Unfinished construction work.

Rarely do you buy real estate that needs no repairs or improvements. Even if you are so lucky, at one point or another, something will break, and you’ll need repairs. Unfortunately, disputes between contractors and property owners can be just as common and stressful as the need for repairs.

If you’re a contractor or you’ve worked on a home, building, or property and have yet to be paid, you may wonder, can a contractor sue for nonpayment? New York law provides remedies for contractors and others who’ve invested time and money on repairs to real property and a property owner does not pay them. In this article, the attorneys at TonaLaw discuss remedies available to those who haven’t been paid for construction work, including a potential lawsuit. 

Another common question we get from homeowners is,  what to do if a contractor is suing me for nonpayment? Below, we also explain what a property owner should do if sued for unpaid construction work.

Who Can Sue for Unpaid Construction Work?

Construction involves many different trades. Those who most commonly sue property owners for unpaid construction are:

  • Contractors,
  • Subcontractors,
  • Tradespeople,
  • Architects,
  • Landscapers, and
  • Laborers.

Essentially, anyone who worked on the property with the knowledge or consent of the owner can sue for unpaid construction work. However, the laws that can justify a lawsuit differ depending on their relationship with the property owner.

Potential Legal Reasons for a Contractor’s Unpaid Construction Work Lawsuit

There are several potential legal arguments in a lawsuit for unpaid construction work. We describe some of the most common below. If you’re considering filing a lawsuit, you should speak with an attorney who can assess your situation and advise you on what laws apply to your case. 

Breach of Contract 

Not all construction contracts are required to be in writing. Nonetheless, many construction contracts between property owners and general contractors are in writing. New York law also requires home improvement contracts to be in writing.  

The construction contract typically sets forth a payment schedule that mustr be followed as specific milestones in the work are completed.  A contract can also state reasons why a property owner can decline or approve payment for work. Typically, this is where a legal dispute arises; an owner doesn’t like the contractor’s work and withholds part or all of the contractor’s payment. 

If the contractor believes they have fulfilled their end of the deal, the contractor can file a lawsuit for breach of contract. Depending on the type of contract, this can be an extremely complicated process. Plus, the owner may fight back and accuse you of substandard work or defective products. A contractor must document their case well and gather evidence to support their position. Likewise, a property owner can pursue a breach of contract case where the contractor performed work that was not in compliance with the contract or did not complete a project which they were contracted to perform.

Speak with an attorney if you’re considering filing a breach of construction contract claim.

Unjust Enrichment

Another basis of a lawsuit for a construction dispute is called unjust enrichment. If you’ve improved someone’s property with their knowledge and consent but did not have a formal contract, they’ve benefitted from your work. You can’t just take your work back if they refuse to pay. Thus, the law allows you to sue a property owner for unjust enrichment for work you’ve done on a property that benefitted the property or property owner.

You do not need a written contract to sue for unjust enrichment. A court may award you a reasonable amount for the costs of your supplies and services rendered. 

Prompt Pay Act

New York’s Prompt Pay Act (PPA) generally covers construction projects that are worth more than $150,000. There are some exceptions, such as government construction and construction on smaller residential dwellings (e.g., one, two, or three-family dwellings). 

The PPA sets forth a billing and payment cycle between the property owner and contractor. When a contractor submits an invoice to the owner, the owner has 12 days to approve the invoice. Then, the owner must pay the contractor’s invoice within 30 days of approval. If the owner doesn’t fully approve of the invoice, they must pay the portion of the invoice which they do approve. If the owner doesn’t approve or disapprove of the invoice or pay the undisputed portion within 30 days, the contractor can stop work.

Disputes between the owner and contractor under the PPA are handled in expedited arbitration proceedings. Although an arbitration may be based on the same issues as a lawsuit, arbitrations are not the same as a lawsuit. In arbitration, a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, will hold a hearing, examine the evidence, and decide on the case. Their decision is binding, meaning you can’t appeal it to a court except for very specific circumstances which would call the arbitrator’s neutrality into question.  

