How Does a California 20 Day Preliminary Notice Work?

Whether your business is headquartered in California or you take on CA-based projects from out-of-state, it’s crucial to know how a California 20 day preliminary notice works.

Since we serve many customers in California, and CNS (Construction Notice Services) was founded there in 1984, we get this question often. Though preliminary notices are common from state-to-state, the addition of a “20 day” time limit can be intimidating and confusing.

Sometimes people think that they need to send the prelim (or file the mechanic’s lien) 20 days after the project ends, instead of mailing the prelim within 20 days of the project’s start.

Today, we’ll explain how this works, so you can feel more confident about starting your construction project. And, if you’re busy with higher-ROI activities, just ask us to send your preliminary notice for you.


How Does a California 20 Day Preliminary Notice Work?

Generally speaking, a preliminary notice (also called a “prelim” or “pre lien”) is sent as certified mail to the property owner, general contractor, and construction lender when you begin a project. Often, contractors find this process burdensome, as sending certified means traveling to the post office, paying extra, and storing a receipt, so they call on CNS to take care of these time-consuming steps instead.

Within the states CNS serves, certified mail is required for CA, NV, OR, and WA preliminary notices. Then, in AZ, your prelim must be sent first-class mail with a certificate of mailing.

Your preliminary notice informs your customer that, if they don’t pay, you reserve the right to collect via a mechanic’s lien. This is an official document that follows the letter of the law – and helps protect your business.

If your project is in California, you must send the preliminary notice within 20 days. The postmark is your friend, as the recipients don’t need to have it delivered or received within 20 days, per state law.

Commence every project with a preliminary notice, and if your customer doesn’t pay, your wallet (and even your employees and family) will thank you! Learn more in our article: What is a Preliminary Notice? It is Your Blueprint for Risk Reduction.

Remember: In California, specifically, you must send your prelim within 20 days of a project starting.

Time is of the essence.


Why Should I Send a CA 20 Day Preliminary Notice?

The state of California doesn’t just require your preliminary notice to be sent within 20 days of starting. You could also face disciplinary action from the Contractors State License Board. (See the CA law here.)

If you don’t mail out your 20 day notice in time, there are even more repercussions:

  • Your existing liens, bond claims, and stop notices may become invalid.
  • Let’s say you send your 20 day notice after the first 20 days of your project. You may still be able to collect via a mechanic’s lien on the project later, yet any work performed before those past 20 days isn’t covered.

Think of it as insurance. Sending your pre lien/prelim protects your ability to get paid in the future. Learn more about reasons to send a prelim, in general: Why You Should Always Send a Preliminary Notice.

CNS swiftly handles other types of construction notices in California too. See all our CA services ⇢


Do Other States Have a 20 Day Preliminary Notice?

Yes – and within our CNS service regions, we regularly mail 20 day preliminary lien notice forms on behalf of our Arizona customers. Like California, Arizona also requires you to send your preliminary notice within 20 days of beginning your project.

Regardless of the state your project is located in, be sure to send a preliminary notice. That way, if you face a no pay, slow pay, or short pay situation, you’ve already protected your right to get paid.

CNS works with construction businesses in Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, California, and New Mexico. Each state has its own rules for sending prelims, and our experienced team will quickly and accurately send your prelim, according to your state’s requirements. See all our states’ services ⇢


Where Can I Get a California 20 Day Preliminary Notice Form?

Though California doesn’t provide boilerplates for preliminary notices, you can call upon CNS, and we’ll provide our proprietary form and send it for you.

No matter which of our states your project is in – from Washington to New Mexico – we’ll take care of your pre lien/prelim, so you don’t have to. Reach out to us anytime for assistance – and if you’re an existing customer, simply log into your customer portal.

Work with CNS, and clear that prelim paperwork off your desk ⇢