An interesting question occurred to me while I was doing some “fix-it” work around the workplace the other day. And, being that a good portion of my brain-space is taken up by mechanics lien information, the question was: “Could I lien for this?”
That’s a simple question, but the answer is complex. Despite the simple appearance, multiple sub-parts must be answered before finally making a determination about whether a valid mechanics lien could be filed.
Was the Work Performed Lien-Able?
The first step in determining whether or not a valid mechanics lien may be filed is making sure the work performed is/was lien-able work. In this case, I performed some general repair of plumbing and electrical fixtures. This type of work generally gives rise to the right to file a mechanics lien (in Louisiana, where I am, a “Statement of Claim and Privilege”). Almost without exception this type of work would give rise to a mechanics lien right, because it is the direct physical improvement of real property, or the structures erected thereon. Indeed, Louisiana’s Private Works Act, Louisiana Code § 4808 gives a broad definition of a “work” giving rise to a mechanics lien right:
A project for the improvement, construction, erection, reconstruction, modification, repair, demolition, or other physical change of an immovable or its component parts.
We have spent some time previously discussing the expansive nature of the work which may be lien-able in Louisiana, generally predicated on the “or other physical change” language contained within the statute. In this case, however, I wouldn’t need to dig that far – repair is specifically mentioned. Since Louisiana does not have a specific floor for the value of the work that needs to be performed prior to a mechanics lien becoming an available remedy, the work I performed seems to be clearly contemplated by Louisiana law. In some states, however, there is a minimum value of work that must be performed, or labor that must be furnished, prior to a mechanics lien being available – so that’s something to keep in mind.
Am I a Party Entitled to Lien?
The next sub-question that must be addressed is whether or not I am a party entitled to assert a mechanics lien in this situation. This question could easily be more difficult than it first appears. While, as a party who performed work on an immovable, it seems I am clearly a party allowed by statute to file a lien, there are some complicating circumstances here:
1) I am employed by the owner of the property
2) There was no contract, either written or verbal, for the work performed
3) There was no charge contemplated for the work – I was doing it for free as a goodwill gesture.
Each of these complicate the determination of whether or not a mechanics lien could be filed for the work performed. As always, the answers and discussion depends on the state in which the work was performed. Since I performed the work in Louisiana, that state’s law will frame this discussion.
As always, the first step is to go to the statute, and see if there is anything in the mechanics lien law directly on point. It just so happens that in Louisiana, there is (at least in part). A “Statement of Claim and Privilege” is, as it sounds, is a statement of two distinct remedies: a) A “claim” against the owner (and contractor); and b) A “privilege” on the immovable. These are often discussed as if they are one remedy, and it’s easy to see why – the “claim” against the owner (and contractor) is secured by a privilege on the immovable property. But, for our purposes of discussing my potential lien rights, we need to keep them separate.
Technically, as the statute is written, the claim against the owner is predicated on a contract, or, at the very least, contemplates or assumes the work was based on some contractual relation: Louisiana Code § 4802 holds that the claim against the owner is to secure obligations of the owner “arising out of the performance of work under the contract”. If this was the only code section on point, it might provide a significant hurdle to my ability to file a lien. At the very least, I would need to make some argument about an implied contract for the work performed, or something similar.
Luckily, however, there is another option in Louisiana. The privilege on the immovable itself, as defined by Louisiana Code § 4801 does not seem to be predicated on a specific contract. In fact, as an employee of the property owner, I am specifically mentioned by the statute as a party entitled to a privilege on the property.
The following persons have a privilege on an immovable to secure the following obligations of the owner arising out of a work on the immovable:
…(2) Laborers or employees of the owner, for the price of work performed at the site of the immovable.
As clearly defined, an employee of the owner has a privilege on the property for the price of the work performed – and that privilege arises directly from the work performed. Also, to my benefit, it does not appear to matter that the work was originally contemplated to be completed free of charge. Since the privilege is not dependent on a contract, there doesn’t need to be any specific predetermined valuation of the work – instead, the privilege arises from, and is based on, the actual value of the work performed.
So, after all of that, in Louisiana I would have a right to file a lien against the property for the work I performed. In other, states, however, the analysis may be different.