Ask SAM

Q: If a “handyman” contract has my spouse’s name listed as the customer and I sign the contract in my name (and my spouse never signs it), is the contract legally binding?

J.L.E.

Answer: According to local attorney Mike Wells, the contract is likely binding, since you signed it as an adult and as an owner of the property, even though the contract has your spouse’s name listed.

“But either way, you no doubt signed the contract as her agent, since you are husband and wife,” Wells said. “It would not be the first time, or the last time, that one spouse signed something for the other spouse on a routine matter.”

As we have written about in SAM recently, home contractors sometimes want both spouses to sign contracts that involve work on the home or real estate, since it is likely owned by both spouses.

“The contractor does not want to get in the middle of a dispute between a husband and wife about work to be done — scope, cost, timeline, etc.,” Wells said. “It is also a good rule of thumb for both spouses to agree on any home contract, especially of any size, expense or scope.”

Q: My sister-in-law paid $4,500 for the repair of a well at the home of her son’s girlfriend where the son lived and they were planning to get married. The girlfriend kicked him out and is not making any effort to repay my sister-in-law. She has asked my help in filing a lien against the house. She’s thinking like a mechanic’s lien, but the repair people have already been paid. I’m thinking my sister-in-law will need to initiate a small claims suit and proceed from there. Do you agree?

S.M.

Answer: A mechanic’s lien, or a materialman’s lien, is not an option in the scenario you described, and your sister-in-law is likely going to have to go to magistrate’s court, Wells said.

“Since the materialman, who could have a lien under state law for unpaid work or materials furnished for the property, has been paid, the payment of a general bill by (the sister-in-law) would not be given a lien under the law until the sister-in-law got a judgment against the former girlfriend,” Wells said in an email response to SAM.

If a judgment is rendered and your sister-in-law gives the defendant due notice to claim any exemptions (things you get to keep under the law), Wells said, your sister-in-law could proceed to try to collect the debt by forcing the sale of the property to collect on the judgment.

“I am assuming (the sister-in-law) loaned the money to the former girlfriend/owner of the real estate, the girlfriend had direct knowledge of the loan to the son for this payment for the well, or (sister-in-law) paid the bill directly with the girlfriend’s knowledge,” Wells said. “If she loaned it/paid the debt without the girlfriend’s knowledge, the girlfriend may raise that issue before the magistrate.”

But, he said, since the girlfriend is in essence a third-party beneficiary of the contribution, your sister-in-law still may prevail.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Email: AskSAM@wsjournal.com

Online: journalnow.com/asksam

Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 

Recommended for you

Load comments