A mechanics lien is a very powerful tool that’s available to the construction industry in all 50 states, including Pennsylvania. If a contractor or other party is unpaid on a construction project located in the state of Pennsylvania, there are several reasons why a mechanics lien may be their best chance at guaranteeing payment.
For starters, mechanics liens receive a higher priority compared to some other liens on the property because they “relate back” to the date of first furnishing labor or materials to a project. Also, Pennsylvania is a “Full Price State”, meaning that the lien secures money for the total amount of the work provided by the claimant, not just the amount the owner owes to the GC.
Accordingly, Pennsylvania courts strictly enforce the requirements and deadlines associated with a mechanics lien filing. One small mistake in the lien filing process can be enough to kill a party’s lien rights on a project. Therefore, it’s essential for contractors and others filing a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania to be sure to get it exactly right.
Who Can File a Pennsylvania Mechanics Lien?
The Pennsylvania lien law specifically states what parties on a construction project can be considered “claimants” (meaning, they’re allowed to file a mechanics lien), but this can be boiled down to anyone who has a contract with the property owner (privity of contract) or is in a sufficiently close relationship with the contractor who has contracted with the property owner.
For those of us that aren’t lawyers, here’s what that means in plain English: General contractors have lien rights, obviously. But subcontractors, material suppliers, equipment renters, and other parties will also have lien rights as long as they’re hired by either the GC or a subcontractor.
For parties that are not hired by either the GC or a first-tier subcontractor, lien rights are unavailable. Keep in mind, though — a “subcontractor” is pretty broadly defined under the Pennsylvania mechanics lien statute. If you were hired by a general contractor or someone who was directly hired by the general contractor, you could be entitled to file a lien.
Pennsylvania also imposes other requirements on those who intend to file a lien. There can be no lien claim if the contract is less than $500. Additionally, the project must be a private project. Mechanics liens cannot be filed against public works projects since the state requires that all public works provide a labor and materials bond as security.
Pennsylvania is unique because owners and GCs can agree to not allow liens on a project. The agreement must be in writing, and all subs must be given notice or notice must be filed in the office of the prothonotary office (chief clerk’s office) either before or within 10 days of the commencement of the project.
There May Be Notice Requirements
Parties who have a direct contract with the property owner aren’t required to provide a preliminary notice in order to file a lien. However, a preliminary notice (also known as a Notice of Furnishing) may be required from anyone else who is not under direct contract with the property owner, but only in cases where the project is worth more than $1.5 million AND the property owner chose to file a Notice of Commencement in the State Construction Notice Registry.
On the other hand, Pennsylvania is one of about 8 states where a Notice of Intent to Lien may be required.
For more information on these types of notices, check out our Pennsylvania Resources Page.
Mechanics Lien Form Requirements
The Pennsylvania mechanics lien form itself must contain the following information:
- name of the claimant,
- identify if claimant is a GC or a sub,
- property owner information,
- if claimant is not a GC, name of the contractor or sub with whom they have contracted,
- amount of the claim,
- description of the work or materials provided,
- date the work/materials supplied was completed,
- date of formal notice, and
- description of the property to be liened.
There are strict deadlines when it comes to filing a Pennsylvania mechanics lien. Like the vast majority of states, this timeline may not be extended for any reason. Lien claims must be filed in the Prothonotary Office in the county where the property is located within 6 months of the date of the last work or materials supplied.
Notice of Lien Claim
Once your lien is filed, you still need to take steps to secure your lien rights. A Notice of Lien Claim must be served on the property owner within 1 month of filing the claim. This can be either personal service or posted conspicuously on the job sight. After service is accomplished, an Affidavit of Service (proof of notice) must be filed in the same office where the lien claim is filed. This is a mandatory requirement, failure to meet this deadline will invalidate your lien.
If the non-payment issue is still not resolved, the lien may need to be enforced. In order to do so, the claimant must eventually obtain judgment upon the filed mechanics lien. A Complaint to Enforce your lien claim must be made within 2 years of filing the claim. Afterward, the judgment must be entered within 5 years from the date the original claim was filed, or it will expire.
Further Reading:What To Do After You File A Mechanics Lien
If payment isn’t made after a lien is filed, there’s another step that claimants can add to compel payment without filing a lawsuit: a Notice of Intent to Foreclose. This document essentially acts as a final warning. It states that if payment isn’t made and made soon, a lawsuit will be filed to enforce the lien claim. Plus – it’s an inexpensive and relatively risk-free option. Considering the risk and expense of litigation, many claimants have found it’s a good idea to send a Notice of Intent to Foreclose before actually foreclosing their lien.