Other Laws Addressing Unpaid Construction Work

There are additional remedies under the law for unpaid construction work, such as:

  • Mechanic’s Lien. Anyone who has worked to improve real property can file a mechanic’s lien with the county clerk’s office. This attaches to the property. The holder can force a sale of the property to satisfy the lien. This filing requires the proper licensing if the work performed requires a license to perform.
  • New York State Department of Labor Complaint. Unpaid workers can file a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor for work they performed. Contractors can be liable for the unpaid wages of a subcontractor’s workers if the contractor was paid.
  • Lawsuit for Wages. Unpaid construction workers can file a lawsuit for unpaid wages under the New York Labor Law and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If you haven’t been paid for construction work, you should speak with an attorney to help determine the best course of action to pursue payment.

What to Do if a Contractor Is Suing You for Nonpayment

Can a contractor sue for nonpayment? Yes, a contractor can sue for nonpayment. You could face a lawsuit or arbitration even if you as a property owner had a good reason not to pay your contractor. 

So, what should you do if a contractor is suing for nonpayment? You should talk to an attorney and take the following steps to preserve your rights.

Look at Your Construction Contract

If you wonder, “Can a contractor sue me for nonpayment?” First, examine your contract and any amendments. Be sure that your contract or the PPA supports why you’ve refused to pay your contractor. You should have an attorney look at your contract so you understand all provisions.

Collect Evidence

Can a contractor sue for nonpayment? They can, but you’ll have the upper hand if you have evidence on your side. Photograph or take videos of the work done and find witnesses, such as other construction experts, to examine the work. Document any problems and specifics of how the problems can be fixed with how much the fixes will cost.

Hire an Attorney

A construction arbitration or lawsuit can be very complex and stressful. You need someone to fight for you and your rights. Contact an attorney who has handled construction litigation and arbitration right away.

Contact TonaLaw

A construction lawsuit or arbitration can be grueling. It can impact your livelihood or your quality of life. You don’t have to face it alone. Contact TonaLaw today. We have over 30 years of experience litigating cases on Long Island and can fight to preserve your rights. Call our experienced business litigation attorneys today.

