Construction Lenders: Don’t Wait to Visit the Construction Site to Check the Status of Work Progress

Not too long ago, even bad loans got repaid. With so much new money in the pipeline and refinance transactions always around the corner, errors in loan documents or lapses in lending oversight didn’t matter, because undiscovered issues never had time to blossom into problems.  As a result, some lenders got lazy.

As this story from Memphis’ Commercial Appeal shows, Rusty Hyneman’s banker was really lazy. The worst part is the bank didn’t catch the issues until after approving the loans and, worse, advancing an incredible amount of money. When the bank did some basic post-transaction due diligence, the horses were already out of the barn.

After a customary review of active loans, the banker “hit the road to eyeball properties.” On this random visit to the construction site–11 months after loaning a total of $14 million–the banker must have been shocked to find that absolutely no work was being done on the project. Nothing.

That’s when the bank knew, obviously, there was a problem.

Here’s my advice to creditors: Take time to know your customers and know their projects. On a construction loan, occasionally drive past and make sure work is being done. Especially if you are actively advancing money to fund work at the site. Here, $4.9 million of the bank’s advances were to be used exclusively for construction at the project, and a quick drive-by could have saved millions of dollars.

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Mechanic’s Lien Statutes are to be Liberally Construed: New Tennessee Court of Appeals Opinion Allows Valid Lien Claim in the Face of “Non-Prejudicial” Defects

Once upon a time, a mechanic’s and materialmen’s lien lawsuit was akin to walking a tight-rope. In order to have a valid lien claim, you had to comply with each and every deadline, notice, and other requirement of the statute. Just one mistake rendered the lien claim ineffective.

The Tennessee lien statutes (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-11-101 et. seq.) were revised in 2007. A notable change was that, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-11-148, the statutes were to be “liberally construed” in the lien claimant’s favor and that “[s]ubstantial compliance” with the lien laws is “sufficient for the validity” of lien claims.

The recent case of Tri Am Construction, Inc. v. J & V Development, Inc. (Aug. 30, 2011) is the first case to discuss this new statute on liberal construction. In that case, the claimant: failed to file its Complaint under oath; didn’t add claims against the Deed of Trust trustee; didn’t have an attachment issued; and used a defective notary acknowledgment.  All of these would have been fatal errors under the old statutes.

Under the new statute, however, the Court overlooked all of these defects, finding that the errors were “nonprejudicial” and fell within the scope of the liberal construction of the statutes.

I ask the obvious question: If a court is to overlook these defects, exactly what defects would be considered “prejudicial” and would prevent a valid lien claim?

I don’t know. Here, the exceptions appear to eliminate the rule. Surely, a court would dismiss a late-filed lien claim. Right?