Mechanics Lien
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What is a Mechanics Lien?

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A mechanics lien is a legal tool that empowers the contractors, suppliers, and others that work in the construction industry to get paid the money they’ve earned on their projects and jobs. Contractors and suppliers generally have the right to file a mechanics lien when they don’t get paid on construction projects.

Filing a lien nearly guarantees payment for contractors and material suppliers. In fact, it’s sometimes even called a “security interest,” “collateral,” or “encumbrance.” Mechanics lien claims also go by a variety of other name: Construction lien, property lien, claim of lien, materialman’s lien, laborers lien, contractors lien, suppliers lien, or artisan’s lien. It can get even more confusing. In Louisiana, for example, it’s called a “statement of claim and privilege.”

Regardless of the name, all of these documents serve the same purpose: They help contractors and suppliers get paid for the work they do.

How a mechanics lien works

Formally, a mechanics lien is a security interest in real property. What that means is that it actually freezes the property, prohibiting the sale until payment is made to satisfy the lien. Filing a lien causes disruptions to the flow of funds on a project. It can cause the general contractor (GC) to breach their contract with the owner. It gets multiple parties, like lenders and owners, involved in making sure the right person gets paid.

There are many effects to a project and property caused by a mechanics lien filing. All you really need to know is that filing a mechanics lien puts an unpaid contractor or supplier in the best position to get paid.

Lien rights

The right to file a lien is built directly into the law of every state as a way to protect construction participants from nonpayment. This is a fundamental public policy in the United States, to protect payments on construction projects dating back to the days of Thomas Jefferson. In many states – like California and Texas – the right to file a lien is actually baked right into the state’s constitution!

Each state has their own rules stating who can file a lien. Generally, anyone who makes an improvement to a property has the right to file a lien. This includes direct contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, equipment lessors, design professionals (architects and engineers), and laborers.

However, states also have laws requiring parties to follow specific steps in order to protect their lien rights. We’ll go into more detail on those requirements below.

Private vs. public projects

One important note about “mechanics lien” protection is that it’s typically only available on “private” jobs for the construction or improvement of real property. In other words, a mechanics lien is available on commercial, residential, privately-owned, and industrial projects.

Publicly owned property cannot be “liened,” but does have a similar remedy available through bond claims. Contractors who are unpaid on a state or municipal projects typically follow a bond claim process.

Requirements to file a mechanics lien

Filing a construction lien is a great remedy for contractors and suppliers not paid…but, there is one dilemma. Securing and using mechanics lien rights can be quite tricky without legal advice. There are numerous requirements, notices, and time limits that must be met. And, unfortunately, the rules are governed by state law and can vary state-to-state and project-to-project.

Mechanics lien filing from suppliers when unpaid

Those expecting to be paid on a construction project should take great care in understanding the notice requirements that apply to their job, the lien deadlines, and will need to stay proactive to keep their company in a “secured” or “lienable” position from the very start of the job.

Filing a mechanics lien

It’s best to think of a mechanics lien as a process, rather than a stand-alone document.

Before you can file a mechanics lien, you must take initial steps to protect your right to file a lien. Generally, state laws require you to send specific documents at specific times during a construction project in order to preserve your lien rights.

While each state has their own laws, these are the 4 basic steps in the mechanics lien process:

Step 1: Send Preliminary Notice

Preliminary notice is a document sent at the beginning of a construction project that tells the GC, property owner, and/or lender that you’re on the job. In many states, you are required to send preliminary notice in order to protect your right to file a lien later on. It may be called by a variety of names, like Notice to Owner or pre-lien notice.

Even in states where it isn’t required to protect lien rights, sending preliminary notice is highly recommended, as it improves communication and visibility on a construction project.

Step 2: Send a Notice of Intent

A notice of intent (NOI) is a document that notifies the GC, property owner, and/or lender that you intend to file a lien if you aren’t paid. It’s also called a notice of intent to lien. An NOI is incredibly effective at forcing payment without the need to file a lien. Everyone wants to avoid a lien, so when they find out you intend to file, it’s often enough to get you paid.

Step 3: File a Mechanics Lien

Filing a mechanics lien involves filling out a lien claim form with accurate detail on the property, the work you performed, the amount owed, etc. The form is generally filed with the county recorder’s office where the project is located.

