Mechanics Lien Hero

Unpaid on a construction job? The mechanic’s lien may be just what you need. Filing a mechanics lien is an extremely effective way to get attention to your unpaid invoice or pay application, and to protect yourself against getting stiffed on the job.

But the mechanic’s lien process can be confusing. How do you actually file a mechanics lien claim?

The process is quite “legal” and technical. Little mistakes can invalidate your payment claim completely (see: Common Mechanic Lien Mistakes). The devil is in the details, and mechanics lien laws in the United States require an extraordinary amount of detail. Plus, the rules are different depending on where your project is located and what type of project it is.

This post will help you understand how to file a mechanics lien in any state. It contains a step-by-step process describing how to file a mechanics lien that has been generalized to apply in every state. For specific questions about how liens, notices, and other aspects of construction payment work in your particular state, we also direct you to resources that explain the different laws that apply in each state.

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Video Summary of How to File a Lien in Any State

Step 1: Do You Have the Right to File a Lien?

The first step to filing a mechanics lien is to determine whether you have the right to file the lien.

If you file a lien and didn’t have the right, this could be considered a “frivolous lien” and could create an expensive legal mess. However, since this issue is rarely black and white, there’s a lot of room for error.

To figure out if you have a right to file a lien, ask yourself these 3 questions:

A. Does your work or materials qualify for lien protection in your state?

There are a ton of services, roles, and participants in construction projects, and construction jobs come in all shapes and sizes. Each state allows some types of people to file liens, and prohibits others.

The most traditional construction participants – for example, general contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers – almost always have lien rights. However, things begin to get a little trickier with some of the following examples:

And so on.

The above list links out to articles we’ve written about those specific roles, but the answer to this question will always depend on the state law for your project. You can find the answer for your state here: State-by-State Mechanics Lien Law Resources.

B. Were you required to send notice? And did you?

Most states have some type of notice requirement. The term “notice” can be just as confusing as the term “lien,” because it goes by so many names and has so many different versions. We breakdown all of the different construction notices in this post: Notices Send in Construction.

Generally speaking, in thinking about whether you have the right to file a lien or not, you’ll want to pay attention to these 2 main notices:

  1. The Preliminary Notice: Many states require contractors and suppliers to deliver a “preliminary notice” to the property owner at the very beginning of work. This notice is sent by certified mail and if you don’t this notice on time, you likely lose lien rights. If you were required to send a notice and didn’t, you likely don’t have the right to lien the job. And, since the notice is required at the very start of your work, you probably don’t have time to send it now.
  2. The Notice of Intent to Lien: Only a few states require the “notice of intent to lien,” but it’s usually a lot easier for contractors and suppliers to deal with than the preliminary notice. If your state requires a notice of intent be sent before a lien filing, you simply need to send this notice before filing your lien. The biggest trick here is waiting too long…because your lien deadline won’t wait for you!

The below infographic shows you the notice requirements in each state. You can also read this post: Is Notice Required in my state?

Mechanics Lien Information Infographic

C. Are you within your lien deadline?

Finally, you don’t have forever to file your mechanic’s lien claim. Every state sets forth a timeline to file a lien. A window. You have to file your lien within this window of time, or else. These deadlines are strict, and there are very few exceptions.

The lien filing timeline is usually tied to the completion of the project, or the last day you provide labor or materials. It won’t wait for your notice of intent to lien delivery, and it usually won’t even wait for a holiday or weekend! Check out the Lien and notice deadlines available in this post.

Mechanics Liens Are Hard to Challenge

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Get Free Advice On Whether You Have Lien Rights

Figuring out whether you have lien rights can be difficult and confusing. You may still have questions even after reading this post. We have 2 tools available to help you get your questions answered.

Expert Center:  First, you can use the Levelset Expert Center to ask any question to a network of construction attorneys and payment experts. This is completely free. Just post your question and you’ll get an answer in a few hours.

Payment Rights Advisor: Second, you can use our free Payment Rights Advisor tool below. This will examine your project’s specific job information and then compare it to the requirements for that job. You’ll get an answer immediately with specific steps you can take to get paid!

