Contractual “Pay if Paid” and “Pay when Paid” Clauses? What is a California Construction Subcontractor to Do?

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By limiting allowed delays in payment to the deadline for initiation of litigation of construction claims, litigation can be avoided in some cases and more quickly resolved in others.

November 29, 2021
William L. Porter - Porter Law Group

The Situation California Construction Subcontractors Face in Obtaining Payment:

California construction subcontractors find themselves faced with a significant payment issue every time they are asked to sign a subcontract on a major project. Invariably, the subcontract the prime contractor presents to the subcontractor for signature will contain a clause by which the prime contractor imposes a condition on payment from the prime contractor to the subcontractor. The condition will be either one or the other of two general types. Either the prime contractor will specify that it never has to pay the subcontractor if the prime contractor itself is not paid by the owner (a “pay-if-paid” clause), or the prime contractor will pay the subcontractor only after the prime contractor has first exhausted all its efforts to obtain payment from the owner through litigation, arbitration or otherwise, possibly delaying payment to subcontractors by months or even years (a “pay-when-paid” clause).

Goal of the Article:

The goal of this article is to draw a distinction between the pay-if-paid and pay-when-paid clauses, discuss the legality of these clauses in California, the problems these clauses create for subcontractors, advise the reader of helpful recent legal developments in this area of law, address the possibility of a further legislative remedy to address the issue, and discuss what the subcontractor might do to protect itself while awaiting a legislative remedy that may or may not ever arrive.

Mr. Porter may be contacted at


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