Step 4: Release (or Enforce) the Lien

If filing the mechanics lien gets you paid, then you’ll need to release the lien. This is generally accomplished with a document called a lien release.

If the hiring party still doesn’t pay, then you can choose to enforce the lien. This involves a court action.

For owners: Resolving a lien claim

Those who are facing a lien claim against them or their project will want to examine the applicable requirements and confirm that the lien claimant has conformed to them. In the event that a lien is invalid, frivolous, or improperly filed, a process can be used to demand that the lien be removed. Otherwise, property owners, construction lenders, general contractors, and other interested parties can seek to bond off the lien, to accelerate its expiration period, and/or to otherwise figure out a way to compromise and resolve the issue.

The Bottom Line: Mechanics Liens Work

The bottom line is that lien rights are powerful and effective, and they exist to empower contractors, suppliers, and others working in the construction industry to get what they earn. Levelset’s comprehensive mechanics lien law resources — which includes state-by-state guides, forms, frequently asked questions, and more — will help you better understand the mechanic’s lien process that applies to your state and job.

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State-by-State Map Of
Lien Deadlines, Rules, & Guides

What are the lien deadlines and lien rules in your state? The below map will give you an answer at a quick glance. Explore our 50-state mechanics lien resources and guides more fully, which includes thousands of forms, charts, blog articles, and more, by clicking on the state your interested in learning more about below.

Lien Deadline
Calculation Rules
  • Lien Deadline
    Calculation Rules
  • Mechanics Lien Enforcement
    Deadline Heat Map
  • Full Price or
    Unpaid Balance Liens
  • Supplier to Suppliers
    Lien Rights
  • Which States Prohibit
    Waiving Lien Rights
  • Lien deadlines calculated from project's completion
  • Lien deadlines calculated from your last furnishing
  • Lien deadlines calculated in some combination
  • 90 days/3 months or less (RI- 40 days)
  • 180 days/6 months
    (ME, NH, & OR- 120 days) (DE subs/supps- 120 days)
  • 1 year (WA- 8 mos)
  • 2 years
    (AK- 15 mos) (TX- 1 yr residential) (ND- 3 yrs)
  • 6 years
  • Full Price
  • Unpaid Balance
  • Suppliers to suppliers likely do not have rights
  • Suppliers to suppliers likely have rights
  • Suppliers to suppliers likely may have rights
  • Lien rights cannot be waived
  • Lien rights can be waived
  • No explicit law
  • Law is Conflicting

Mechanics Lien Frequently Asked Questions

The mechanics lien process is complicated. And you're stressed about payment or some payment dispute. Here are some questions about the lien & lien filing process that may be on your mind. It will help you feel at ease knowing that you're doing the right thing for your business. Whether you need to get a lien filed, or are dealing with a lien filed against your job, these questions & answers will help you understand what you need to know.

What is a mechanics lien?

Basically, a mechanics lien is a tool that construction participants can use to get paid for the labor and/or materials they provide to improve a property.

See Mechanics liens explained in easy-to-understand terms

Why file a mechanics lien?

Getting paid in the construction industry can be tough, but you’re in the business of doing or supplying to construction work, not financing construction projects.

  • Are you being slow-paid?
  • Is someone making up a dispute about your work to avoid payment?
  • Are you unpaid because your customer can’t get paid from the owner?
All of these above items are good reasons why you should consider filing a mechanics lien. A lien claim may put you in the best position possible to get paid on a job.

See why a mechanics lien is so effective at getting contractors paid.

Is filing a mechanics lien right for you? Every situation is different, but filing a lien is generally the right thing to do if you're owed money on a construction job. Even if you think you may ultimately get paid, it's a best practice to file a lien when unpaid.

How does a mechanics lien work to get me paid?

When you file a mechanics lien, you are using the most effective collections remedy available to you. Mechanics liens are so effective because they create so many avenues for payment.

Here are 17 different ways lien claims work to get you paid, such as:
  • Liens freeze construction project funds.
  • Liens turn the job site into your collateral.
  • Liens stop the property from being sold, financed, or transferred.
  • Liens create contractual problems for other parties.

Do mechanics liens go by any other names?

It can be quite confusing, but mechanics liens can go by many different names (and spellings).

