractor Fraud in Louisiana
If you have done business with Complete Construction, also known as CCC, or Matthew Joseph Morris in south Louisiana, it would be in your best interest to compare your bill with the work that was completed and report any issues. Currently, there are 3 police agencies searching for Morris who is suspected in over 20 post-flood fraud cases.
The stories differ to some extent, but most of Morris’ customers describe a similar experience:
- Morris contracted with homeowners who were often desperate to begin repair work.
- Some customers were told about Complete Construction’s backlog of projects and encouraged to move up the list by signing an open contract.
- After varying degrees of completion, Complete Construction abandoned the projects.
- Despite failing to complete the projects, Complete Construction sent customers outrageous bills.
- Complete Construction regularly filed and threatened to file liens to enforce payment.
Morris’ customers, perhaps better described as “victims”, allege he has billed them for sums ranging from $11,500 to as much as $244,000. Many stories of contractor fraud begin with an unfamiliar contractor or an unsolicited bid, but a number of those alleging Morris’ misconduct were referred by friends and family. Perhaps the most disturbing story is that of one of his own employees- Morris contracted to repair his construction manager’s home only to abandon the project and stick her with a $52,000 bill.
For an in-depth look at the situation, Nola.com recently published an article on the cautionary tales of Louisiana flood victims.
We’ve also published posts on several past disasters including Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Sandy, and the Louisiana flood. It’s truly unfortunate that posts like these are necessary, but one way or the other someone always gets the short end of the stick while rebuilding. Having to repair or reconstruct a home or business is always painful, but these situations offer an opportunity for mutual benefit. Property owners can receive the work they desperately need, and construction businesses can help the community rebuild while also enjoying a boost in business. Invariably, though, some industry members use the aftermath of a disaster to line their pockets through questionable and deceptive practices, often using mechanics liens.
To quote the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Mechanics lien rights yield great power in the construction industry. This was intentionally done- Thomas Jefferson established the American mechanics lien in order to provide serious protection for the nation’s builders. When utilized properly, the mechanics lien is construction’s greatest tool to secure payment. As with every industry, though, unethical parties abuse their power. Mechanics liens promote fairness in construction payment, but only when responsibly used.
For more posts on the aftermath of natural disasters, check out the Storms tag on the blog. For more on construction payment in Louisiana, here are our Louisiana Construction Payment Resources.