A mechanics lien is an incredibly effective tool to help contractors get paid. However, while every state has laws granting lien rights to construction companies, they’re not automatic. You have to follow the requirements, like filing specific documents on time, in order to protect that right. As a result, contractors and suppliers must understand the lien period outlined in the states where they work.
What’s the lien period?
In nearly every state, the construction lien statutes require that claimants record their mechanics lien within a certain “lien period.” The start of the mechanics lien timeline has a specific beginning date, and the lien period usually extends for a number of days or months from this start date.
If you miss any of the deadlines, you probably can’t rely on a mechanics lien or bond claim to help you get paid. Mechanics liens outside the lien period are typically unenforceable.
Review our guide to lien deadlines in all 50 states.
When does the lien period begin?
Knowing when the end of the lien period arrives is important, but perhaps not as important as knowing when it begins. After all, without knowing the start date, it’ll be impossible for you to calculate the end date.
In most states, the clock starts ticking upon substantial completion of the project as a whole, the “completion” of your particular scope of work, or the last date of last furnishing – you last day you provided labor and/or materials to the project.
While this may sound like a straightforward requirement, it is not always so. In many states (if not most states), labor and/or materials necessary to perform remedial, punch list items, or warranty obligations are generally not considered in establishing the completion date or the last date of providing work. (For example, a Washington contractor tried – and failed – to use warranty work to extend their deadline.) Contractors and suppliers, therefore, can theoretically have the lien period begin days, weeks or months before they are off the job.
The problem here is clear: Sometimes, owners or other contractors hold progress payments until the warranty or punch list work is complete. In theory, your deadline to file a lien could pass before you even realize that you’re missing a payment.
Knowing when your lien period begins is critical. And sometimes, to preserve your lien rights, you may find it necessary to file a lien before the project is finally complete, and before payment has become a major point of contention.
Every state’s law is different, and so you should consult the law in your state to determine exactly when your lien period begins.
How to calculate lien deadlines
The Levelset Payment Rights Advisor helps your company calculate and control lien deadlines for free. Once you put in the critical date (i.e. date last labor / materials furnished), the Advisor will calculate the due date for your lien in the applicable state and on the applicable project. However, for this calculation to be accurate, it’s important to know when that date is.