We all know that mechanics liens and other documents concerning real property are generally recorded with the county (or in some cases town) in which the property lies. But how do you record a mechanics lien or other construction document when county recorder offices close? Whether they’re unavailable due to weather, a major power outage, or the coronavirus, here’s what you need to know about recording a lien or notice remotely.
Recording remotely when county office is closed
With the outbreak of COVID-19, recording jurisdictions across the country are taking precautions to protect themselves and the public. For example, Pierce County, Washington just suspended in-person services. County recorder offices in Michigan, Washington, Indiana, Alabama and several other states have already announced closures, and more are bound to follow suit.
When these county recorders offices close, does this leave folks needing to file documents out in the cold? While there is no certain answer here based on the unpredictable nature of events like these, it’s best to be prepared and have a plan.
Understanding how to e-record your document or submit it by mail to the appropriate office may help get your document recorded even if you’re not able to walk it in yourself. Below are some helpful hints and things to consider before you lick that envelope or click that mouse!
Give yourself time to file before the deadline
It’s important to understand when your deadline is and how to calculate it. Every state has a different deadline for filing a mechanics lien. Knowing when your deadline is isn’t enough, however, especially when offices may close or government services could otherwise be interrupted. (This is just as true for holidays as it is for closures due to coronavirus.)
County recorders can reject lien claims or other documents for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they even reject a valid lien form by mistake! And getting your form rejected doesn’t extend your deadline. You don’t get an extension just because the form had an error, or the clerk rejected it by mistake.
Claimants should ensure they submit documents ahead of the deadline, allowing for enough time to respond to a potential rejection. Giving the county recorder’s office enough time to notify you gives you a chance to correct any errors and resubmit the document on time.
It’s also generally a good rule of thumb to make sure your document is submitted prior to any holidays or other office closures if your deadline falls on one of those days. If you are ever in doubt about a planned office closure, most counties post a list of holidays and other events on their website, and as always, it’s never a bad idea to call and confirm.
Double-check the property info
Once you’ve decided to file a lien and have checked your deadline, one of the first (but often overlooked) steps is to do research to ensure that the property information is correct. Most county recorder or assessor offices in the US allow you to search property records online. When available, this makes the process fairly straightforward for the majority of properties.
Most counties will let you search by the property owner’s name, parcel number, address, and other criteria. They can often help you locate the information you need no matter what you know (or don’t know) about the property. In some cases, you need to check the county recorder’s online search for a Notice of Commencement, deed, or other recorded document.
If you’re uncomfortable doing this on your own, don’t fear! Most counties publish a step by step guide to using their search system. (See the guide to doing a land records search in Collier County, FL.)
State and county formatting requirements
After checking your document for accuracy, potential claimants should be aware of state and county formatting requirements. Every state has laws prescribing what pieces of information need to be on a document – but don’t just look at the state level. Individual counties sometimes have additional margin, font, fee, and spacing requirements.
Some states, like Washington and Ohio, have statewide standardization guidelines codified in statute. Though, in the experience of Levelset’s Document Control team, most counties will still have their own differences.
Before you send your document off for recording, it’s a good idea to review the recorder’s website for any information they may have on document formatting and fee requirements. (For examples, look at Cook County, IL, Norfolk County, MA, and Bexar County, TX.)
If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to call and ask before sending your document for recording.
Notarize your lien document (if required)
Another thing to consider before submitting is whether your document requires a notary. With a few exceptions, a mechanics lien typically requires notarization to be valid.
While many companies have employees that double as notaries, not everyone has direct access to a notary public. If you’re in need of a notary, banks, credit unions, and the UPS store often employ notaries that will charge a nominal fee for their services.
Additionally, you can usually search for a notary through your secretary of state’s website or use a third-party website to find one in your area. While electronic/remote notarization is still new, some states have made the move to specifically allow for it. There are even online service providers with remote notary offerings, though any service should be thoroughly evaluated before using it.
How to deliver your lien or notice
Finally, make sure any service requirements are met. Some states like Pennsylvania and South Carolina require the document to be served on the property owner, South Carolina even further requires that service be done by the sheriff.
By contrast, California requires that a copy of the lien be sent to the property owner before you file the document and a proof of service affidavit must be attached to your lien. The copy sent to the property owner must also be sent either by regular Certified Mail or First-Class mail, while Return Receipt Requested is optional but not required.
If all of this is making your head hurt, Levelset also publishes a handy 50-state guide to filing a mechanics lien that contains a how-to spelling out the service requirements for each state.
Options for recording a mechanics lien remotely
Now, let’s assume your document is accurate, within its deadline, formatted correctly, and notarized. Great job so far! Now you need to decide how to submit it for recording.
Generally speaking, there are three methods used for remotely recording documents:
- E-recording (online)
- Filing services
While being able to electronically record a document from the comfort of your home or office is a great convenience, this technology isn’t available everywhere just yet. California even restricts e-recording to specific parties enumerated in state law. Even further, states like Iowa have specific electronic registries for mechanics liens.
Before attempting to e-record a document, verify with the county that they accept this method. Ask which vendors they partner with, as there are several service providers with varying processes.
Recording by mail
It’s important to note here that if your recorder uses a Post Office Box to accept their mail-in documents, these generally aren’t accessible by services other than USPS. The first step when mailing a document should be to verify the address to which you’re sending the package.
Look for an FAQ or similar section to find this information (see the Orange County, CA recorder guide as an example). Once you’ve determined the correct address, fee, and payment method, it’s time to put everything together, send it to the recorder, and wait for a response.
If you’re curious as to the status of your document, you can always give the county a call, but remember they may have a backlog of documents especially during high volume times of the year.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of filing a document yourself, you can always enlist the help of a filing service to help prepare and submit your document. These services vary widely in terms of quality, reliability, and ease of use.
For example, Levelset offers document preparation and filing as part of our services.
Here’s how it works: After you enter the project information into our interactive software, a team of researchers double check your data, ensuring accuracy. The final document is either sent to you for your signature, or signed by a representative of the service as agent for your company. Then, your document is submitted for recording.
Many attorneys also offer the preparation and filing of a mechanics lien as a service, although this can be a costly – and largely unnecessary – process. There are several filing services across the country, all of which have different offerings.
Filing a lien remotely isn’t rocket science, but details matter
All in all, recording a document yourself remotely is not as scary as it may seem. But when you record a lien or other document remotely, it’s critical to get every detail right. Filing a mechanics lien or other construction document can be a confusing process. Lots of people make mistakes – including many lien filing services. Even a simple error can get your mechanics lien or other document rejected.
Just ask our Scout research team or document control specialists: They read through hundreds of public records every day, flagging spelling errors, incorrect names of property owners – even liens that are filed in the wrong county. It’s part of our process to make sure that the documents we submit are always accurate.
If you’re still hesitant, Levelset offers many free tools you can use to demystify remote recording – and make sure your document is recorded correctly on the first try, every time!