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What did you contribute to the job? (select all that apply)
When did you work on the project?

If you don't know these dates, give your best estimate. Since these dates determine your notice and lien deadlines, it's important to be as accurate as possible.

Did you fulfill this project's notice requirements?

Did you send a {document type} to the {contractor role}
and general contractor by {deadline date}?

Did you send monthly notices for this project?

In Texas, subcontractors and suppliers are required to send a notice for each month that work is performed and unpaid. Based on your project type and role, your job has the following notice requirements. Did you fulfill this notice requirement?

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For subcontractors on residential proejcts, notice is required to be sent to the owner and prime contractor by the 15th day of the 2nd month following each month that work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For subcontractors on non-residential projects, notice is required to be sent by the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For sub-subcontractors, notice is required to be sent on both the 15th day of the 2nd month, and the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month in which work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For suppliers on residential projects, notice is required to be sent to the owner and prime contractor by the 15th day of the 2nd month following each month that work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For suppliers on non-residential projects, notice is required to be sent both the 15th day of the 2nd month, and the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month in which work was performed and unpaid. (The 2nd month notice has to be sent only to the prime contractor.)

Lien Deadline Calculaor
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Lien Deadline Calculaor Paid

Your custom recommendation is based on your project information:

Your company is a {contractor role} hired by the {hiring role} on a {project type} project at {project address}

You did not send a {document type} before {deadline date}. Need to send a preliminary notice by {deadline date}.

Step 2: Draft the Lien

If you have the right to file a lien, the next step is to produce the lien document. This means drafting the lien form that will be filed. This is your lien claim.

Unfortunately, preparing your mechanics lien is more complicated that just downloading your lien form and filling in the blanks. Lien laws are quirky. You must be careful and include every required piece of information. And you must be careful to get the right form.

A. Get the right lien form for your project and state

The mechanic’s lien form itself is very important. Most state laws prescribe very specifically what must be included in your mechanics lien filing. Some states go so far as to publish the form itself.

You can find free mechanics lien forms in a lot of different places, but be very careful. There’s a bunch of “form houses” on the Internet that make a business out of providing forms of all kinds – and they will provide you lien forms as well. However, it’s too common to see these free form farms just copying and pasting forms from other locations, or using one state’s form for all the states.

Though a pretty good product overall and not a typical form farm, even companies like Rocket Lawyer have problems with the complex lien forms. We explored this in our posts about Rocket Lawyer’s Mechanics Lien forms here.

You can download mechanics lien forms here at Levelset for free. These are curated and/or created by construction attorneys and payment experts. Our extreme focus on the mechanic’s lien and construction payment process, and our quality standard, can help you feel comfortable that you’re getting the right form for your business. See all of Levelset’s Free Mechanics Lien Forms here.

Unfortunately, you’re not done yet. Getting the form is only half the battle. Now you have to fill it out.

B. 3 Tricky parts when filling out your Mechanics Lien form

Every state’s mechanics lien form is a little bit different, but here is a guide to the common items that you’ll need to include on your lien and the major mistakes contractors and suppliers make when filling out the lien claim.

Three Tricky Parts When Filing Out Your Mechanics Lien Form Visual

1. The Lien Amount

When you file a mechanics lien claim you are making a claim for payment. Every state requires that you identify the dollar amount that you’re unpaid. This is your “Claim amount” or “Lien amount.”

This seems straight-forward but can present some tricky questions, such as:

2. The Claimant Name – That is, YOUR name

What’s your name?

Yes, this is a common pitfall, and maybe even a complicated question. What if you have a tradename? What if you’re a joint venture? Do you need to put the “LLC” in your name or not? And so on and so forth.

We’ve written about this question a few times because there are constantly court cases where liens are challenged because the person filing it has put their name in slightly wrong. Take a look at those posts about problems with the lien claimant’s name in New York, and again in Connecticut.

This is an easy one to get right. Use your legal name!

3. Describing The Property

The last tricky part of filing out the lien form is identifying the property. The property is an extremely important part of your mechanics lien. You are, after all, filing a lien against this property. You need to identify it correctly so that the lien gets recorded and indexed correctly, and because liens can easily be invalidated if they fail to identify the property.

