Escrow account or bond requirement.
Prepaid maintenance lien.
Attachment and preservation.
Notice of existence of lien.
Discharge of lien.
Enforceability of lien.
Duties of the department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection.
FEDERAL LIEN REGISTRATION
Uniform federal lien registration act.
LIENHOLDER; ACQUISITION OF PRIOR LIEN
Payment of prior real estate liens.
Construction liens. 779.01(1)(1)
Name of law.
This subchapter may be referred to as the construction lien law.
In this subchapter unless the context or subject matter requires otherwise:
“Improve" or “improvement" includes any building, structure, erection, fixture, demolition, alteration, excavation, filling, grading, tiling, planting, clearing, landscaping, repairing, or remodeling which is built, erected, made or done on or to land for its benefit. This enumeration is intended as an extension rather than a limitation of the normal meaning and scope of “improve" and “improvement".
“Labor" includes any wages and related contributions for state employment taxes, worker's compensation and unemployment compensation insurance, and other fringe benefits.
“Lien claimant" means any person who claims a lien under this section pursuant to a contract for improvement of land entered into by an owner of the land.
“Materials" includes any construction materials, supplies, tools, fixtures, equipment, machinery, vehicles, fuel, and energy.
“Owner" means the owner of any interest in land who, personally or through an agent, enters into a contract, express or implied, for the improvement of the land. Agency will be presumed, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, between employer and employee, between spouses, between joint tenants and among tenants in common, but there shall be a similar presumption against agency in all other cases.
“Prime contractor" means any of the following:
A person, other than a laborer, but including an architect, professional engineer, construction manager, surveyor, or other service provider, employed by the owner, who enters into a contract with an owner of land who is not personally the prime contractor as defined in subd. 2.
to improve the land, or who takes over from a prime contractor the uncompleted contract.
An owner of land who acts personally as prime contractor in improving such land.
“Serve" or “served" means personal delivery, delivery by registered or certified mail, service in a manner described for service of a summons under s. 801.14
, or any other means of delivery in which the recipient makes written confirmation of the delivery; except that in s. 779.15
, with respect to serving the state, “serve" or “served" means delivery by registered or certified mail.
Extent and character of lien.
Any person who performs, furnishes, or procures any work, labor, service, materials, plans, or specifications, used or consumed for the improvement of land, and who complies with s. 779.02
, shall have a lien therefor on all interests in the land belonging to its owners. The lien extends to all contiguous land of the owner, but if the improvement is located wholly on one or more platted lots belonging to the owner, the lien applies only to the lots on which the improvement is located.
Priority of construction lien.
The lien provided in sub. (3)
shall be prior to any lien which originates subsequent to the visible commencement in place of the work of improvement, except as otherwise provided by ss. 215.21 (4) (a)
, 292.31 (8) (i)
and 706.11 (1)
. When new construction is the principal improvement involved, commencement is considered to occur no earlier than the beginning of substantial excavation for the foundations, footings or base of the new construction, except where the new construction is to be added to a substantial existing structure, in which case the commencement is the time of the beginning of substantial excavation or the time of the beginning of substantial preparation of the existing structure to receive the added new construction, whichever is earlier. The lien also shall be prior to any unrecorded mortgage given prior to the commencement of the work of improvement, if the lien claimant has no actual notice of the mortgage before the commencement. Lien claimants who perform, furnish, or procure any labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for an improvement prior to the visible commencement of the work of improvement shall have lien rights, but shall have only the priority accorded to other lien claimants.
Assignment of lien, garnishment.
Assignment of a claim or right to a lien or any part thereof by a prime contractor, or garnishment by the creditor of a prime contractor, subcontractor, supplier, service provider, laborer or mechanic, shall not operate to compel the owner, prime contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or service provider to pay the assignee or creditor until the lien claims of subcontractors, suppliers, service providers, and laborers under this subchapter have either been paid in full, matured by notice and filing or expired. If such claims become liens, the owner, prime contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or service provider shall be compelled to pay such assignee or creditor only what remains due in excess of such liens.
