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CURBING ABUSIVE BILLING PRACTICES IN FLORIDA CONSTRUCTION LIEN LITIGATION

A home builder defaults midstream in the completion of home.  Suppliers and subcontractors file multiple liens against the property.  The bewildered homeowner asks for backup to avoid paying twice for the same materials and to assure that what is claimed is truly due.  One material supplier determines not to provide backup and instead has its counsel file suit to foreclose on its $3,000.00 lien.  Counsel is told immediately that the homeowner desires to resolve the lien.  The suppliers' counsel sends a payoff letter asking for $4,200.00 in legal fees and 18% interest on the lien.  The sole legal work done up to that point has been to prepare and file a simple supplier lien foreclosure complaint.  Backup is requested on the legal fees.

 

Counsel for the supplier refuses to provide backup for the legal fees and continues to litigate.  The base amount of the lien meanwhile, including the demanded 18% interest, has been paid by the homeowner.  By the time three months have passed after backup on the attorney's fees was requested, counsel for the supplier submits an affidavit of attorney's time seeking $11,500.00.

 

The problem for the owner when the $4,200.00 legal fee demand was presented was that if they chose to fight it, they would have to pay their lawyer to defend, which fees would not be recoverable.  Plaintiff's lawyers under those circumstances know that they have the owner over a barrel and that nine times out of ten the owner will pay the exorbitant legal fees, so they continue to gouge.

 

What I chose to do in this particular case was to challenge the reasonableness of the supplier's counsel's fees at no charge to the homeowner.  If lawyers representing owners would each agree to take on an abuser at no charge to their client, who knows?  Maybe in a few years these opportunistic lawyers representing leinors will get the message.  The good news is that the common law in Florida gives trial judges broad discretion in determining a reasonable fee under such circumstances and punishing abusers for their overreaching.  So, fellow owner lawyers, let's get after these abusers!

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Tannenbaum Scro, P.L.
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Sarasota, FL 34236

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St. Petersburg, FL 33716

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