Which property,” you ask?

We’re talking about the property where you actually did the work or provided materials. You need to identify this property in the lien.

And “how to identify the property,” you ask?

This depends on each state’s rules. And sometimes, the state rules are unclear. The most common requirement and safest practice is to use the property’s “Legal Property Description.” Need help with the legal description or don’t understand what this is? Take a look at our free Legal Property Description Cheat Sheet.

Step 3: File your Lien with the Recorder’s Office

You have the right to file a mechanics lien! You have the right mechanics lien form and filled it out! This is great progress. You’re ready for Step 3. You’re ready to get your mechanics lien filed. We’ll walk you through the process of filing your lien here.

A. The County Recorder Rules

All mechanics lien claims need to be filed in the county where the construction job is located. Do not file the lien where you are located, where the general contractor is located, or even where the property owner is located. The lien gets filed in the county where the job site is located.

When you know the county, you’ll need to figure out which county office files mechanics liens. In this post we refer to these offices as the “County Recorder” office, and it may indeed be called that in your county. However, it is possible for the office to be called something else, like the “Clerk’s office” or the “Tax Records” office, etc.

Always consult the recording office before filing your lien. Each office has unique requirements and procedures. It’s not uncommon for a lien to be rejected by the county recorder several times before the claimant gets it right, for any of the following reasons and more:

  • The document is formatted improperly
  • Payment for the filing fee is insufficient
  • Minor typos
    Specific content is missing
  • Not having a cover sheet (i.e. some county recorders require you fill out a cover sheet with every filing).

Many counties also have a strict font, margin, and paper size requirements. Failure to follow these standards may cost you additional filing fees, or result in having your lien rejected. It’s a good idea to consult the county recorder’s office ahead of time to learn any special filing requirements they may have.

B. Mailing Your Lien, Filing In-Person, or Electronically Filing with the County

County record offices are not the most technically advanced or user-friendly. You may find that the experience of getting your lien recorded is a lot like going to the DMV.

Generally speaking, you have 3 options when filing your lien with the county recording offices directly:

  1. You can go in-person: If you’re going to do the lien filing yourself, than this is probably your best option. You can deal with any of the little issues that come up in person, and you may get lucky and land a helpful government employee that walks you through the process. Some recording offices actually require you to file and/or serve the lien in person. Usually, if you are unable to do this yourself (because you are out of state, for example), you can send the lien to a courier who will record the lien for you.
  2. You can mail file your lien claim: If you are mailing your lien to a courier or to the recording office, be aware of mailing delays (due to weather and holidays, for example), that might cause you to miss your lien deadline. Also take note of warnings from counties that liens they receive in the mail can take days or weeks to process!!
  3. You can file your lien electronically: Some counties have electronic filing or “eRecording.” However, you must use a third party eRecording service to take advantage of this. Very few counties allow contractors or suppliers to electronically record liens directly. Using a third party eRecording service makes sense for people who have to do a lot of county records recordings (i.e. law firms, mortgage lenders, etc.). For contractors or suppliers who only deal with this infrequently, setting up and paying for an eRecording account doesn’t make sense.

C. Using a Lien Filing Service or Law Firm

As you can see, the process of recording your mechanic’s lien claim can be a little overwhelming, involve a lot of different steps, and can take a lot of time. It’s a good idea to put this process into someone else’s hands, such as a mechanics lien filing tool, service, or a law firm. They will know how to get your lien claim filed quickly, and how to jump through all of the county hoops. And they are your best option to electronically file your mechanics lien fast.

Step 4: Notify Parties

Immediately after filing your mechanics lien claim, and sometimes even simultaneously with filing, you need to deliver a copy of the lien claim to those involved on the job and affected by the lien. You’ll frequently hear this referred to as “serving” the lien claim. Here is what you need to know and how to get it done.

A. When & How To Serve Your Mechanics Lien

Like everything else when filing a mechanics lien, when you need to serve your lien and how you need to serve your lien will vary from state-to-state.

Generally speaking, you’ll need to serve your mechanics lien at the time of filing, or immediately after filing. In most cases, you’ll want to take care of this in one motion. Get the lien filed, get a copy of the filed lien, and deliver that copy immediately to the required recipients.