It’s common to see the word “mechanics” written in the possessive – “mechanic’s.” Additionally, mechanics liens also go by names such as “construction lien,” “property lien,” “laborer’s lien,” “materialman’s lien” or even an “artisan’s lien” or “design professional’s lien” in certain circumstances.

When is a mechanics lien normally used?

Liens are normally used as a last resort to get paid for work done on or materials furnished to a private construction project. Slow payment and nonpayment are known and prevalent problems with respect to payment in the construction industry, and mechanics liens are one of the most powerful ways to ensure that payment will be made.

In many situations, the claimant may make a determination whether they intend to do future jobs with the property owner, GC, or others up-the-chain, and weigh that factor in the decision with whether to move forward with a claim. While a lien is a right and a tool given to construction participants in ensure payment, it is the “nuclear option” for recovery.

For that reason, in many situations, the mechanics lien tool is used after all options to recover payment, other than initiating a lawsuit, have failed, or if communication has broken down on the project with respect to payment. The same reasons that mechanics liens are so phenomenally effective are the reasons that companies usually wish to avoid them.

Do I have the right to file a mechanics lien claim?

This is a difficult question, and the determination varies from state to state. But generally speaking a mechanics lien is available those who furnished labor or material to a private work of improvement on real property, that the labor or material furnished was for the permanent improvement of the property, that all prerequisite notice requirements have been complied with, and that all rules and requirements related to the mechanics lien itself (timing, form, filing, service, etc.) have been met.

As mentioned, however, the parties entitled to mechanics lien protection, and both the prerequisite requirements and mechanics lien requirements all vary from state to state, from project to project, and by the claimant’s particular role. These determinations can be exceptionally complex. You can visit our Resources Page and click on your state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

Do I need a contractor's license to file a mechanics lien?

Whether a contractor license is required to file a mechanics lien depends on which state the work is being performed. However, even if not required, it's never a good idea to work without a license. Additionally, in some states such as California and Washington, working without a license can forfeit more than just lien rights. Not to mention any additional fines and penalties from the state licensing board.

To find out if your state requires a license to file a mechanics lien, head over to If I’m Unlicensed Can I File a Mechanics Lien?

Do I need to have a written contract to file a mechanics lien claim?

It's always important to get your construction contract in writing. However, as with most lien laws, the answer is, "it depends." Whether a written contract is required for mechanics lien rights varies from state-to-state. In addition to that, some states only require a written contract to secure lien rights on certain projects such as residential projects.

To find out if your state requires a written contract to file a mechanics lien, you can read: Can You File a Mechanics Lien Without a Written Contract?

Can I lien the project right when I start work? And should I?

It's common to hear something like this in the industry. Frequently, a contractor may wonder whether they should just "lien the job right from the beginning." This, however, isn't a common practice, nor a best practice, and it's probably not even a legal practice.

That's because it's extremely adversarial to just file a lien right at the start of a project. This remedy should be used as a last resort if unpaid on a job for an extended time. Filing it at the start of a job is the opposite of how it should be done.

And furthermore, it's probably not legal to do this. A "fraudulent lien" or "frivolous lien" is one that is filed inappropriately. It's inappropriate to file a lien when you're not owed anything on a job. If you filed right after doing work, that would be legal. You can't file before doing the work, though, because without the work, you lack any lien rights!

What if I didn't finish work on the project, can I still file a mechanics lien?

This is an extremely common question because in so many cases the need to file a lien arises because something happened on the job and a contractor or supplier has stopped contributing. Nevertheless, the answer to the question is almost always YES! If you didn't finish the job, you're still likely able to file a lien. The lien will be for you to get paid for the work or materials that you did provide on the job.

Do the rules and processes to file a mechanics lien change according to the project location?

Yes, while the fundamental concept of a lien or payment claim (and generally, the ultimate result) does not change depending on the project location, pretty much everything else can and does.

From a practical standpoint, the notice requirements, the recording requirements, the timelines and deadlines, the information required on the lien document, and more, can all change depending on the project location. These rules and requirements can be exceptionally complex.

You can visit our Resources Page and click on your state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

Do the rules and processes to file a mechanics lien change according to the project type?

