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Builder Not Paying: A Subcontractor’s Guide to Ensuring Payment in the Construction Industry

Jan 8, 2024 | Blog

In the dynamic world of construction, subcontractors play a vital role in the successful completion of projects. However, a common challenge faced by subcontractors is non-payment by builders or general contractors. So what to do in a situation where the builder is not paying a subcontractor? This article delves into proactive strategies and reactive measures subcontractors can employ to safeguard their financial interests, covering aspects from contract signing to post-job actions.

Protecting Yourself Before Signing a Contract

1. Comprehensive Contract Review:

  • Details Matter: Ensure the contract explicitly states payment terms, schedules, and conditions.
  • Legal Counsel: Consider hiring a lawyer specializing in construction contracts to review and negotiate terms.

2. Research the General Contractor:

  • Track Record: Investigate the contractor’s payment history and financial stability.
  • Reviews and References: Seek feedback from other subcontractors who have worked with them.

3. Payment Assurance Mechanisms:

  • Escrow Accounts: Suggest setting up escrow accounts for payments.
  • Performance Bonds: Require the general contractor to have a performance bond, ensuring payment even in adverse situations.

Ensuring Payment During the Job

1. Adherence to Contract Terms:

  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of work done, including time sheets and progress reports.
  • Communication: Regularly update the general contractor about the progress and any issues.

2. Interim Payments:

  • Milestone-Based Payments: Negotiate payments upon completion of specific milestones.
  • Regular Invoices: Submit invoices on a regular basis, as stipulated in the contract.

3. Legal Considerations:

Lien Rights: Understand your lien rights in your jurisdiction. In many areas, subcontractors can file a mechanic’s lien against the property for non-payment.

Post-Job Actions if Payment is Delayed

1. Initial Steps:

  • Direct Communication: Reach out to the general contractor or builder to discuss the delay.
  • Written Reminders: Send a formal reminder notice specifying the outstanding amount and the agreed payment terms.

2. Escalation Measures:

  • Mediation: Propose mediation, a cost-effective way to resolve disputes with a neutral third party.
  • Attorney Involvement: Engage an attorney to send a demand letter or to guide you through the legal options.

3. Legal Recourse:

  • Filing a Lien: If payment is still not forthcoming, consider filing a mechanic’s lien.
  • Litigation: As a last resort, litigation can be pursued. Be aware of the costs and time involved in this process.


For subcontractors in the construction industry, ensuring payment requires a multifaceted approach. Before signing any contract, thorough due diligence, contract review, and payment assurance mechanisms are critical. During the project, maintaining clear communication, adhering to contract terms, and utilizing interim payment schedules can help in safeguarding your interests. If payment issues arise post-job, start with direct communication and escalate through mediation, attorney involvement, and possibly legal action. By being proactive and informed, subcontractors can significantly mitigate the risks of a builder not paying a subcontractor.

Key Takeaways

  • Pre-Contract: Thorough contract review, research on general contractor, and setting up payment assurance mechanisms.
  • During the Job: Adherence to contract terms, maintaining detailed documentation, and regular invoicing.
  • Post-Job: Direct communication, written reminders, mediation, legal advice, and, if necessary, legal action.

Remember, being prepared and informed is your best defense against non-payment challenges in the construction industry.