Generally speaking, you’ll be okay to just drop a copy of the lien filing in the mail. Certified mail, of course (see our discussion on this here: Methods of Delivering Notices). There are a few notable exceptions to this, such as in Pennslyvania, where there are complex service requirements that must be carried out by the sheriff’s office! This is a pretty unique requirement, though, and most states require just simple mail notification.

B. Who Needs To Be Served with Your Lien Claim

So, who needs to receive a copy of your mechanics lien filing?

In most states, the lien claimant must send immediate notice to the property owner. Other states require that you also serve the prime contractor and construction lender (if there is a lender involved with the project). It’s a good, safe practice to make sure everyone above you in the contracting and payment chain gets a copy of your lien.

C. Make & Keep Proof That You Met The Service Requirements

Finally, it’s incredibly important that you keep detailed records of your attempts to serve the lien, and any documentation that the lien service was successful. Some states require you to sign a specific document swearing that you delivered the lien to all the parties. This is called an affidavit of service.  In some states — like California — you’re required to file this with the county recorder.

Note that you may wind up running into some challenge service situations, such as when you’re unable to get an owner to accept service, or have a hard time serving one of the parties. Take a look at this question on our Expert Center, for example, about an owner in Oregon who refused to receive the lien filing.

Step 5: Enforce, Extend, or Release Your Lien

This final step 5 is not technically part of the process of getting your lien recorded and on the books. So, if you completed Steps 1 – 4, congratulations!  Your mechanic’s lien is filed and served and you’re on your way to getting paid.

However, what happens after you file a mechanics lien is definitely part of the lien process, and making sure you get this part right is an important step to making sure you get your overall mechanic’s lien filing right.  And there are generally 3 things you’ll need to keep in mind.

A.  Don’t let your lien expire

A very, very common mistake is for contractors and suppliers to think that their mechanics lien filings last forever.  They absolutely do not!  Mechanics lien filings are temporary and will expire within a specific period of time…and in some cases, quite short periods. The period of time differs from state-to-state.

A handful of states allow lien claimants to extend this period of time, though sometimes this requires permission from the property owner. However, this is very uncommon and only allowed in a very small number of states. We answered a question like this on our expert center here, “Can the mechanics lien be reactived and reenforced?”  Even when it is allowed, the process is not simple, and only extends the lien for a small amount of time.

If your deadline to enforce your lien is approaching, you’ll want to take measures to extend the deadline, or to file suit to enforce the lien, which usually requires help from an attorney.

B. Move on to foreclose your lien or make demands and warnings of foreclosure

If you filed your mechanics lien and haven’t been paid, you should start taking steps to get the lien foreclosed upon — this is commonly referred to as the “Mechanics Lien Foreclosure Process.”  You can learn what you need to know about this process here:  What is “Enforcing” a Mechanics Lien?

If you’re not ready for full-blown foreclosure action, you may want to consider increasing the pressure by sending out a “Notice of Intent to Foreclose.”  This document, while usually not required, will be another step you can take to get the ball rolling and to continue to increase pressure toward payment with all the parties involved.  Sometimes, as shown in this Expert Center question, this still doesn’t work, and you’ll need to get a formal legal process moving (I sent a notice of intent to foreclosure, what other steps can I take?). However, it’s quite rare for liens to get that far along.

C. Release the mechanics lien if you are paid or if it expired

Finally, at some point, the mechanic’s lien will need to be released.

If you’ve been paid, you will likely need to release (or cancel) the lien. (Not all states require claimant’s to cancel the lien, but property owners will usually ask for this after the lien claimant has been paid). To cancel the lien, file a Lien Release (or Lien Cancellation) with the same office that recorded the lien.

Read more here:  Do you have to cancel a mechanics lien, or will it just expire?

Plain English Introduction To The Mechanic’s Lien

Filing a mechanics lien is a powerful tool available to contractors and suppliers to get paid on construction jobs. If you’re in the United States, and you worked on a job or provided materials to a job, then you likely have the right to file a mechanics lien.

What is a Mechanics Lien Called?

There are plenty of confusing things about this tool. One of the simplest confusions is the document’s name.

Commonly referred to as “mechanic liens,” the document actually goes by a lot of different names. It is sometimes called a “construction lien,” “contractor’s lien,” “supplier’s lien,” “laborer lien,” “artisan’s lien (when referring to a lien filed by an architect, engineer, designer, or other “artisan”), or just the plain ‘ol “lien.”

The word “mechanic” can throw people off. 200+ years ago when this tool was invented for contractors, automobiles did not exist and the term “mechanic” referred to people who worked with their hands.

Today, the term “mechanic” usually refers to someone who works on a car, truck, motorcycle, boat, airplane, or other vehicle. Certainly, these people also have lien rights when they are not paid. However, the “mechanic’s lien” term is still widely and most popularly used to refer to liens on construction jobs, and that is how we use the term in this post.

Liens are filed on Private Jobs & Bond Claims are filed on Public Jobs

It can be confusing to figure out how making a lien claim is different on private projects v. state, federal, county, or other public jobs. A lien-like remedy is available to contractors and suppliers on both private and public jobs, but they work a little differently.

On private construction projects, a mechanics lien filing actually attaches to the land itself. This stops the owner from selling, refinancing or transferring the property without dealing with the lien. Read more here: How a mechanics lien works to get you paid.

On state, county, federal, or other public jobs, however, it’s not generally available to file a “lien” against the property itself! The property, after all, is owned by the public, and cannot be transferred to or sold by a contractor or supplier. Contractors & suppliers can still submit a payment claim – called a “bond claim” – which is made against and attaches to a bond. Learn more about bond claims here.

Mechanics Lien Bond Claim Comparison Image

Before Filing a Lien, Consider Sending a Notice of Intent to Lien

Filing a mechanics lien is a serious step for everyone involved. A lien filing has the power to disrupt a construction project, and in some cases, bring it to a stop. For this reason, filing a lien should be considered a last resort.

Before filing a mechanics lien, consider sending a Notice of Intent to Lien. In a small number of states, it’s actually a requirement that contractors and suppliers deliver a notice of intent to lien before they move forward with a lien. This usually gives the property owner or general contractor a 10-day or 30-day warning that, if unpaid, you’re going to file a lien. Click here to see the states that require a notice of intent to lien.

If you’re in one of the states that require a notice of intent you definitely want to send one. It’s more likely you aren’t required to send the notice of intent, but if you have time, you should anyway. For a discussion about this and the effectiveness of NOIs, see this article: What Is A Notice of Intent to Lien and Should I Send One?

A notice of intent to lien is a lot like a demand letter or “dunning letter,” except that it’s a demand letter that really works.

Once you file a mechanics lien all the milk gets completely spilled. The lien gets recorded, served, and has stiff legal consequences. A notice of intent, on the other hand, gets everyone’s attention and will likely be enough to resolve the payment dispute, without the more aggressive effects or requirements. It’s simply a letter!

Free Mechanics Lien Form Downloads for All 50 States

Below you’ll find links to download mechanic’s lien templates for all 50 states.  To use these form documents just click on the state and form that you want, and then click “download.”  You’ll be able to save this form to your desktop, fill it out on your computer, and then use it as you see fit.

State-by-State Guides on How To File Your Mechanics Lien — All 50 States

The above post is a step-by-step guide on how to get a mechanics lien claim prepared and filed generally. However, every state has it’s own nuances and differences. This includes the need to navigate the filing requirements of your project’s specific county!  The following guides walk you through filing the mechanic’s lien in your particular state.

Free Mechanics Lien Law & Deadline Resources for All 50 States

Use the following links to get specific information about the lien rules in your state and see frequently asked questions that contractors and suppliers have about using the lien laws in their state to get paid.

Mechanics Liens Are Hard to Challenge

Get Free Mechanics Lien Form

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How to File a Mechanics Lien - An Overview for Any State
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How to File a Mechanics Lien - An Overview for Any State
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Learn how to file a mechanics lien for any state using this step-by-step guide. Links to free mechanics lien forms and additional resources included.
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Levelset
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