On private construction projects, the lender often requires that the owner/borrower obtain the written consent of the contractor to the collateral assignment of the construction contract by the owner to the lender. This permits the lender to step into the owner’s shoes with respect to the construction contract in the event of the owner’s default under the project loan documents. Unfortunately, the Consent forms developed by most lenders these days have many more serious implications for contractors.
Although the general form of the Consent is similar among lenders, the forms are becoming increasingly customized and include many terms other than just the consent to assignment. Whenever faced with such a document, a contractor must be alert and should watch for the following:
Notice of Default/Termination
The Consent may require that the contractor provide written notice to the lender if there has been any default by the owner under the construction contract or if the contractor wishes to terminate the construction contract. If the contractor forgets (in the heat of the battle) to provide notice to the lender, it may render the declaration of default or termination ineffective. Failure to provide notice would also certainly impair any rights the contractor may wish to assert against the lender.
Change Order Approval
Most lenders’ Consent forms require the contractor to obtain prior written approval of the lender to any change orders between the contractor and the owner. Given the lender’s responsiveness, at the very least this is an administrative annoyance, but at its worst, this is a detail that could impact the Project schedule or disrupt the contractor’s negotiations with the owner. Contractors should seek to eliminate this requirement in its entirety, but failing that, should limit its applicability to only change orders over a stated dollar amount.
Once a lender takes over a project from a defaulting owner, it may seek to assign the lender’s rights in the construction contract to a new entity. It will want to make that assignment without the contractor’s consent and will typically include a provision in the Consent form allowing it to do so. Contractors should be wary of these clauses and insist that no assignment can be made without the contractor’s prior written consent.
Mechanics’ Lien Rights
Most lenders include in their Consent forms a provision in which the contractor either waives its mechanics’ lien rights on the Project or subordinates its mechanics’ lien rights to the lender’s mortgage rights. In Minnesota, we have a statute (Minn. Stat. § 337.10, Subd. 2) that may make a prepayment lien waiver unenforceable, but it is not settled whether it makes a lien subordination unenforceable. Although such subordination clauses seem unfair, especially considering that the lender likely has a title insurer insuring its priority, lenders will resist the well-advised efforts by contractors to remove the subordination provision.
Payment Upon Takeover
One of the primary purposes of the Contractor’s Consent is to ensure that, if there is a default and the lender must take over an uncompleted Project, the contractor will complete the Project for the lender according to the terms of the construction contract. The typical form logically requires the lender to pay the contractor going forward from the time of lender takeover. Most forms, however, do not obligate the lender to pay the contractor any amounts unpaid at the time of takeover. This should not be acceptable to any contractor – especially one that has been required to subordinate its mechanics’ lien rights to the lender’s mortgage.
Lenders have lately been more sensitive to contractors’ concerns and have been willing to agree to cure pre-takeover defaults (including payment defaults) in addition to paying post-takeover costs. This is certainly something to be negotiated by the contractor at the time it is being asked to sign a consent form.
Do not take the Contractor’s Consent lightly. Rarely should you accept the standard form you receive from the lender. Make it fair and protect your rights.