Construction professionals at work

I wondered if one of these light-hanging companies or individuals would be entitled to file a mechanics lien if they went unpaid for their services. We’re deep into Christmas season, and more and more houses are decked out with festive holiday lighting. Down here in New Orleans, I’ve noticed several signs posted at intersections advertising the services of companies (and individuals) who specialize in decorating houses or small commercial buildings and professionally hanging exterior decorative holiday lighting. Since, at this point, I can’t see anything without relating it to mechanics liens, I wondered if one of these light-hanging companies or individuals would be entitled to file a mechanics lien if they went unpaid for their services.

What Work Gives Rise to a Mechanics Lien Right?

While mechanic’s lien laws differ from state to state, the basic concept generally stays relatively the same: For a mechanic’s lien to be an available remedy, the work performed must “improve” real property. And, generally, the work must be incorporated (“permanently”) into the property.

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Clearly designing and/or the mere hanging of decorative lighting is work performed to improve a piece of real property, but is it incorporated into the property? Since hanging exterior holiday lights is, most often, a temporary display meant to be removed after the holiday season, it presents a tough issue. Work that is by nature temporary generally does not give rise to mechanic’s lien rights.

Louisiana’s Broad Definition of a “Work”

As noted on this blog before, however, Louisiana has a very broadly worded mechanics lien statute. We have previously discussed how broadly the Louisiana Private Works Act defines “work” in the context of whether or not a party is entitled to a mechanic’s lien for erecting Mardi Gras viewing stands, constructing television broadcast sets, or preparing for a hurricane. In that definition of work, Louisiana includes the phrase “modification…or other physical change.”

…a single continuous project for the improvement, construction, erection, reconstruction, modification, repair, demolition, or other physical change of an immovable or its component parts.

When this definition of work is coupled with the definition of the parties entitled to assert a mechanics lien,

(1) Contractors, for the price of their work.
(2) Laborers or employees of the owner, for the price of work performed at the site of the immovable.
(3) Sellers, for the price of movables sold to the owner that become component parts of the immovable, or are consumed at the site of the immovable, or are consumed in machinery or equipment used at the site of the immovable.

an interesting situation arises. The only requirement describing materials becoming component parts, or being consumed into, the property specifically and distinctly applies to material suppliers. Contractors and subcontractors are entitled to lien for the value of their work (as long as the obligation arises out of a lien-able “work”). As previously noted, the definition of a lien-able work is broad, and includes “modification…or other physical change”. Given this information, it is possible that hanging exterior decorative holiday lighting may qualify as a lien-able work in Louisiana, and somebody who did that work and was unpaid may be entitled to file a mechanics lien.

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