In a similar manner to whether the rules change with respect to project location, they can also change according to project type. Also, the fundamental concept of a lien (and generally, the ultimate result) does not change depending on the project type, but other things can.

Mechanics liens are not allowed to be filed on public projects. And, there are situations in which liens and the surrounding requirements can change depending on the particular type of private improvement as well. For example, the rules and availability of mechanics lien claims can vary based on whether the project involves an owner-occupied residential property. You can visit our Resources Page and click on your state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

What happens if I make a mistake?

Making a mistake with preparing, filing, and serving your lien claim can have significant consequences.

Lien statutes are interesting in that many have specific requirements that they be broadly interpreted in favor of expending lien protection, but they must be strictly construed with respect to meeting the statutory requirements and prerequisites. Simple or tiny mistakes or omissions can result in a mechanics lien being invalid (even if recorded). Losing the security afforded by the mechanics lien, and the associated near-guarantee of payment is only one potential consequence, however.

Filing a fraudulent lien can result in stiff fines, damages, and criminal penalties. And, even if a lien is not fraudulent but is invalid for other reasons, failure to remove the lien can result in liability for damages incurred by the interested parties with respect to the invalid lien. Losing out on security for payment is a harsh enough consequence by itself, but adding liability or penalties on top is exceptionally significant and painful.

Is a mechanics lien usually paired with anything else?

These are generally stand-alone documents, but they come at the end of a process in which many other documents may be required. Most states have some sort of notice requirement that must be met prior to claiming a lien. And, there will likely be many requests for payment or other correspondence that are exchanged prior to the filing and service of the lien.

With respect to the lien itself, some states and situations call for certain documents to be attached to the lien as exhibits. For example, a copy of a required notice or affidavit of such notice’s delivery, a copy of the claimant’s contract or invoices, or some other supporting document may be required to be attached. These rules vary from state to state, and occasionally from project to project.

What do I do after a mechanics lien is filed?

After the lien is filed and served, you'll want to followup with the project stakeholders to request payment. Read more at The 4 Things You Have to Do After Filing A Mechanics Lien.

Do mechanics liens last forever?

Mechanics liens are only effective for a certain period of time. Once this time frame has passed, the mechanics lien claim will be invalid, and unenforceable. However, just because the lien is no longer enforceable doesn't mean that it is no longer attached to the property title. Many states require that a lien release be filed to remove the claim.

You can visit our Resources Page and click on your state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

What is enforcing/foreclosing a mechanics lien?

Filing an enforcement action, also known as a foreclosure action, is the very last resort in the mechanics lien process. Typically, a filed mechanics lien is enough to induce payment. However, if payment isn't forthcoming and the enforcement deadline is steadily approaching, this may be necessary.

An enforcement action is a full lawsuit, which is a complicated, and time-consuming procedure. You should always consult a local attorney to help guide you through the process. If successful, the court can order the sale of the property, and the proceeds will be disbursed to anyone with an interest in the property (such as a mechanics lien) according to their priority.

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Have A Payment Problem & Thinking About A Lien? Get Help Deciding What To Do Next.

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What did you contribute to the job? (select all that apply)
When did you work on the project?

If you don't know these dates, give your best estimate. Since these dates determine your notice and lien deadlines, it's important to be as accurate as possible.

Did you fulfill this project's notice requirements?

Did you send a {document type} to the {contractor role}
and general contractor by {deadline date}?

Did you send monthly notices for this project?

In Texas, subcontractors and suppliers are required to send a notice for each month that work is performed and unpaid. Based on your project type and role, your job has the following notice requirements. Did you fulfill this notice requirement?

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For subcontractors on residential proejcts, notice is required to be sent to the owner and prime contractor by the 15th day of the 2nd month following each month that work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For subcontractors on non-residential projects, notice is required to be sent by the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For sub-subcontractors, notice is required to be sent on both the 15th day of the 2nd month, and the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month in which work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For suppliers on residential projects, notice is required to be sent to the owner and prime contractor by the 15th day of the 2nd month following each month that work was performed and unpaid.

What is my job's monthly notice requirement?

For suppliers on non-residential projects, notice is required to be sent both the 15th day of the 2nd month, and the 15th day of the 3rd month following each month in which work was performed and unpaid. (The 2nd month notice has to be sent only to the prime contractor.)

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