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Mechanics Lien Frequently Asked Questions
Why File A Mechanics Lien?
- Are you being slow-paid?
- Is someone making up a dispute about your work to avoid payment?
- Are you unpaid because your customer can’t get paid from the owner?
Is a lien filing right for you? Every situation is different, but filing a lien is generally the right thing to do if you're owed money on a construction job. Even if you think you may ultimately get paid, it's a best practice to file a lien when unpaid.
Will A Mechanics Lien Work to get me paid?
We get hundreds of liens paid every week for contractors just like you. Now it’s your
When you file a mechanics lien, you are using the most effective collections remedy available to you. Construction liens are so effective because they create so many avenues for payment. Here are 17 different ways lien claims work to get you paid, such as:
- Liens freeze construction project funds.
- Liens turn the job site into your collateral.
- Liens stop the property from being sold, financed, or transferred.
- Liens create contractual problems for other parties.
Can I lien the project right when I start work? And should I?
It's common to hear something like this in the industry. Frequently, a contractor may
wonder whether they should just "lien the job right from the beginning." This, however,
is not a common practice, it's not a best practice, and it's probably not a legal
It's not a common or best practice because it's extremely adversarial to just file a lien right at the start of a project. This remedy should be used as a last resort if unpaid on a job for an extended time. Filing it at the start of a job is the opposite of how it should be done.
And further, it's probably not legal to do this. A "fraudulant" lien or "frivolous lien" is one that is filed inappropriately. It's inappropriate to file a lien when you're not owed anything on a job. If you filed right after doing work, that would be legal. You can't file before doing the work, though, because without the work, you lack any lien rights!
Do I have the right to file a lien claim?
This is a difficult question. Generally, anyone who worked on or supplied materials to a construction job has a right to file a lien, but there may be other qualifications. Browse our FAQs, or ask your legal question on our Expert Center.
What if I didn't finish work on the project, can I still file a lien?
This is an extremely common question because in so many cases the need to file a
lien arises because something happened on the job and a contractor or supplier has
stopped contributing. Nevertheless, the answer to the question is almost always YES! If
you didn't finish the job, you're still likely able to file a lien. The lien will be for
you to get paid for the work or materials that you did provide on the job.
We made a quick video that will help you understand this better, here:
Do Mechanics Liens go by any other names?
It can be quite confusing, but mechanics liens can go by many different names (and
It’s common to see the word “mechanics” written in the possessive – “mechanic’s.” Additionally, mechanics liens also go by names such as “construction lien,” “property lien,” “laborer’s lien,” “materialman’s lien” or even an “artisan’s lien” or “design professional’s lien” in certain circumstances.
Who needs to use a lien?
This question must be broken down into two separate parts: Who needs to use a mechanics
lien, and Who is allowed to use a mechanics lien.
The parties that may need to use a mechanics lien are parties who furnish labor or material to a work of improvement (construction project) and who remain unpaid. Although, as described below, there may be relationship or other issues to consider prior to filing a mechanics lien.
Slow payment and nonpayment are known and prevalent problems with respect to payment in the construction industry, and mechanics liens are one of the most powerful ways to ensure that payment will be made. Mechanics liens are, however, the four-letter word or the nuclear option with respect to construction payment. The same reasons that mechanics liens are so phenomenally effective are the reasons that companies usually wish to avoid them.
The question of who is allowed to use a mechanics lien to secure payment is a bit more complex. First the potential mechanics lien claimant must be a party entitled to mechanics lien protection. This determination varies from state to state, but usually requires (at the least) that the claimant furnished labor or material to a private work of improvement on real property, that the labor or material furnished was for the permanent improvement of the property, that all prerequisite notice requirements have been complied with, and that all rules and requirements related to the mechanics lien itself (timing, form, filing, service, etc.) have been met.
As mentioned, however, the parties entitled to mechanics lien protection, and both the prerequisite requirements and mechanics lien requirements all vary from state to state, from project to project, and by the claimant’s particular role. These determinations can be exceptionally complex, please see the state-by-state and role-by-role breakout section for more detailed information.
In what circumstances is a lien normally used?
Liens are normally used as a last resort to get paid for work done on or materials furnished to a private construction project. In many situations, the claimant may make a determination whether they intend to do future jobs with the property owner, GC, or others up-the-chain, and weigh that factor in the decision with whether to move forward with a claim. While a lien is a right and a tool given to construction participants in ensure payment, it is the “nuclear option” for recovery. For that reason, in many situations, the mechanics lien tool is used after all options to recover payment, other than initiating a lawsuit, have failed, or if communication has broken down on the project with respect to payment.
Do the rules and processes to file a lien change according to the project location?
Yes, while the fundamental concept of a lien or payment claim (and generally, the
ultimate result) does not change depending on the project location, pretty much
everything else can and does.
From a practical standpoint, the prerequisite notice requirements, the recording requirements, the timelines and deadlines, the information required on the lien document, and more, can all change depending on the project location. These rules and requirements can be exceptionally complex, and a state-by-state breakout section outlining and describing the rules and requirements for every state can be found here.
Do the rules and processes to file a lien change according to the project type?
In a similar manner to whether the rules change with respect to project location, they
can also change according to project type. Also similarly, the fundamental concept of a
lien (and generally, the ultimate result) does not change depending on the project type,
but other things can.
Liens against property are not allowed on public projects. And, there are situations in which liens and the surrounding requirements can change depending on the particular type of private improvement, as well – i.e. the rules regarding and availability of these claims may vary based on whether the project involves an owner-occupied residential property. See the 50 state-by-state breakdown for more information.
What happens if I make a mistake?
Making a mistake with preparing, filing, and serving your lien claim can have
Lien statutes are interesting in that many have specific requirements that they be broadly interpreted in favor of expending lien protection, but they must be strictly construed with respect to meeting the statutory requirements and prerequisites. Simple or tiny mistakes or omissions can result in a mechanics lien being invalid (even if recorded). Losing the security afforded by the mechanics lien, and the associated near-guarantee of payment is only one potential consequence, however.
Filing a fraudulent or improper lien can result in stiff fines, damages, and criminal penalties. And, even if a lien is not fraudulent but is invalid for other reasons, failure to remove the lien can result in liability for damages incurred by the interested parties with respect to the invalid lien. Losing out on security for payment is a harsh enough consequence by itself, but adding liability or penalties on top is exceptionally significant and painful.
Is a Mechanics Lien usually paired with anything else?
These are generally stand-alone documents, but they come at the end of a process in
which many other documents may be required. Most states have some sort of notice
requirement that must be met prior to claiming a lien. And, there will likely be many
requests for payment or other correspondence that are exchanged prior to the filing and
service of the lien.
With respect to the lien itself, some states and situations call for certain documents to be attached to the lien as exhibits. For example, a copy of a required notice or affidavit of such notice’s delivery, a copy of the claimant’s contract or invoices, or some other supporting document may be required to be attached. These rules vary from state to state, and occasionally from project to project.
What do I do after a lien is filed?
After the lien is filed and served, you'll want to followup with the project
stakeholders to request payment. Read more at What
To Do After You File A Mechanics Lien.
You can also watch this video: