With a name like “mechanics lien,” it would be easy to think that these liens are specifically designed to protect car mechanics. However, despite the name, mechanics do not file mechanics liens – construction participants do.

While mechanics who work on automobiles, planes, boats, and other machinery may have lien rights (and in some confusing cases, the lien may even be called a mechanics lien), mechanics liens that are filed are the realm of construction participants and relate to “real property” rather than “movable property” (chattel).

It’s all part of the confusing naming scheme of these lien rights. Mechanics (construction) liens are one thing, while garage-keepers (mechanics) liens are something else.

Why Are Construction Liens Called Mechanics Liens?

Mechanics liens were first brought to this country by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson over 200 years ago.

Mechanics liens were originally developed by Thomas Jefferson, with the help and input of many others, to encourage the building and development of the new American capital. The U.S. had lots of land and property, and no “landed gentry” class holding title to all of the available property – so the ability to make sure that people got paid by leveraging the property itself was a uniquely workable solution.

So why did he call it a mechanics lien?

At the point in history during which the mechanics lien was created (the late 1700s), the term “mechanic” referred to someone who performed work with their hands – specifically builders and tradespeople. When the mechanics lien was created, mechanical vehicles did not exist, and the word mechanic was not associated with machinery.

If the same security instrument was developed today, it’s likely they would be called something else – construction lien, perhaps, or contractors lien. And, in fact, some states mechanics lien laws do have other names for this particular lien (construction liens, materialman’s liens, laborer’s liens, supplier’s liens, artisan’s liens, or design-professionals liens).

What Are “Machinery” Mechanics Liens Called? And What’s the Difference?

As noted above, liens for machinery / moveable property mechanics may also be called mechanics liens – whether by statute or just through general use. Usually, however, this particular type of lien goes by other names: garage-keepers liens, storage and repair liens, repair shop liens, chattel liens, or possessory liens.

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That last name (“possessory lien”) gives a hint as to the biggest difference between the construction mechanics lien and the machinery mechanics lien. A construction mechanics lien is claimed against real estate property, and the lien must be filed in the appropriate office in order to be valid. The right over the property exists in the recorded land records (and may be enforced if necessary through a court proceeding). The construction participant can’t just prohibit the property owner from owning the property, nor can they keep the owner from occupying the property. Additionally, construction liens have strict timing and notice requirements.

“Machinery” mechanics liens are possessory liens. This means that if you drop your car off at the shop and don’t pay – the shop doesn’t have to give you your car back (provided certain requirements are met). This makes it much easier to “enforce” a chattel lien – the claimant just keeps the vehicle and doesn’t even necessarily have to go through the process to obtain a title and sell it.

While in practice there is little likelihood of confusion between the two types of lien – it can be confusing for parties trying to perform some research about the necessary requirements. When different things have different names, it is easy for it to cause confusion – which, unfortunately, is par for the course for mechanics liens.

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