- What is a mechanics lien?
- Why mechanics liens are so effective
- Who can file a lien?
- Determining the claim amount
- What to do if you miss a deadline
When you get burned on a construction payment, you may find yourself wishing that you could take them for all their worth. But when you sit down to fill out your mechanics lien claim, it’s important to the amounts allowed by law. Each state has their own requirements for what you can include in a lien amount — and what you cannot.
At the beginning of a construction project, contractors have to float a lot of their own cash to get the job rolling. While there’s some risk involved in floating a job, contractors and subs do it with the understanding that they will get paid at intervals throughout the project. When due dates come and go, the bottom line gets tighter and tighter.
While we know of the benefits of filing a mechanics lien, questions arise around what someone can include in their lien. Some contractors want to know if they can add interest to offset the interest they paid floating the job with creditors. Very often, subs want to include the cost of filing the lien in the amount. If the case has to go to court, they want to include a lawyer’s fees.
However, filing a lien with the wrong amount could have serious consequences. States are cracking down on paper terrorism — which can include filing false liens.
This guide should provide some insight into what you should and should not include in your lien amount, based on the rules in each state.
Costs to include in a lien claim
This is a complicated topic to cover in a general statement, and there are a few things to consider. It’s important to understand that filing a mechanics lien in the wrong amount may get it thrown out altogether.
Including costs that aren’t allowed could invalidate your claim, leaving you without lien rights. It’s best to play it safe when calculating your lien amount.
Contract amounts: Yes
When filing a mechanics lien and taking it to court, the priority must be recovering the amount owed according to your construction contract. This contractual amount includes written and signed change orders, and any retainage that you’ve already billed for but haven’t received payment on.
Written change orders: Yes
Since most projects contain change orders, it’s important you understand that you have a right to get paid for these projects. You should treat each change order like its own individual contract. It needs to be drawn up in detail and signed by both parties. You can then defend it as part of the contractual amount and include it in your mechanics lien.
Contractors also ask about whether they can include retainage in their lien amount. This depends.
Retainage is a percentage of the contractual amount, so it makes sense that you could include it. If you’ve completed the project, you should be due the retainage amount.
However, it’s generally good practice to only include retention in the lien amount if you billed for it and haven’t received payment. If the payment hasn’t come due yet according to contract, it’s likely that you should leave it out. You can always include it in another lien if necessary.
It’s not worth pushing the envelope and possibly losing your lien rights.
The most frequently asked question of all is whether a contractor can include interest in their lien amount. Some states do allow contractors to add interest, like Florida and New York. But, the state often determines the rate you can charge, so it’s worth taking a deeper look into before tacking on an arbitrary number.
Attorney fees: No
I don’t think any state allows you to include attorney costs in a claim. Even if it were allowed, it’s difficult to include lawyer fees in a lien as a matter of timing. You’ll file the lien with the appropriate amount before the case goes to court. You simply can’t be sure of the amount of a lawyer’s fees before filing.
Trying to include lawyer’s fees and interest can be more hassle than it’s worth. While it’s possible, it’s also possible to get the lien thrown out. Playing it safe is often the best policy, as many courts grant interest and fees to the prevailing party anyway.
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State by State: What You Can Include in a Lien Amount
Check this state-by-state list to get an idea of what you can and can’t include in your lien amounts.
Alabama is pretty relaxed when it comes to lien law, stating “no error in the amount of the demand or in the name of the owner or proprietor, shall affect the lien.” However, Alabama does not allow for attorney’s fees or other charges in a mechanics lien suit.
Alaska’s lien laws are stringent. The amount of the lien can only include the “contractual amount,” but this does include retainage and written change orders. Attorney’s fees and interest are not allowed.
You can’t include attorney’s fees, collections costs, or interest in your mechanics lien amount in Arizona. However, the court may award the prevailing party the costs involved in filing the mechanics lien and attorney fees.
Arkansas is pretty lax when it comes to mechanics lien amounts. Claimants can include the debt, interest, and costs to file the mechanics lien. However, the court allows these as awards whether or not contractors include them in the mechanics lien amount, so it’s best to leave them out to avoid any potential mistakes.
California’s lien amount inclusion can be tricky. In The Golden State, mechanics liens are limited to the reasonable value of the work provided by the claimant. This means the contractual amount owed is less important than the actual value of the work.
If you snag a great contract but end up in a payment dispute, you may find that the amount the court awards you is far less than that ultra-lucrative agreement.
Also, while you’re unable to include attorney’s fees, interest, and filing fees, the courts often award them to the prevailing party.