A lien did not accrue by virtue of a surveyor's placement of stakes indicating the street layout, although performed before the mortgage was recorded, as staking is not a visible commencement of improvement work. Mortgage Associates v. Monona Shores, 47 Wis. 2d 171
, 177 N.W.2d 340
Public policy does not require that financial institutions notify contractors that the owner is or may be in default. Mortgage Associates v. Monona Shores, 47 Wis. 2d 171
, 177 N.W.2d 340
In a complaint seeking to foreclose a construction lien on a municipal arena, allegations that the lessee of the arena was acting as the city's agent in contracting for improvements to the arena was sufficient to withstand demurrer. James W. Thomas Construction Co., Inc. v. Madison, 79 Wis. 2d 345
, 255 N.W.2d 551
An architects' lien was unenforceable prior to the visible commencement of construction. Goebel v. National Exchangors, Inc., 88 Wis. 2d 596
, 277 N.W.2d 755
A prospective buyer under a purchase contract was not an “owner" under sub. (2) (d) [now sub. (2) (c)]. C.R. Stocks, Inc. v. Blakely's Matterhorn, Inc., 90 Wis. 2d 118
, 279 N.W.2d 499
(Ct. App. 1979).
A lien for work performed after the owner's ex-spouse docketed a judgment against the owner related back to earlier work completed and paid in full under a different contract. Estate of Riese v. Weber, 132 Wis. 2d 215
, 389 N.W.2d 640
(Ct. App. 1986).
Construction lien claimants' rights against purchase contract interests: The role of equitable conversion. 1980 WLR 615.
Notice required to preserve lien rights; exceptions; saving clause; obligations of contractors. 779.02(1)(1)
Exceptions to notice requirement.
The notice required to be given by lien claimants under sub. (2)
shall not be required to be given in the following cases only:
By any laborer or mechanic employed by any prime contractor or subcontractor.
By any lien claimant who has contracted directly with the owner for the labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications performed, furnished, or procured, unless the claimant is a prime contractor subject to the notice requirement of sub. (2) (a)
By any lien claimant performing, furnishing, or procuring labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for an improvement in any case where more than 4 family living units are to be provided or added by such work of improvement, if the improvement is wholly residential in character, or in any case where the improvement is partly or wholly nonresidential in character.
By any prime contractor who is personally an owner of the land to be improved, by any corporate prime contractor of which an owner of the land is an officer or controlling shareholder, by any prime contractor who is an officer or controlling shareholder of a corporation which is an owner of the land or by any corporate prime contractor managed or controlled by substantially the same persons who manage or control a corporation which is an owner of the land.
By any lien claimant, other than a prime contractor, who performs, furnishes, or procures labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for an improvement on a project on which the prime contractor is not required to give notice under this section.
Notice to owner, lender, and supplier. 779.02(2)(a)
Every prime contractor who enters into a contract with the owner for a work of improvement on the owner's land and who has contracted or will contract with any subcontractors, suppliers, or service providers to perform, furnish, or procure labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for the work of improvement shall include in any written contract with the owner the notice required by this paragraph, and shall provide the owner with a copy of the written contract. If no written contract for the work of improvement is entered into, the notice shall be prepared separately and served on the owner or authorized agent within 10 days after the first labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications are performed, furnished, or procured for the improvement by or pursuant to the authority of the prime contractor. The notice, whether included in a written contract or separately given, shall be in at least 8-point bold type, if printed, or in capital letters, if typewritten. It shall be in substantially the following language: “As required by the Wisconsin construction lien law, claimant hereby notifies owner that persons or companies performing, furnishing, or procuring labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for the construction on owner's land may have lien rights on owner's land and buildings if not paid. Those entitled to lien rights, in addition to the undersigned claimant, are those who contract directly with the owner or those who give the owner notice within 60 days after they first perform, furnish, or procure labor, services, materials, plans or specifications for the construction. Accordingly, owner probably will receive notices from those who perform, furnish, or procure labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for the construction, and should give a copy of each notice received to the mortgage lender, if any. Claimant agrees to cooperate with the owner and the owner's lender, if any, to see that all potential lien claimants are duly paid".
Every person other than a prime contractor who performs, furnishes, or procures labor, materials, plans, or specifications for an improvement shall have the lien and remedy under this subchapter only if within 60 days after performing, furnishing, or procuring the first labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications the person serves a written notice, in 2 signed copies, on the owner or authorized agent at the last-known post-office address. The owner or agent shall provide a copy of the notice received, within 10 days after receipt, to any mortgage lender who is furnishing or is to furnish funds for construction of the improvement to which the notice relates. The notice to the owner shall be in substantially the following language, with blanks accurately filled in: “As a part of your construction contract, your prime contractor or claimant has already advised you that those who perform, furnish, or procure labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for the work will be notifying you. The undersigned first performed, furnished, or procured labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications on .... (give date) for the improvement now under construction on your real estate at .... (give legal description, street address or other clear description). Please give your mortgage lender the extra copy of this notice within 10 days after you receive this, so your lender, too, will know that the undersigned is included in the job".
