Filing a mechanics lien in Illinois, just like any other state, can be a technical, error-prone task. As we’ve stated over and over again on this blog, mistakes are common, and even the smallest one can invalidate your entire lien claim. This article is meant to guide you step-by-step through the process of filing an Illinois mechanics lien, along with downloadable forms.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Determine if you have lien rights
Each state describes who is eligible to file a mechanics lien, and who is not. Eligibility is often determined by the services that a person or business provides, and their place in the contracting chain. (For example, material suppliers that provide to other suppliers are often not allowed to file a lien).
Illinois is relatively liberal about who has the right to file a lien. Most parties who provide any labor or services, including architects and engineers, are entitled to file a mechanics lien. The caveat is that the materials or services must be “attached” or “used in” the construction. This is somewhat of a gray area.
For a full discussion on this, check out our article: When is Property “Attached” for the Purposes of Filing a Mechanics Lien.
One more thing to note is that contractors are required to provide a written sworn statement to the owner. This statement should include the names and addresses of any party furnishing labor or materials to the project. Additionally, the statement should set out the amount due or that will become due to each party. Failure to provide this sworn statement to the owner could result in a loss of lien rights.
Step 2: Send a Notice of Intent to Lien
Although the state of Illinois doesn’t require “preliminary notices” per se, there is a requirement to send a Notice of Intent to Lien before you can file your claim. Anyone who did not directly contract with the property owner must send this notice to preserve their right to lien. This notice must be sent by certified mail, with return receipt requested within 90 days of the last date of furnishing labor or materials to the project.
You may be asking yourself, what if the notice is never actually delivered. Or worse, what if the customer keeps ducking delivery and refuses to accept it? That’s not an uncommon problem; you can see how this breaks down in our Expert Center: Customer Not Answering Door to Sign for Certified Notice of Intent to Lien.
A notice is required if working on a single-family, owner-occupied residential project. This should be sent by parties without a direct contract with the property owner within 60 days of starting work. A notice of intent to lien will still be required 90 days after the last date of furnishing.
Step 3: Preparing your Illinois lien claim form
A. Choosing the right form
In order to file a valid mechanics lien claim in Illinois, you need to be sure you have the proper form. Choosing the right form in Illinois depends on who you contracted with. There are three separate forms; one for those who contracted with the property owner (direct contractors), one for those who contracted with someone other than the owner (subs & suppliers), and one for those who were hired by a tenant.
There are a lot of resources out there that provide these types of forms, but you should proceed with caution. There is no guarantee that they are actually valid and follow the specific requirements. But we’ve got you covered.
Download free, customizable Illinois Mechanics Lien Forms
Levelset forms are created and reviewed by construction attorneys and payment experts; thousands of Illinois contractors and suppliers have successfully used these forms to get paid.
B. Getting the form filled out correctly
It’s time to put pen to paper, and get your mechanics lien claim filled out. This may seem pretty basic, but this should be filled out cautiously. A simple mistake could potentially result in the entire lien claim being invalidated. On the other hand, a big mistake could result in some harsh penalties for filing a fraudulent mechanics lien.
1. Your information
Let’s start with the easy stuff. This section requires your full name and address. If you are filing on behalf of a company, be sure to use the full, registered business name.
2. Property owner information
Although a mechanics lien is filed against the property, the property owner’s information should still be included as a matter of indexing and filing for the recorder’s office. If you contracted directly with the owner, then this information should be found in your contract. However, if you are a sub or supplier on the project, this may be a bit more challenging. The property may have been sold during the course of the project, or there may be multiple property owners. This article may prove helpful in your search: How to Find the Property Owner on a Construction Project.
3. Hiring party
Here’s another easy one. Who is your client? This is simply the name and address of the person who signed a contract with you. If you were hired directly by the property owner, this section wouldn’t show up on your claim form. Also, if you were hired by a tenant, make sure you put their info down correctly.
4. Description of services
The description of the services or materials provided to the project goes in this section. This doesn’t need to an exhaustive, itemized list of tasks or materials. Rather a brief description of the work or materials provided that is the subject of your lien claim.