What Our Clients Are Saying

TonaLawExcellentTonaLaw5.0 Based on 396 reviews fromSee all reviews review us onRose FrancisqueRose Francisque ★★★★★ Kj MuchKj Much ★★★★★ The whole team has been extremely passionate, caring and understanding thru this whole process. This was a first for me. The firm came highly recommended thank you Ralph.Special thanks to Jayda a Ana. Thanks again.RONZA DIGIORGIORONZA DIGIORGIO ★★★★★ I was referred to Tona law by a friend following a horrific accident. Mr. Tona himself called me immediately from his family vacation and set me up with a team of professional , caring people that guided me through my recovery every step of the way. I would give 10 stars if i could !Muhammad KhanMuhammad Khan ★★★★★ Jayda and laureen are so nice and professional and they really helped me from start to finish and they always respond me back. Please get help from tonalaw if you need any in regards to accidents. ThanksRoxana PachecoRoxana Pacheco ★★★★★ My father, seek them out for a case in December and Ana has been fantastic. Ana has reassured all his concerns and has been nothing but amazing with any follow up questions that we have had. Besides being very compassionate, and friendly she’s also bilingual! Definitely would recommend anyone to TonaLaw!Response from the ownerThank you so much for your review! We're thrilled to hear about your positive experience with Ana and how she has been able to address all of your concerns with care and professionalism. We sincerely appreciate your recommendation and are here for any further assistance you might need. Best wishes from the TonaLaw team! Anthal ArizagaAnthal Arizaga ★★★★★ Penelope is so helpful and very easy to talk too, I’d recommended this law firm to anyone who is involved in an accident! You will be taken care of!Response from the ownerThank you so much for your wonderful review and recommendation! David KesslerDavid Kessler ★★★★★ Excellent law firm. Top notch attorneys and the friendliest receptionist Robin who was my first contact with the firm and her reception of me made me feel that I had made the right decision in finding a firm with people who really cared about meVanessa LopezVanessa Lopez ★★★★★ I have known Lauren for years and can confidently say, she goes above and beyond for her clients. She is always willing to help and go the extra mile and it is so very appreciated!Response from the ownerVanessa, thank you so much for this wonderful review! Julee HutchisonJulee Hutchison ★★★★★ I was given the opportunity to create and produce a newsletter for TonaLaw. Juliet Accomando directed the project and I found the whole experience to be very professional and well organized. Juliet was receptive to design ideas, responsive to emails and appreciative of our working relationship. It was a pleasure to work with TonaLaw. I look forward to future projects.Response from the ownerThank you so much for taking the time to leave such a fantastic review! We are thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the experience of creating the newsletter for TonaLaw. We truly appreciate your kind words about Juliet as well. We are equally excited about our upcoming projects! Marina DelfelMarina Delfel ★★★★★ Tona Law has been wonderful and so, so easy to work with! The entirety of my time working with them, their team has been extremely professional, kind and dedicated! I am so happy to have gotten to work with such an amazing team!Response from the ownerWe're incredibly grateful for your kind words about your experience working with Tona Law. Thank you so much Marina! Lydia KaboolianLydia Kaboolian ★★★★★ Response from the ownerThank you for your review! Karen RadoslovichKaren Radoslovich ★★★★★ My interactions with Janira have been wonderful! She's always upbeat, knowledgeable, 100% approachable....and thinking out of the box. I look forward to working with her on many future projects.Response from the ownerThank you so much for taking the time to share your positive experience with Janira! We're thrilled to hear that your interactions with her have been wonderful. Your kind words mean a lot to us and motivate us to keep exceeding expectations. Robert J McCarrollRobert J McCarroll ★★★★★ Everything I've had to do with the firm is positive. Everyone at Tona Law has always been a pleasure to work with and very prompt and professional. I look forward to serving them again!Response from the ownerThank you for leaving such a wonderful review about our team. We appreciate your kind words! Daniel FeimanDaniel Feiman ★★★★★ Everyone at Tona Law is great to work with. I enjoy all of our interactions.Response from the ownerThank you so much for your kind words! We truly appreciate you taking the time to leave us a review, and it means a lot to hear that you enjoy our interactions. Ed AlexanderEd Alexander ★★★★★ Tom is a great lawyer, but more importantly, Tom is a relatable person. My friend and colleague for over a decade, I’ve watched his dynamic entrepreneurial take-charge style develop a hard charging firm with a supportive culture and a team that does excellent work, achieves great results, and truly cares about clients. Tom’s energy is contagious – I always get a boost when I spend time with him. I highly recommend Tona Law.Response from the ownerEd, thank you so much for this amazing review. Your recognition of our hard work means the world to us especially because we pride ourselves on our client care and