The Tennessee Prompt Pay Act Requires Retainage to Held Separately and Imposes Penalties for Non-Compliance

After representing contractors and suppliers over the years, I’ve learned a good deal about the Tennessee Prompt Pay Act, which is found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-34-101, et. seq.

The Act has a lot of protections for real estate contractors, but one significant part to know is in Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-34-104, titled “Escrow; portion of contract price.” This statute governs those construction contracts that require retainage.

Under § 66-34-104(a), any retainage “shall be deposited in a separate, interest-bearing, escrow account with a third party which must be established upon the withholding of any retainage.” Under § 66-34-104 (b), “the funds shall become the sole and separate property of the prime contractor or remote contractor to whom they are owed….” Finally, the owner/general contractor must provide written notice that the escrow account has been set up, including the name of the bank, the account number, and the amount of funds on deposit.

The requirement that retainage be placed in a third party, separate account (not in the owner or the General Contractor’s accounts) is designed to protect contractors by: 1) making sure that money is, in fact, set aside for payment to contractors; and 2) held in the name of or for the benefit of the contractors.

There’s a $300 a day penalty for non-compliance. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up over time (especially on large, long term jobs).

It is those large, long term jobs that involve the most money being retained and, as a result, the deep pocketed owners who think they have the most bargaining power to refuse to comply with the retainage requirements. 

My advice to contractors is to confirm compliance with the escrow account requirements. Do it early in a project. If the project goes bad, it may be too late.

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