When to Serve a California Preliminary 20-day Notice
Serve within 20 days of your first furnishing labor or materials to the site. Remember, this is 20 days of the start of your work, and not the work of others. So, if you are performing landscaping at the end of the job, your time starts when you begin, not when others have started their work at the beginning. Preparatory work off-site does not start the time running. But any work at the site, including demo, would start the time. If you are a supplier and are securing or fabricating the materials, the time would start when the materials are delivered. If you are a supply house and a contractor picks up the material at your store, to be safe, and assume the time starts on that date (most supply houses serve only if the contractor has a substantial order, the job is identified, and is a regular customer).
Remember, that unlike a mechanic’s lien, there is no such thing as a “too early” Notice. So you do not forget, it is recommended that you serve immediately after your contract or order has been accepted.
You do not lose entirely if the Notice is served late. If the notice is served beyond the time period above, you still get a lien for all unpaid work 20 days before service and everything after the date of service. For example, assume you begin work March 1st and have completed your contract by June 30th. You end up being unpaid for the entire months of May and June. The Notice is served on June 1st. In a later filed lien, you can make a claim for the period May 12th forward—you lose the right to recovery for the period May 1st through the 11th.
Who to Serve: If you have a contract with the general, serve the general, owner, and construction lender, if any. If you are a sub or supplier who has a contract directly with the owner, you need only serve the lender.
How to Serve: Certified mail, return receipt requested within 20 days of the date on which you first furnished labor or materials. Service is considered complete on the date of mailing, not the date signed or received by the addressee.