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Getting paid in the construction industry is complicated, and even if you’ve done everything right, you still may not get paid. If you are considering filing a mechanics lien in California in order to collect the money you are owed, you should be informed about the process and the best way to go about it.
If you are unfamiliar with the process, see our guide to filing a lien in California so you know what to expect. Now that you know what needs to be done, the question is: should you do it yourself, hire a lien filing service, or turn it over to your attorney?
We can’t answer that question for you because everyone’s situation is different, but we can give you the information you need to help make an informed choice and feel confident that it will be done right. If you decide to have a lien service file the lien on your behalf, here are some of the best that service California, in no particular order.
- Website: lienitnow.com
- Location: Hackensack, NJ
- Year started: 2007
- Reviews: 5 stars and A+ rating on BBB (4 reviews), 5 stars on Facebook (3 reviews)
Services and Costs:
- Preliminary notices – $50
- Mechanic’s liens – $299
- Bond claims – $279
- Lien discharge (removal) – $125
- Lien waivers – $50
Founded by three construction attorneys in New Jersey, LienItNow says its mission is to “assist the construction industry in finding affordable ways to obtain payment for work performed.” They offer nationwide preliminary notice and mechanics lien filing services.
LienItNow has a simple three step process for filing a mechanics lien that allows you to see the document being edited in real time as you add your information. Here’s a breakdown of the process:
- Complete an online form that will take 10 minutes.
- The information you entered is checked by their staff, and a completed lien document is sent to you.
- You review it, download it, sign it, then return it to Lien It Now for recording and serving.
It takes about 48 hours for the completed lien to be sent after completion of step one. Rush, same-day, service is available for an additional fee.
With a support line and live chat displayed prevalently on their website, you should be able to get in touch with their team with ease and make sure they can help with your exact payment problem in your state and county. Because rules vary widely from state to state – we always suggest checking with customer support before diving into your first order.
Their website includes guides for notices and liens in all 50 states, and the guides even include the state statutes, if you need some bedtime reading or are just into reading laws. The California information is clear regarding deadlines for filing based on whether a notice of completion is filed by the owner.
The pricing page on their website is riddled with asterisks* that reflect “do it yourself pricing” or “full service” pricing, forcing you to do a little math and weigh a variety of options before deciding how to proceed. There is also a lack of transparency on “filing fees” that vary state by state – as opposed to a flat fee for filing a lien. Some counties in select states can charge upwards of $300 in filing fees, other counties only charge $25. Explore our county pages to help you understand the filing fees associated with each county.
Their 5-star rating looks good at first glance, but the number of reviews is a little disappointing if you’re someone who needs some serious social proof to feel confident protecting your right to get paid.
CNS Construction Notice Services
- Website: cnslien.com
- Location: San Diego, CA
- Year Founded: 1984
- Reviews: BBB – A+ rating
- Preliminary notices
- Mechanic’s liens – $285 (in California)
- Bond claims
- Lien discharge
- Stop notices
Construction Notice Services (CNS) was established in California in 1984, when the first lien laws were passed there. 20-day notices are required in California, and CNS is one of the most well know notice providers in the US for retaining lien rights. They now have several offices in California, and Nevada and Arizona. They are bonded and insured and believe in earning their clients’ trust with their service.
If you are looking for specifics on how to file a lien in California or what the timelines for filing are, there isn’t a lot of information on CNS’s website. The page for California mechanics lien filing has almost no information about the process, it just urges you to call CNS if you have a question. So, if you are a do-it-yourselfer who likes to have all the facts and know what to expect before you act, you can look at our guide to filing liens in California to get the information you need.
To start the lien process with CNS, you must first register for an account, which requires you to sign a service agreement first. After that is done, you can submit your information via their website, and a lien can generally be processed within 48 hours of submission.
CNS has been servicing clients for over 35 years, and through that time they’ve recorded over 90,000 liens and 2 million preliminary notices. Their client list is 20,000 strong! They may not have many reviews or a presence on social media, but their history speaks for itself.