If any prime contractor required to give the notice prescribed in par. (a)
fails to give notice as required, the prime contractor does not have the lien and remedy provided by this subchapter unless the prime contractor pays all of the prime contractor's obligations to its subcontractors, suppliers, and service providers in respect to the work of improvement within the time periods under s. 779.06
and until the time for notice under par. (b)
has elapsed and either none of its subcontractors, suppliers, or service providers gives notice as a lien claimant under par. (b)
or all of its subcontractors, suppliers, and service providers have waived all lien rights in full under s. 779.05
Every mortgage lender making an improvement or construction loan shall make reasonable inquiry of the owner as to whether any notices required by this subsection have been given. A lender is not required to pay out any loan proceeds unless or until the prime contractor has given any notice required of the prime contractor by this subsection.
If the owner or lender complains of any insufficiency of any notice, the burden of proof is upon the owner or lender to show that he or she has been misled or deceived by the insufficiency. If there is more than one owner, giving the notice required to any one owner or authorized agent is sufficient. In addition, every prime contractor and subcontractor, at the time of purchasing or contracting for any materials to be used in any of the cases enumerated in s. 779.01
, shall upon request deliver to the supplier a description of the real estate upon which the materials are to be used and the name and post-office address of the owner and authorized agent, if any. Failure to receive such description and name and address does not relieve a supplier who asserts a lien from the requirement of giving timely notice.
Failure to give notice; saving clause.
Any lien claimant, other than the prime contractor, who fails to give a notice as required by sub. (2) (b)
shall have no lien on the land or improvement to which the failure relates. Any claimant who serves a late but otherwise proper notice on the owner or authorized agent shall have the lien provided by s. 779.01
for any labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications performed, furnished, or procured after the late notice is actually received by the owner. The burden of proving that labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for which a lien is claimed were furnished after that date is on the lien claimant.
Notice and filing requirements in s. 779.06 unaffected.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to relieve any lien claimant of the notice and filing requirements under s. 779.06
Theft by contractors.
The proceeds of any mortgage on land paid to any prime contractor or any subcontractor for improvements upon the mortgaged premises, and all moneys paid to any prime contractor or subcontractor by any owner for improvements, constitute a trust fund only in the hands of the prime contractor or subcontractor to the amount of all claims due or to become due or owing from the prime contractor or subcontractor for labor, services, materials, plans, and specifications used for the improvements, until all the claims have been paid, and shall not be a trust fund in the hands of any other person. The use of any such moneys by any prime contractor or subcontractor for any other purpose until all claims, except those which are the subject of a bona fide dispute and then only to the extent of the amount actually in dispute, have been paid in full or proportionally in cases of a deficiency, is theft by the prime contractor or subcontractor of moneys so misappropriated and is punishable under s. 943.20
. If the prime contractor or subcontractor is a corporation, limited liability company, or other legal entity other than a sole proprietorship, such misappropriation also shall be deemed theft by any officers, directors, members, partners, or agents responsible for the misappropriation. Any of such misappropriated moneys which have been received as salary, dividend, loan repayment, capital distribution or otherwise by any shareholder, member, or partner not responsible for the misappropriation shall be a civil liability of that person and may be recovered and restored to the trust fund specified in this subsection by action brought by any interested party for that purpose. Except as provided in this subsection, this section does not create a civil cause of action against any person other than the prime contractor or subcontractor to whom such moneys are paid. Until all claims are paid in full, have matured by notice and filing or have expired, such proceeds and moneys shall not be subject to garnishment, execution, levy or attachment.
Prime contractors to defend lien actions.
Where a lien is filed under this subchapter by any person other than the prime contractor, the prime contractor shall defend any action thereon at personal expense, and during the pendency of the action the owner may withhold from the prime contractor the amount for which the lien was filed and sufficient to defray the costs of the action. In case of judgment against the owner, the owner may deduct from any amount due to the prime contractor the amount of the judgment and if the judgment exceeds the amount due, the owner may recover the difference from the prime contractor. This subsection does not apply if the lien is the result of the failure of the owner to pay the prime contractor.