5. Amount of claim
The statute states that the amount should be the balance due after deducting any credits. This is a pretty broad/vague statement. Professional fees, interest accrued, and collection costs can potentially be included, but don’t press your luck. Try to keep it limited to the amount owed to you for the labor and materials provided that are the subject of the lien claim. The more costs you add to your lien claim, the more likely the court may determine that the amount is exaggerated.
6. Contract information
By contract information, we just mean the basics. What type of contract were you working under? The four most common types of construction contracts are lump sum, cost-plus, time and materials, and unit pricing contracts. Additionally, the lien claim should also provide the full contract price.
7. Contract date & last date of furnishing
These two are pretty straightforward. The contract date is, the date the contract was signed. As for the last date of furnishing, this is whenever the last time you provided labor or materials to the project.
8. Property description
The state of Illinois doesn’t require a full legal description of the property. The property description only requires a “sufficiently correct description of the lot, lots, or tracts of land to identify the same.” This falls somewhere in between a legal property description and a simple street address. In any case, the more details, the better. For assistance on how to find the property description of the project, you can download our Legal Property Description Cheat Sheet.
9. Signature & notarization
Lastly, it’s time to sign the lien claim form. But wait! Be sure you are in front of a notary before you go putting your signature on there. Illinois mechanics liens must be notarized in order to be valid.
Step 4: Filing your Illinois mechanics lien
Now that you have the right form, and it’s filled out properly; it’s time to file.
A. Deadline to file your mechanics lien claim
In Illinois, there are technically two different deadlines to file your claim. When you file will determine who the lien will be enforceable against. If the lien is filed within 4 months of completion of the overall project, then the lien will be enforceable against the property owner and any subsequent purchasers.
On the other hand, a lien claim that’s enforceable against just the original/current owner can be filed within 2 years of completion of the last lienable work to the project.
B. Where to file an Illinois mechanics lien
Under Illinois law, any mechanics lien should be filed in the County Recorder of Deeds where the property being liened is located. This is crucial as the lien must be filed not only in the correct county but the correct office as well. The fees and specific document formatting vary depending on your county. It’s important to check with your county’s recorder office to be sure you have everything you need to file your claim right the first time around. To simplify this process, we’ve put together a list of all the Illinois recorder’s offices and a link to their website.
C. Is e-recording available?
Illinois does allow county recorders offices to adopt e-recording under the IL Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act. And in fact, many counties have adopted this technology. Most notably, Cook county, which we touched on some of the requirements in this article: Information on Filing in Cook County, IL. Along the same lines, e-signatures are also allowed under the Act as well.
D. Serving notice that a lien was filed
This is only required under particular circumstances. Specifically, only on owner-occupied, single-family residential projects. A direct contractor working on such a project must give notice of recording within 10 days after the lien claim was filed. This notice can be sent by mail or delivered personally. If this deadline is missed, and the owner suffered some sort of damages (such as not being able to close on a sale of the property), the lien will be extinguished to the extent of the damages.
Step 5: What to do after your lien is filed
Congratulations! If you’ve followed all these steps, you have successfully filed a mechanics lien; and are one step closer to getting paid what you’ve earned. But the story doesn’t end here.
A. Initiate a foreclosure action
An Illinois mechanics lien is valid and effective for 2 years. That’s a substantial amount of time! Nevertheless, you’ll still want to track this deadline to be sure you don’t miss it. Keep in mind that a foreclosure action is a full-blown lawsuit. This can be a costly and time-consuming process. Depending on the amount in controversy, a foreclosure may not be worth it. To get a better idea of what exactly this entails, check out this article written by the Illinois Attorney General: Things You Should Know About Small Claims Court.
There is one more optional step you can take to extract payment, and that is a Notice of Intent to Foreclose. This is like a final warning shot, that if payment isn’t made in x amount of days, you are willing to initiate a foreclosure action.
B. Release the lien
If the debt is ultimately paid, it may be time to cancel the lien claim from the county books. This isn’t an automatic requirement but rather is triggered when the owner (or another interested party) sends a written demand to remove the lien. Upon receipt of this demand, the lien claimant should file a cancellation within 10 days. In any case, it’s best practice to release the lien claim once the debt is settled. Not only is it just good business, but the owner will eventually request that you do so.