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How to Decide Between Certified Mail vs. Return Receipt for Preliminary Notices

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Getting paid in the construction industry can be a tricky business.

Preliminary notices are a critical part of ensuring timely payment for yourself and your crew.

But how do you know who to send them to and when?

Flexbase can help.

This guide will discuss the difference between certified mail vs return receipt for mailing your preliminary notices, and how to know which is the right choice for your next project.

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When you sign up with Flexbase, you’ll never have to worry about late preliminary notices again.

At Flexbase, we manage all of your paperwork — including compliance documents — which means you get paid right on time.

Your preliminary notice will be filed correctly in a timely manner and will be standing by to protect you in the event that you don’t get paid.

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What Is the Difference Between Certified Mail and Return Receipt?

The difference between certified mail and return receipt lies in delivery confirmation.

Certified Mail is a USPS service providing the sender with an official receipt showing proof that an item was mailed.

A Return Receipt may also be purchased, providing the sender with verification of delivery via email or postcard.

Sending Certified Mail

Certified mail is a special service provided by the United States Postal Service.

It allows the sender to track the delivery of a piece of mail in order to know exactly when and where the item was delivered (or whether delivery was attempted).

Upon mailing, a certified piece of mail is assigned a tracking number which is then scanned when the item is sent out for delivery and when it is delivered.

The tracking number can be used to “track and confirm” the mailing, meaning you are able to see each of the mailing’s locations - starting with your post office and ending in the delivery address of the recipient.

Certified Mail requires signature confirmation upon delivery from the person who accepts the mail (not necessarily the person the mail is addressed to).

While the signature is not provided to the sender, it is stored by the post office for a period of 2 years and may be viewed by the sender for an additional fee.

All pieces of Certified Mail have:

  • A tracking number
  • Delivery confirmation
  • A signature that may be viewed (for an additional fee)

Sending Mail With a Return Receipt Request

“Return Receipt Requested” is an additional service offered by the United States Postal Service that may be added to a piece of Certified Mail.

A Return Receipt may be done either electronically (via email) or physically (via postcard, for a slightly higher cost) and delivers a copy of the recipient’s signature to the sender, thus providing proof that the mail was delivered or that an attempted delivery was made.

When sending Certified Mail with a Return Receipt request, you will pay for the Certified Mail postage as well as the additional cost of the Return Receipt.

The Return Receipt is attached to the back of the piece of mail in the form of a green card.

The card will then be signed by the recipient upon delivery and mailed to the sender.

Does Certified Mail Need a Return Receipt?

No. Certified Mail may be sent and tracked without a Return Receipt.

However, adding a Return Receipt provides proof of delivery by requiring a signature from the person who accepts the delivery.

Factors That Will Affect Your Preliminary Notice Mailing Requirements

While a preliminary notice may or may not be a requirement in your state, sending one is beneficial and is definitely a wise practice.

There are a variety of types of preliminary notices, but they generally serve to:

  • Keep all parties involved in the project in the loop with regard to the work that is being performed.
  • Help property owners minimize the risk of making double payments.
  • Help subcontractors reduce the risk of incurring non-payment.
  • Protect the right of contractors and suppliers to file a mechanic’s lien or a bond claim.
  • Build a strong working relationship by displaying transparency on the project.

Think of preliminary notice as a preventative, low-cost insurance policy you are putting in place in case any future payment problems should arise.

With this in mind, you want to be certain your “insurance policy” arrives at its destination right on time.

The method you choose to mail your preliminary notice will be governed by several factors, including:

  • The state in which your project is located
  • The type of project (residential or commercial); and
  • Your role in the project

The State Your Project Is In

The deadline for sending a preliminary notice varies from state to state.

In general, a preliminary notice must be sent within a specific number of days from the date labor or materials were initially provided on a project.

Some states, such as …

  • Texas
  • Louisiana; and
  • Tennessee

… mandate that a preliminary notice be sent for each month payment is not received.

Other states, such as …

  • Colorado; and
  • Nevada

… require lien claimants to send multiple types of notice.

In certain states, failure to send a preliminary notice within the required time frame results in the forfeiture of lien rights.

In still other instances, states are fine with late preliminary notices.

Let’s take a look at the requirements in Missouri and California as an example.

In California, in order to fully protect lien rights, preliminary notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing labor and or materials on a project.

If a notice is sent late, it will apply strictly to work done after the date of submission, as well as work done in the 20 days prior to the date of submission.

This means that a late preliminary notice in California doesn’t cover any work done in the 20 days that precede the submission.

In Missouri, on the other hand, preliminary notice must be served at least 10 days prior to filing a Missouri mechanic’s lien.

A late notice results in forfeiture of lien rights.

What Type of Construction Project It Is

The type of construction project also has a bearing on the timing of preliminary notice arrival.

For example:

For commercial projects in Missouri, if you have contracted directly with a property owner you are required to serve notice to the owner prior to receiving payment, as well as:

  • At the time of execution of the contract; or
  • When the materials for the project are delivered; or
  • When work on the project begins; or
  • Along with the delivery of the first invoice

In California, preliminary notice is required to be sent within 20 days of the first delivery.

A preliminary notice sent later than 20 days will only cover the work done in the 20 days prior to the mailing of the notice.

What Your Role Is On the Project

It can also be a confusing task to determine which party must send notices and which party must receive them.

Take private jobs in California, for example.

On private projects, the following parties must always send a 20-day preliminary notice:

  • Material suppliers
  • Subcontractor
  • Equipment renters

Direct contractors and general contractors must send a preliminary notice only if there is a construction lender on the job.

All subcontractors and materials suppliers are required to send a 20-day preliminary notice to the:

  • General contractor
  • Property owner; and
  • Construction lender

And general contractors are only required to send a preliminary notice to the construction lender.

In Missouri, almost every participant on the job needs to send a notice at some point and failure to do so will forfeit all rights for filing a mechanic’s lien.

All original contractors (except for architects) who have a direct contraction with a property owner must send a preliminary notice to the owner prior to receiving any type of payment, in addition to various other times throughout the building process.

Additionally, all subcontractors must obtain a preliminary notice from the general contractor in order to have lien rights.

What Happens If Your Preliminary Notice Isn’t Received On Time?

Missing the deadline for a preliminary notice, or failing to send one at all, will most likely invalidate your right to a mechanic’s lien.

If you were to incur a non-payment, this could be a devastating blow to your business and your employees.

It’s just not worth the risk.

How to Choose the Best Delivery Method (Certified Mail vs. Return Receipt) for Your Preliminary Notice

Regardless of …

  • Your role on the project
  • The state where your project is located; or
  • The type of project

… you want to have tangible proof that the preliminary notice arrives when it needs to.

How do you decide between certified mail vs. return receipt?

Ultimately, choosing to purchase a return receipt will provide you with the proof of delivery you need in order to ensure your notice was received on time.

Flexbase Makes Sending Preliminary Notices Via Certified Mail Easy and Efficient

With Flexbase, you will never need to worry about whether you have the proper forms to file a preliminary notice in your state.

Our state-of-the-art software automatically determines and generates the exact forms you need and when they should be sent.

We even send the notice via certified mail, email, and text.

Are you ready to give up the headache of how and when to mail your preliminary notices?

Schedule your free Flexbase demo today.