CRM Lien Services
- Website: crmlsi.com
- Location: Brea, CA
- Year Founded: 1986
- BirdEye – 4.7 stars, 19 reviews
- Facebook – 5 stars, 2 reviews
- Glassdoor – 4.8 stars, 4 reviews
- Preliminary Notices (20-day notices)
- Lien & Bond Claim Filing
- Web portal to view & track services provided
CRM has been providing construction liens for over 30 years. They pride themselves on the amount of research they put into every transaction to ensure that accurate information is obtained. “Designed after the ISO9000 quality standards, the CRM Triple Check system requires that each preliminary lien notice be reviewed by three authorized CRM Quality Control Inspectors each from different work groups within CRM,” says their website.
The company is licensed and insured, and they make sure their employees up to date on the latest laws and requirements for liens in all 50 states. They have some basic FAQs about liens and notices on their website and a page on their blog about California, but other than that there isn’t a whole lot of reference information available.
Anyone can go onto their website, select the form you want to create, pay by credit card, and have the service you requested performed. No service agreement or monthly fee is required. They also have a web portal available for tracking document statuses and creating documents online.
Pricing is not available on the website; you must inquire about an account or order a document to get that information. CRM’s overall process seems easier than most, and you can just pay for the services you need as you go, a great way to test their services before you make a commitment.
BICA National Construction Notices
- Website: bicanet.com
- Location: Rancho Cucamonga, CA
- Year Founded: 1903
- Reviews: Facebook – 1 review
- Preliminary Notices – $19.50
- Lien & Bond Claim Filing – Start at $136.50
- Web portal to view & track services provided
BICA (Building Industry Credit Association) is a long-established credit and collections company based in California that has been in business since 1903. The organization is an “association” that began with a group of lumber suppliers banding together to exchange credit information about subcontractors.
While BICA offers all the same services as the other companies we’ve looked at, they also have a monitoring service specific to California that keeps an ear out for the filing of a notice of completion (NOC) on your job. You are alerted as soon as the document has been filed. This is a great additional service because now you know exactly when your lien deadline is – 60 days from NOC filing for prime contractors, 30 days for all other parties.
BICA is big on their Signature Verification Service. A lien filed with incorrect information doesn’t help anyone get paid, so they have multiple researchers confirm the project information, both through database research and by picking up the phone. Then a proofreader further verifies the completeness of the entire document, making sure that everything is where it is supposed to be and the information is correct, so all you have to do is sign it and return it to BICA for filing and serving.
There isn’t any pricing information on the website; you’ll have to contact them directly for specific rates and how to join.
Tradition Notice Services
- Website: traditionlienservice.com
- Location: Warrenville, IL
- Year Founded: 2005
- Reviews: No review sites found
- Preliminary Notice Services
- Lien & Bond Claim Filing – $165 + county recording fee
- Web portal to view & track services provided
- Desktop Software to manage notices & waivers
Tradition Notice Services, and its companion company Tradition Software, were established in 2005 and have only two employees. This is a small company offering software-based solutions with a layer of services. The operation was founded and is operated by Craig Altman, who has a background in lien, notice, and lien waiver software.
Their technology is used by several companies. We’ve met Craig over the years and know that he cares a great deal about the company’s customers and users. Although the operation is small, and support for the software is a constant demand (especially the on-premise software), Traditional Notice Services is a reliable, reputable company that has been helping contractors and suppliers for almost 15 years.
There is very little reputable third-party information and reviews (i.e. Yelp, Glassdoor, Google reviews, etc.) about this company to help people decide whether this is the right solution for them.
- Website: levelset.com
- Location: New Orleans, LA and Austin, TX
- Year started: 2007
- 4.8 stars on Google (18 reviews),
- 9.8 on TrustPilot (310 reviews),
- 4.9 stars on Facebook (9 reviews)
- Preliminary notices – $FREE
- Lien Waivers – FREE
- Notice of Intent to Lien – FREE
- Mechanic’s liens – $349
- Bond claims – $349
- Lien discharge – $149
Levelset is a full-service lien document processor, like most of the other companies on this list. They provide their services a la carte or through their proprietary software and subscription service.
Levelset provides a payment solution to your payment problems. Their focus is not on filing a lien, but on reaching an understanding that will allow everyone to get what they deserve, without legal action whenever possible.