Colorado does not allow the inclusion of attorney’s fees or filing fees in a mechanics lien claim. However, the state does allow the late fees and interest charges, within reason. It keeps a watchful eye on what it considers excessive, so interest and late fees should be reasonable and clearly defined from the beginning of the project.
Connecticut plays by its own rules. While the state may award attorney fees to the prevailing party, it will not allow a mechanics lien to attach to a property in excess of the amount the owner originally agreed to pay. While this sounds like a straightforward, contractual amount, any extra agreements not on paper or subcontracts that push the value of the lien higher than the original agreed amount will invalidate the lien. No interest, no late fees, and no attorney’s fees.
Delaware does not allow for attorney’s fees, collection costs, or other amounts in the lien total. However, if there’s an agreement between parties to include attorney’s fees, the court might allow it.
Florida does not allow any extraneous charges in a mechanics lien claim. However, you can include any previously determined and unpaid finance charges in your lien amount. So if you have a preset and agreed-upon credit policy that includes interest on late amounts, you can add them. However, you should not include attorney’s fees, as the court may award them anyway.
Georgia allows the inclusion of interest for late payments in a lien amount. Other charges are allowable, but it’s unclear what they are. It’s best not to include any attorney’s fees or collection charge. Stick to interest and interest only.
Hawaii does not allow contractors to include interest, attorney’s fees, or lost profits. Also, you can’t include food, transportation, or housing costs for out of state workers—very applicable to the islands.
You can’t include interest, attorney’s fees, or any other value beyond the contractual amount in an Idaho mechanics lien. However, the claimant is entitled to recover attorney’s fees and filing costs after a successful foreclosure.
There’s a bit of gray area around Illinois mechanics lien amounts. You can include interest, professional fees, and attorney’s fees in the amount, but the state isn’t specific about this, so include them with care.
Indiana allows the value of the labor and materials furnished in a mechanics lien amount. This means it could potentially amount to more than the contractual amount if you didn’t get a great contract to start. The court typically awards interest and lawyer’s fees, but you should not include them.
Contractors should only include the contractual amount owed to them in their mechanics lien amounts in Iowa. However, the court may award the lien claimant reasonable attorney’s fees in a successful suit.
Contractors should not include lawyer’s fees or filing charges in Kansas mechanics lien amounts. However, if interest is clearly defined and included in the original contract, it is allowed.
Kentucky mechanics lien amount totals should not exceed the original contract price. However, fees and filing costs may be recovered upon a successful enforcement.
Contractors cannot include attorney’s fees, interest, or filing costs in their mechanics lien amounts in Louisiana, though the court may award them in a successful action. Further, lien amounts should not include materials that were not used or consumed on the project.
Mechanics lien amounts in Maine are pretty strict. You can only include the contracted amount in your lien. No attorney’s fees, no filing costs, and no interest are allowed.
While you can’t include attorney’s fees or filing costs in your mechanics lien amount in Maryland, you can include interest if it was included in the contract and agreed upon by both parties. The court may award attorney’s fees in a successful action.
It’s best to include only the contractual amount in a Massachusetts mechanics lien amount. Interest and attorney’s fees are not allowed.
Michigan’s rules on mechanics lien amounts are different than most other states. You can’t include attorney’s fees or filing costs in your lien amount. However, you can include extra work, even if you didn’t get a signed change order. It’s best to get changes documented anyway.
You can include interest in your mechanics lien amount in Minnesota. However, contractors should not include other amounts (filing costs, attorney’s fees, etc.). The prevailing party is likely to be awarded attorney’s fees upon successful enforcement.
Mississippi mechanics lien amounts cannot include attorney’s fees, filings costs, or interest. They may only include the contractual amount owed. The court does however have the discretion to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.
Attorney’s fees, interest, and consequential damages are not allowed in Missouri mechanics lien amounts. It’s also important to note that subcontractors must include an itemized list of material and labor that went unpaid with their mechanics lien.
Montana does not allow attorney’s fees, interest charges, filing costs, or consequential damages in a mechanics lien amount. It’s not clear whether you can expect to these as an award during a successful suit, either.
Nebraska mechanics lien amounts aren’t cut and dry. The state does allow the claimant to include attorney’s fees, interest, finance charges, and other charges in the lien amount. However, if the cause for the claim is the claimant’s termination from the project before completion, these damages are not recoverable.
Nevada does not allow consequential damages in a mechanics lien amount. This includes attorney’s fees, collection costs, and interest charges. However, the court may award those damages in a successful action. Contractors can add reasonable overhead and profit, but generally, the lienable amount is the unpaid contract plus unpaid change orders.