Wrongful use of materials.
Any prime contractor or any subcontractor furnishing materials who purchases materials on credit and represents at the time of making the purchase that the materials are to be used in a designated building or other improvement and thereafter uses or causes them to be used in the construction of any improvement other than that designated, without the written consent of the seller, may be fined not more than $300 or imprisoned not more than 3 months.
Wage payments to laborer apply to earlier work.
In any situation where a laborer or mechanic employed by any prime contractor or subcontractor has wage payments due and has worked on more than one improvement for the employer during the period for which the wages are due, and a payment of less than all wages due is made, the payment is deemed to apply to the unpaid work in chronological sequence starting with the earliest unpaid time, unless the laborer agrees in writing that the payment shall be applied in a different way.
It is not necessary to show that the defendant received benefits from a misappropriation of trust funds in order for the plaintiff to recover. A showing of wrongful intent is not required to establish civil liability under sub. (5). Burmeister Woodwork Co. v. Friedel, 65 Wis. 2d 293
, 222 N.W.2d 647
When the defendant lessor had not paid the lessee for improvements to the lessor's property by the lessee's contractor, the contractor had a claim for unjust enrichment against the defendant even though the contractor lost its lien rights against the defendant by failing to give the notice required under sub. (2) (a). S & M Rotogravure Service, Inc. v. Baer, 77 Wis. 2d 454
, 252 N.W.2d 913
Intent to defraud must be proved when criminal sanctions are sought under sub. (5). State v. Blaisdell, 85 Wis. 2d 172
, 270 N.W.2d 69
Because an entire project was covered by one contract, three buildings on three adjoining lots constituted a single improvement under sub. (1) (c). Cline-Hanson, Inc. v. Esselman, 107 Wis. 2d 381
, 319 N.W.2d 829
Sub. (5) does not require that payments be made directly from the owner to subcontractors for a trust to be created. Money deposited into a bank did not lose its trust fund status. Kraemer Bros. v. Pulaski State Bank, 138 Wis. 2d 395
, 406 N.W.2d 379
A trust fund under sub. (5) is created when an owner constructively pays an insolvent contractor by delivering money to the clerk of court seeking a declaratory judgment as to distribution. A subcontractor need not preserve lien rights. Wis. Dairies Coop. v. Citizens Bank, 160 Wis. 2d 758
, 467 N.W.2d 124
A violation of sub. (5) may be found without showing that the prime contractor intended to permanently deprive laborers and suppliers of compensation. The intent required is to use the moneys subject to a trust inconsistent with the purpose of the trust. State v. Sobkowiak, 173 Wis. 2d 327
, 496 N.W.2d 620
(Ct. App. 1992).
Under sub. (5), a corporate officer who had the power and authority to ensure that corporate affairs were properly managed and who did not receive a personal benefit may be personally responsible for a misappropriation. Capen Wholesale, Inc. v. Probst, 180 Wis. 2d 354
, 509 N.W.2d 120
(Ct. App. 1993).
The prime contractor's duty under sub. (6) to defend the property owners against subcontractors' lien claims is not altered because the prime contractor is also owed money. Torke/Wirth/Pujara v. Lakeshore Towers, 192 Wis. 2d 481
, 531 N.W.2d 419
(Ct. App. 1995).