results. We appreciate your recommendation! MJPT-1MJPT-1 ★★★★★ Working with TonaLaw has been a wonderful experience. The kind staff which I am very pleased with is always professional and attentive. I highly recommend!Response from the ownerYour kind words about our team truly warm our hearts! We strive to provide a professional and attentive experience for every client, and it's so rewarding to know we're succeeding. Thank you for choosing TonaLaw and for the wonderful recommendation! Mitchell YorkMitchell York ★★★★★ Tom Tona and all the professionals at Tona Law have a deep commitment for fighting for what’s right. The firm is relentlessly focused on their clients’ cases, as a matter of empathy and professional pride. The company is process driven and disciplined in everything they do.Response from the ownerThank you for your wonderful 5-star review! Your acknowledgment of our dedication and disciplined approach truly means a lot to us. We remain committed to delivering the best for our clients and are grateful for your trust and support. Vanessa VajkoVanessa Vajko ★★★★★ TonaLaw has an amazing scholarship program opportunity for fellow veterans and incredibly kind people to talk with! The application process was also fairly prompt and seamless. I am so grateful for this scholarship and highly recommend that other veterans get on board with applying. Thank you again!!! :)Response from the ownerThank you for applying to our scholarship and for sharing your experience! It is a pleasure to be able to assist you in your education journey. Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful review and thank you for your service! Jennifer CaceresJennifer Caceres ★★★★★ I highly recommend using tonalaw. Lauren and Jada are amazing. Any questions or concerns I had they answered. I am happy I choose tonalaw .Response from the ownerThank you so much for your review Jennifer! We are so glad to hear that you were pleased with our responsiveness and thoroughness in addressing your questions and concerns. Your feedback is invaluable to us, and we are committed to providing our clients with the best possible legal representation. Thank you again for your kind words. We are honored to have you as a client. Carlos UmanaCarlos Umana ★★★★★ Excelente atención buena comunicación contestan mis preguntas con sinceridadResponse from the ownerThank you so much for your review Carlos! Your feedback is invaluable to us, and we will continue to strive to provide you and all of our customers with the outstanding service you deserve. Yanira Del ValleYanira Del Valle ★★★★★ Mr. Tona is such a wonderful human and attorney. So helpful, without a second thought, he shares his knowledge and experience. He helps makes this Plaintiff community a better one. Thank you!!!Response from the ownerThank you Yanira! It was so great meeting you. Marvin SortoMarvin Sorto ★★★★★ TonaLaw is a very reputable firm. Ana is such a great asset to the firm. She is also bilingual with many years of experienceResponse from the ownerThank you for your kind words Marvin! gary gundersengary gundersen ★★★★★ I’ve been to tona law several times already and I’ve had the pleasure to deal with Ana both time and she was amazing. Made sure all paperwork was in order and is super thorough with everything. Highly recommendedResponse from the ownerThank you so much for taking the time to share your positive experience with us at Tona Law. We are so glad to hear that you were pleased with the services provided by Ana. We are committed to providing our clients with the highest quality legal representation, and we are always striving to exceed expectations. Jennifer PorterJennifer Porter ★★★★★ Tom Tona puts so much emphasis and effort into developing a fantastic law firm, delivering excellent results for their clients and also staying at the forefront of law firm management skills. I am super impressed by my conversation and interaction with Tom and am happy to recommend him!Response from the ownerJennifer, thank you so much for this wonderful review. We are delighted to hear that you were impressed with your conversation and interaction with Tom. We strive to provide a positive and supportive experience for all of our clients, and we are so glad to hear you had such a positive interaction with Mr. Tona. Thank you again for your kind words. Janet SowinskiJanet Sowinski ★★★★★ Lauren, one of the paralegals at Tona Law is very knowledgeable, compassionate and very professional. She genuinely cares for her clients and is always willing to go the extra mile to help. Having known her for several years, i can confidently recommend both Lauren and Tona Law to anyone seeking great assistance.Carmen SandovalCarmen Sandoval ★★★★★ Quiero darles las gracias por haberme representado en mi caso, felizmente estos abogados lograron ganar ni caso, y estoy muy satisfecha por su gran trabajo, hablan español y la señorita Ana es muy atenta y cordial y amable con sus clientes, muchisinas gracias x sus servicios ademas de ser rapidos, nos ayudan mucho especialmente a las personas qué sólo hablamos español, les recomiendo este servicio de abogados muy honestos. Muchas gracias👌😘Miguel MenaMiguel Mena ★★★★★ Ana is extremely knowledgeable and a great asset to your firm! Definitely will be coming back.Sandie RivasSandie Rivas ★★★★★ Ana is amazing! Working with her was extremely enjoyable. She is a great asset to Tonalaw and always eager to help!Darwin RomeroDarwin