They do this by focusing on the SET methodology (See everyone on the job – Exchange paperwork – Talk it out if there is a payment problem). Their service allows customers to identify everyone who needs to be paid on a job and try to work out disagreements before a lien needs to be filed. If that doesn’t work, however, they can also provide lien filing services in all 50 states.
They have more reviews than the other top services and have an active social media presence. Their website is built as an information hub for all things related to construction payments and the lien process. If you have a question regarding a lien or a required notice, you are bound to find the answer on Levelset’s website, without the attorney’s fees.
Should you file a lien yourself or hire a lien service?
“How hard can it be to file a mechanics lien?” you ask yourself. Well, although it may not be hard, there are lots of details that need to be brought together so your lien is valid, and you don’t want to make a mistake on such an important document.
You first want to make sure you know your state’s lien filing process. How long do you have to file it and what does the form need to look like? Deadlines for filing in California can be at 30 or 60 days after filing of a notice of completion, or at 90 days past completion of work if no notice is filed. A form with specific language is required, and the legal description of the project property must be included.
The data you provide on the lien document (owner info, customer info, job address) must be 100% accurate or your lien will not be valid. Good research and information verification are a necessity when filing a lien.
Due to the statutory deadlines for filing a lien, you often need to act quickly. Lien services can help expedite this process while you continue doing what you do best.
After the lien has been recorded, notice must be served to the parties involved with proof of delivery (a signed affidavit). You must track and keep the documentation that proves the notice was served to each party, in case you must foreclose on the lien later.
Most lien services will take care of all of this for you, including doing the research to make sure the information on the lien form is correct, creating the lien document on the proper form, sending it for recording, and then serving notices to the affected parties with the proper affidavits. This means all you have to do is fill out a form online and the rest will be taken care of.
If you decide to file a lien yourself, it is advisable to get some help, such as Rocket Lawyer, Simplifile, and even Levelset, to make sure everything is done correctly.
Problems with lien services
Most lien services will not be able to provide you with legal advice, so if that is what you are looking for, you’ll have to talk to an attorney.
As was mentioned above, the accuracy of the information on the lien document is very important. Make sure the lien service you choose provides property record checks as part of their services, so you will know the information has been verified.
Some lien services have only been around for a short time, or they may not be reputable. Be sure to check each one out thoroughly before deciding. Look at their software and user experience (ask to see a demo), their reputation (ask for references), and their stability.
What does it cost to file a mechanic’s lien?
The process of filing a lien is complicated. There are some costs you will have to pay no matter how you choose to file your lien. These hidden costs include recording fees, serving costs, and the cost for the time it takes to gather the data to complete the lien form.
If you choose to file the lien yourself, you will need to pay the costs above plus the cost of your time to prepare the lien document, file it with the recorder, and then time and travel expenses to serve the lien documents to the parties involved. You will also have to pay for either discharge of the lien if you get paid or for a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien if you do not.
Attorneys charge for liens in different ways. You may pay a flat fee for the preparation of the lien document, they may charge you hourly, or it may be part of a retainer agreement. You can expect to pay over $1000 for the preparation, and you will have to pay the hidden costs above as well. Any additional communication with the attorney, either during the lien process or after, will raise this cost. Then there will be additional costs to discharge the lien or foreclose on it.
Lien services will charge from $300 to $500 for the preparation of a lien document. Some include the serving of documents. Make sure you know which costs are included in their fee so there are no surprises. Discharge of a lien is around $100, but you will need to use an attorney if you must foreclose.
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Do you have the RIGHT to file a lien?
In California, filing a lien is a statutory right that you gain as a result of working on or providing materials for real property improvements. Since the work and materials can’t be “returned,” the law allows you to file a lien and attach it to the property if you aren’t paid.
General contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and rental equipment providers all have the right to file a lien if they aren’t paid. If you have sent all the preliminary notice documents you were supposed to send, then you have the right to this payment remedy, as long as you are within the window of time allowed by the law for the state in which the project is located.
If you aren’t sure what your next step should be in trying to collect a late payment, check out our Payment Rights Advisor.