The exemption under sub. (1) (c) to the notice requirement for improvements when more than four residential units are provided is not restricted to the actual provision of the dwellings, but also applies to improvements that facilitate providing the dwellings when the improvements are not provided to each living unit separately but are provided to a project as a whole. Riverwood Park, Inc. v. Central Ready-Mixed Concrete, Inc., 195 Wis. 2d 821
, 536 N.W.2d 722
(Ct. App. 1995), 94-2413
The test for a violation of sub. (5) is whether all the money received by the contractor was paid for labor and materials used for contracted improvements. It is not whether an individual subcontractor received its full billed amount. Capital City Sheet Metal, Inc. v. Voytovich, 217 Wis. 2d 683
, 578 N.W.2d 643
(Ct. App. 1998), 97-1588
When a lien claimant's work was essential to allow an improvement to be used for its intended purpose and the improved area exceeded 10,000 square feet, the work “provided" 10,000 square feet of space to the facility under former sub. (1) (c), 1995 stats., and the claimant was exempt from the sub. (2) lien notice requirement. U.S. Fire Protection v. St. Michael's Hospital, 221 Wis. 2d 410
, 585 N.W.2d 659
(Ct. App. 1998), 97-3426
Under sub. (5), a misuse of contractor trust funds can form the basis of a prosecution for criminal theft by contractor under s. 943.20. Because s. 943.20 qualifies for treble damages under s. 895.80, treble damages are available for theft by contractor under sub. (5), provided that the elements of both the civil and the criminal statutes, including the specific criminal intent element required by s. 943.20, are proven to the civil preponderance burden of proof. Tri-Tech Corp. of America v. Americomp Services, Inc., 2002 WI 88
, 254 Wis. 2d 418
, 646 N.W.2d 822
While money cannot be used for purposes outside of the project, that does not end contractors' responsibilities under the statute. Using the money to pay themselves in full while other subcontractors have not been paid proportionally constitutes using money for a non-statutory purpose. State v. Keyes, 2008 WI 54
, 309 Wis. 2d 516
, 750 N.W.2d 30
Monies paid to the trustee in bankruptcy of an insolvent contractor are not trust funds. In re Mercury Heating Co., 322 F. Supp. 1161
Wisconsin's Construction Trust Fund Statute: Protecting Against Theft by Contractor. Hinkston. Wis. Law. May 2005.
Lien valid unless waived by claimant personally, or unless payment bond furnished. 779.03(1)(1)
No agreement by other than claimant may invalidate lien.
Subject to s. 779.05
, a lien claimant may waive the lien given by s. 779.01
by a writing signed by the lien claimant, but no action by nor agreement between any other persons shall invalidate the lien, other than payment in full to the claimant for the labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications to which the lien claim relates.
Payment bond may eliminate lien rights.
In any case where the prime contractor, pursuant to agreement with the owner, has furnished a payment bond under s. 779.035
, all liens provided by s. 779.01
except those of any prime contractor do not exist, ss. 779.02 (1)
do not apply and all claimants who have no lien shall follow the requirements and procedures specified in ss. 779.035
History: 1973 c. 230
; 1979 c. 32
, 92 (9)
; Stats. 1979 s. 779.03; 1993 a. 486
; 2005 a. 204
Form of contract; payment bond; remedy. 779.035(1)(1)
To eliminate lien rights as provided in s. 779.03 (2)
, the contract between the owner and the prime contractor for the construction of the improvement shall contain a provision for the payment by the prime contractor of all claims for labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications performed, furnished, procured, used, or consumed, except plans or specifications furnished by the architect, professional engineer or surveyor employed by the owner, in making such improvement and performing the work of improvement. The contract shall not be effective to eliminate lien rights unless the prime contractor gives a bond issued by a surety company licensed to do business in this state. The bond shall carry a penalty for unpaid claims of not less than the contract price, and shall be conditioned for the payment to every person entitled thereto of all the claims for labor, services, materials, plans, and specifications performed, furnished, or procured under the contract and subsequent amendments thereto, to be used or consumed in making the improvement or performing the work of improvement as provided in the contract and subsequent amendments thereto. The bond shall be approved by the owner and by any mortgage lender furnishing funds for the construction of the improvement. No assignment, modification or change in the contract, or change in the work covered thereby, or any extension of time for completion of the contract shall release the sureties on the bond.
Except as provided in par. (b)
, any party in interest may, not later than one year after the completion of the contract for the construction of the improvement, maintain an action in his or her own name against the prime contractor and the sureties upon the bond for the recovery of any damages sustained by reason of the failure of the prime contractor to comply with the contract or with the contract between the prime contractor and subcontractors. If the amount realized on the bond is insufficient to satisfy all of the claims of the parties in full, it shall be distributed among the parties proportionally.
Except as provided in subd. 2.
, a subcontractor, supplier, or service provider may maintain an action under par. (a)
only if the subcontractor, supplier, or service provider has notified the prime contractor in writing that the subcontractor, supplier, or service provider was performing, furnishing, or procuring labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications for the construction of the improvement. The notice must be provided no later than 60 days after the date on which the subcontractor, supplier, or service provider first performed, furnished, or procured the labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications.
A notice under subd. 1.
is not required if any of the following applies:
The contract for performing, furnishing, or procuring the labor, services, materials, plans, or specifications does not exceed $5,000.
The action is brought by an employee of the prime contractor, the subcontractor or the supplier.