While most of the writing about construction payment and mechanics liens focuses on contractors and suppliers, there’s another group of people out there that is vital to completing (and even starting) any construction project. I’m talking about design professionals. Design professionals include architects, engineers, interior designers, and other licensed professionals. These groups are typically not working on-site as much as contractors during the time of construction, but are indispensable for pre-planning, permitting, and elements of laying the project management groundwork.
Without design pros, buildings wouldn’t stand, material orders would come at the wrong time, and the vision for the project would be inconsistent across the many parties working together to get it built. It goes without saying, then, that design professionals deserve to get paid.
A visual guide to mechanics lien rights for design professionals
Design professionals in most states are offered the mechanics lien as an option for when payment issues arise. We put together an infographic and map of the United States explaining which states allow design professionals to use mechanics liens.
Lien rights for designers in different states
For the most part, prompt payment laws are intended to protect parties on a project who we generally think of when we hear the word “contractor” in the construction context. However, there’s a chance that, in some circumstances, a designer, architect or engineer might not be considered a “contractor” for the purposes of prompt payment legislation in a given state. Let’s use this Michigan example from our Ask an Expert Center.
Matt Viator explains that: “..if an architect or engineer has a contract with a public agency for the construction, alteration, demolition, or repair of a public facility, they may well be considered a “contractor.” And, if they aren’t designated to recommend progress payments, there’s probably be little argument against designation as a contractor.
Generally, prompt payment laws in different states are there to protect general contractors, subs, and other sub-tier participants. Based on how terms are defined in some states, like Michigan, there’s a decent chance that an architect or engineer might find protection there.
In other states, like Iowa, whether architects are entitled to lien rights at all can be a bit of a grey area. Roles like architects are not mentioned specifically in the Iowa Mechanics Lien statutes like they are in Michigan. In prior case law, it does appear that if the property is not actually improved, an architect will not have mechanics lien rights in Iowa.
Finally, case law and new changes to state laws, like this 2011 law change in Massachusetts can affect your lien rights as an architect, engineer or design professional in the construction business. If you work in this line of business, keep up to date on your state requirements, and legislation.
In the end, there is generally another recovery option still available to help get paid for amounts for unpaid work, it’s important to read through your state’s mechanics lien laws and state by state prompt payment statues. If you are having trouble finding a specific answer for your unique case, just ask a question on our Expert Center and an expert from your state will be with you in a day or two.
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