Being Protected by an Idaho Mechanic’s Lien is No Small Potatoes

First of all, why does this matter?  Thankfully, unlike many questions raised by mechanic’s lien laws, the answer to why the date of substantial completion of furnishing labor and materials matters is fairly straightforward.  It matters because that’s when the clock starts running for a potential lien claimant to file their claim of lien.

In Idaho, a lien claimant must file a claim of lien within 90 days of the completion of furnishing labor or materials to the project.  Like many states, Idaho has defined “completion” as “substantial completion,” such that trivial work will not have the effect of extending the period of time in which a lien may be filed.  The question then becomes: “What constitutes work that is trivial in nature?”  Generally speaking, remedial work on a project such as “punch list” items or certain warranty obligations, depending on their scope, are considered to be services that are “trivial in character.”

A lien claimant is not allowed to extend the time period for filing a lien by adding labor or materials to a completed account, or by supplying labor or materials on a new contract (although in the latter case, new lien rights would arise pertaining to that particular new contract).  So, what type of work is considered non-trivial for purposes of ‘extending’ the time in which a mechanic’s lien may be filed.

Clearly, while a potential lien claimant is still performing work under the original contract, that is, if they are in the process of doing that which they were hired to do, the lien claim period has not yet begun to run.  The time period to be scrutinized is the period after most of the work has been completed.

In Idaho, work that is required to be performed by a building inspector (whether it is remedying a defect in work or materials), is necessary in character, and as such has been determined by Idaho courts to be non-trivial, such that it will extend the time in which a lien may be filed.  That means that a potential lien claimant’s 90-day period does not begin to run until that party completes or remedies any work required by the inspector.

It seems possible, though potentially unlikely, that this could result in the time period being revived, after it was thought that lien claim would be invalid as untimely.  Imagine this scenario: A subcontractor “completes” his work on a project and doesn’t get paid.  Through error or inattention, the sub fails to file his lien claim within 90 days from the time he last furnished labor or materials to the project.  Generally he would have lost out on all lien rights because of that oversight.  However, now imagine that an inspector is called to the project for a final check, as the project has been ongoing after the “completion” of the sub’s work.  If the inspector finds a defect in labor or materials provided by the sub that the sub is required to fix, this “re-opens” the lien claim period.  In reality the lien period never closed, because work undertaken at the request of the inspector is never trivial in Idaho, and thus, the subcontractor never completed furnishing labor and/or materials to the project until that defect was remedied.  It has the effect, however, of reviving a lien period that, until the inspection, had been extinguished.

While, just like every other aspect of the law, an Idaho court may interpret this situation differently, it clearly seems that this outcome is what follows from current Idaho case law.  This situation may be able to occur in Idaho, because there is no preliminary notice required prior to filing a mechanics lien.  Without the requirement to file a preliminary notice, the 90-day period is the only time limitation imposed on a potential lien claimant.  While this may provide some hope to the inattentive lien claimant, the best bet is to always pay attention to the original 90 day period, and use a service a Levelset so you are able to track your deadlines and send lien claims when required.