New Hampshire mechanics lien laws aren’t straightforward. The state law is unsettled on including profit and overhead, interest, finance charges, attorney’s fees, court costs, or consequential damages. As such, it’s best to file a lien with the contract amount only.
Based on their confusing mechanics lien laws, you’d be forgiven for thinking that New Jersey would prefer if contractors didn’t file liens at all.
When filing a claim, it’s best to stick to your contracted amount. An arbitrator will step in and determine what the lien amount will be, so it’s best not to include extraneous charges.
While you can’t include attorney’s fees and interest in your lien in New Mexico, you can note that you’re claiming them. The contractor may be awarded these in a successful suit.
In New York, lien amounts should consist of the original contractual amount, without attorney’s fees or filing costs. However, if interest was part of the agreed-upon original contract, contractors may add it into the lien amount.
In North Carolina, a mechanics lien claim can only consist of the value of the unpaid labor, materials, and equipment charges. No other charges or fees can be part of the lien amount, though the court may award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.
The amount allowed in a North Dakota mechanics lien suit involves the difference between three things; the agreed-upon sum, the reasonable value of work completed, and the amount already paid to the claimant. Contractors cannot include attorney’s fees and filing costs in the lien amount, however, if the property owner is the prevailing party, the court may award them.
Contractors can only include the contracted amount in an Ohio mechanics lien. However, if the contractor is in direct contract with the property owner, they may be able to include interest.
The court may award attorney’s fees to the lien claimant upon a successful action.
Contractors may not include attorney’s fees, filing fees, court costs, or interest in Oklahoma mechanics lien. However, prevailing parties may recover fees and costs.
Oregon mechanics lien laws are pretty straightforward: No attorney’s fees, no interest, no filing costs, and no consequential damages. Include the original contracted amount, only.
Mechanics lien claimants in Pennsylvania cannot include any amount unconnected to the construction, improvement, repair, or alteration of a property. This means no attorney’s fees, no filing costs, no interest, and no consequential damages. Liens may include the contracted amount only.
Contractors cannot include attorney’s fees and collection costs, as well as filing fees in Rhode Island mechanics liens. However, other fees and costs may be. Interest is allowed, starting from the date the claimant filed the notice of intent.
Attorney’s fees and collection costs cannot be part of a mechanics lien amount. However, in South Carolina, awards of costs and attorney’s fees are mandatory to the prevailing party. However, the costs and attorney’s fees cannot exceed the amount of the lien.
While contractors cannot include attorney’s fees or collection costs in South Dakota mechanics lien amounts, the court may award attorney’s fees and interest to the prevailing party. The court mandates the interest rate, set at the highest legal amount by statue.
Tennessee mechanics lien amounts cannot include anything other than the cost of filing the lien at the recorder’s office. Regardless of whether or not interest and late charges were explicitly outlined in a contract, the claimant cannot include them in the lien amount.
Contractors can’t include any amount unrelated to the labor and materials furnished on a project in a Texas mechanics lien amount. No filing fees, no attorney’s fees, no collection fees, and consequential damages. However, the court may award attorney’s fees upon a successful suit.
Utah’s mechanics lien laws pertaining to amounts allowed are very strict. No fees, indirect or consequential damages, or interest is allowed in a lien amount. Including any of these can lead to serious trouble; filing an excessive lien is a class B misdemeanor in Utah. If a contractor survives filing the lien without cuffs and successfully enforces the lien, they may be entitled to attorney’s fees, costs, and interest.
Vermont does not allow claimants to include attorney’s fees or consequential damages in their lien. If the court sees fit, it may award interest to the successful claimant.
Contractors are not able to include attorney’s fees, filing costs, collection costs, or indirect or consequential damages in Virginia lien amounts.
No additional amounts other than the contractually agreed upon value may be part of a Washington mechanics lien amount. However, prevailing parties may be able to recoup the filing fees, attorney’s fees, and necessary expenses related to the proceedings.
You can’t include anything extra in a West Virginia mechanics lien amount. You also shouldn’t expect the court to award you with anything, even if you’re the prevailing party. This means you’re not entitled to court fees, filing fees, attorney’s fees, interest, indirect or consequential damages, or anything else. It’s best to proceed with the contractual amount.
Wisconsin does not allow for any extraneous charges in a mechanics lien amount.
Wyoming is one of the most liberal when it comes to mechanics lien amounts. Claimants can include interest, attorney’s fees, and collection costs in their lien amount.
Play it safe to avoid problems or penalties
You need to get paid for your participation in a project, so it’s best to make sure your lien goes through. As listed above, most states don’t allow for extra costs or fees, so it’s best to leave them out and file for the contractually owed amount. Most courts have the option of awarding costs and fees, so consider leaving them out and letting the court decide.