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Threat of ‘construction lien’ shakes Shores resident

STORY BY PIETER VANBENNEKOM (Week of October 12, 2023)

In a true case of having insult added to injury, an Indian River Shores resident already inconvenienced by her street being closed while gas lines are installed has now been threatened with a lien on her property for a rented construction port-a-potty that’s apparently been abandoned on her street.

“They’re making it sound as if I’m behind this project, that I’m the owner or something,” said Beverly Taylor, a retired nurse who lives on Indian Lane just off State Route A1A. “This is crazy. I have nothing to do with this. It’s not my equipment. I didn’t ask for this work to be done – as a matter of fact all I’ve had because of this is grief.”

The company that sent the threatening letter through the U.S. Postal Service, Sunbelt Rentals of Simi Valley, Calif., defended its action, saying it was “standard procedure under Florida law” to establish a so-called “construction lien” against the owner of a property containing any of its construction equipment.

“This is standard procedure for us,” said a Sunbelt representative at its Florida offices in Orlando. “If anyone believes the notice was sent in error, they can fax us and we’ll take care of it.”

Taylor doesn’t believe she should have to do anything further to resolve the matter. She took the letter to the Town of Indian River Shores, where officials told her they were not aware of any official obligation on her part involving the construction project. However, officials stopped short of calling the threatening letter a scam.

Taylor does want to warn other area residents with apparently abandoned construction equipment at or near their property that they may get similar threatening letters.

The Sunbelt letter did not demand payment of any specific sum of money, but warned Taylor that a lien may be put on her house even if the contractor that rented the equipment has paid for it in part or in full.

“Failure to ensure that (the) vendor is paid may result in a lien being placed on your property and you’re paying twice for the materials and/or services provided to you by the vendor listed (in) this notice,” the threatening Sunbelt letter said.

The sad saga started in late August when Taylor, along with her neighbors down her street and the next street to the south, received a written notice that access to her street from SR A1A would be closed off for construction as of Aug. 26 for about a week, with Indian Lane scheduled to be reopened for traffic from A1A by Sept. 1. Construction started a day late on Aug. 27.

Indian River Shores Town Clerk Janice Rutan said it was a joint project between the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Florida City Gas to provide the infrastructure for bringing natural gas to island residents.

However, as the middle of October approached, about a month-and-a-half after the scheduled completion date of the project, the entrance to Indian Lane is still blocked off by a big sign saying, “Road Closed,” two backhoes, a couple of carts containing pipes and gravel, and a port-a-potty. No workers have been seen at the site for weeks. The backhoes bear the markings of the TB Landmark Construction Co. of Jacksonville.

All the construction equipment and the port-a-potty are parked on the public street or sidewalk adjacent to Taylor’s property, but none of it is actually on her property.

The Landmark Construction company of Jacksonville is mentioned in the threatening letter from Sunbelt to Taylor, making it sound as if Landmark is a vendor she hired for the project, which Taylor calls a “ridiculous notion.”

The Sunbelt office in Florida refused to say whether Landmark owes Sunbelt for unpaid rental fees for the equipment and whether the letter was an attempt to collect such unpaid rentals. “Sending an owner a construction lien notice is just standard procedure,” the spokesman said. “We’re entitled to do this under Florida law.”

“Warning!” the notice received by Taylor says. “Florida’s construction lien law allows some unpaid contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers to file liens against your property even if you have made payment in full.

“Under Florida law, your failure to make sure we are paid may result in a lien against your property and you paying twice. To avoid a lien and paying twice, you must obtain a written release from us every time you pay your contractor,” the notice said.

“Under Florida’s laws, those who work on your property or provide materials who are not paid have a right to enforce their claim for payment against your property,” the notice concluded.

Taylor says she has checked with her closest neighbor whose house is just as close to the abandoned equipment as her own house, and he has not received any such notice yet.

“Apparently I’m the only one who got this,” says Taylor. “Aren’t I the lucky one!”