Romero ★★★★★ Ana was an absolute pleasure. She was incredibly knowledgeable and thoughtful throughout the entire process. Highly recommend!Emma SortoEmma Sorto ★★★★★ Ana is a wonderful personal. She is very talented and very hardworking. Best thing is that she is bilingual! Always willing to help anyone who is in need of a hand! You are in great hands at Tona Law!nicole garcianicole garcia ★★★★★ Couldn’t recommend Lauren more!!! I’ve known Lauren for years, she is a dedicated, hard worker and is so professional when it comes to her job. She really cares about her clients and doing the best for them.Dolceprincipessa xoDolceprincipessa xo ★★★★★ I highly recommend Will Ramos as a lawyer. He is a true professional. He explained my options with me and was very accessible & kept me updated! I also had the pleasure of working with Jayden. She was great as well. They assisted with my case and helped me tremendously! Highly recommend :)yessenia lopez ramosyessenia lopez ramos ★★★★★ I have know Attorney Will Ramos for many years. He is very detail oriented, a great advocate, and an empathetic individual.I have referred a few clients during their time of need over to Will and the friendly staff at Tona Law. He is willing to go above and beyond for others.CARLOS RODRIGUEZCARLOS RODRIGUEZ ★★★★★ I have known Will Ramos for 15 plus years and can attest to his character in placing the needs for others above his own. He is an asset to any organization and a team player with positive attitude.Jessica MalaveJessica Malave ★★★★★ I’ve known attorney Will Ramos for 16 years he always places the needs of others above his own. He is a caring man and super understanding and has a big heart.Bianca RamosBianca Ramos ★★★★★ Attorney Will Ramos is awesome the law firm is lucky to have someone like him part of their team. He genuinely cares for others and is always willing to lend a helping hand.Response from the ownerBianca, thank you for leaving a wonderful review for our firm. We are lucky to have Will Ramos as part of our team! Arianna RamosArianna Ramos ★★★★★ Attorney Will Ramos is nothing short of dedicated and hard working. Each case he works on demonstrates his passion for law and his care for his clients.Response from the ownerThank you for your review, Arianna! Will Ramos has been a wonderful asset to our team. JenneferJennefer ★★★★★ I've had the pleasure of knowing Lauren for quite a while now, and I must say, her dedication to her clients is truly remarkable. She takes immense pride in her work as a professional she seamlessly balances her role at Tona Law, where she's involved in legal matters. Having seen her commitment and skill firsthand, I can confidently recommend both Lauren and Tona Law to anyone seeking top-notch assistance.Celine Aubry-DumandCeline Aubry-Dumand ★★★★★ I had a great experience working with TonaLaw.The team was really friendly and helpful throughout the entire process.Response from the ownerCeline, thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review for our firm. We are so grateful we were able to help you and provide you with a great experience. Thank you! Adam OmallyAdam Omally ★★★★★ I have known Lauren one of the paralegals at Tona law for many years and she is dedicated to her profession and helping her clients. Wonderful person.Alexandra RandazzoAlexandra Randazzo ★★★★★ Lauren at TonaLaw was extremely helpful! She was so nice and professional. I highly recommend asking for her!Margaret CaschettaMargaret Caschetta ★★★★★ I have known Lauren for a long time and she’s always been dedicated to her job! Excellent at anything she’s ever done.NICOLE GUASTONICOLE GUASTO ★★★★★ Lauren’s great- reliable empathetic the whole package - years of knowing her I wouldn’t ask for anyone elseKeith MaederKeith Maeder ★★★★★ I have known Lauren, one of the paralegals, for many years. Her client first approach is second to none. She is knowledgeable and professional. She as an asset to both her clients and Tona Law.Emily PadillaEmily Padilla ★★★★★ Ana was super professional and very polite! Answered all the questions that was needed! Highly recommend, wish I can give 10 stars!Kailynn ApolinarisKailynn Apolinaris ★★★★★ Ana is amazing! As an old coworker I can say Ana is always ready to assist. She is a great asset to anyone lucky enough to work with her.Response from the ownerKailynn, thank you for leaving a wonderful review for our firm. Ana is truly a wonderful part of our team! peter alsenpeter alsen ★★★★★ In all of my dealings with the TonaLaw office, the lawyers and staff have been excellent.They have earned my confidence and trust.Response from the ownerWe are so pleased to hear that you’ve had such a great experience with our team. Your confidence and trust in our firm is greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for your review! Ashley VelazquezAshley Velazquez ★★★★★ Ana was knowledgeable, courteous & helpful throughout everything! She was willing to go the extra mile! It was a delight working with her. You’re in great hands when working with Ana!!Patty RivasPatty Rivas ★★★★★ The team is fantastic. I worked with Ana directly and appreciated how quickly she was able to respond back to me and provide efficient, excellent results. I would work with her again!Response from the ownerThank you so much for your kind words about Ana and the rest of our team! Patricia WernerPatricia Werner ★★★★★ Ana was phenomenal. What a great asset to Tona Law!js_loader