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Mechanics Lien
Guide, Forms & Resources

Last updated August 9, 2022
A mechanics lien is a powerful tool to help construction professionals get paid. File a mechanics lien online now.
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Mechanics Lien Deadline Explanation Infographic

What is a mechanics lien?

  • Resources & Links

mechanics lien is a legal claim on a home or other property, filed by an unpaid contractor or material supplier. The lien attaches to real property, providing the unpaid party with a security interest in the property itself. If the claim is not settled, the lien may lead to foreclosure, forcing the sale of the property to satisfy the debt.

Often called a construction lien, it may also be referred to as a materialman’s lien (when filed by a supplier) or an artisan’s lien (when filed by a design professional or tradesman).

Mechanics liens are typically only available on private construction projects, like residential, commercial, or industrial projects. (On public projects, unpaid parties are typically able to recover payment by filing a bond claim.)

How do mechanics liens work?

When a construction business performs labor or provides materials to a building project, they generally have the right to file a mechanics lien if they don’t receive payment. When a contractor files a mechanics lien, they gain a security interest in the home or property. The lien clouds the real estate title, making it difficult for the homeowner or property owner to sell it until the lien claim is paid.

Mechanics liens are very effective at spurring payment because they put financial pressure on the property owner and/or project lender.

Who can file a mechanics lien?

In general, anyone who makes a permanent improvement to real property can file a mechanics lien. Each state has their own laws that define who has the right to file a lien. Typically, general contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and laborers have lien rights. Some states also extend this protection to equipment lessors, architects, engineers, and other design professionals.

However, the right to file a lien is not absolute. In most states, contractors and suppliers must provide a preliminary notice at the start of the project and/or a notice of intent prior to filing a lien. Failure to provide a required notice by the statutory deadline can cause a contractor to lose their right to claim a lien.

How to file a mechanics lien

If a potential claimant meets all of the criteria required by the state, filing a mechanics lien generally involves three steps: completing the lien form, filing it with the county recorder, and serving notice on the property owner. For a detailed breakdown of the process, see: How to file a mechanics lien in any state.

Keep in mind, many states have strict notice requirements that must be met before a lien claim can be filed, whether it be a preliminary notice sent at the outset of the project, monthly notice requirements (in states like Texas & Tennessee), or a notice of intent to lien requirement sent prior to filing. Be sure to educate yourself on your state’s specific requirements.

1. Complete a valid mechanics lien form

Each state has its own rules about the information and formatting required on the lien claim itself. The claimant must complete the form accurately, including details about the property location, the amount owed, a description of work or materials provided, and other relevant information.

Download a free mechanics lien form for any state. All of our forms are prepared by construction attorneys to meet each state’s legal requirements.

2. Record the lien with the county

The claimant must file their completed lien form in the recorder’s office in the county where the property is located. Lien filing fees can varies widely, from just $5 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the county. Typically, a lien claim can be filed in-person, by mail, or electronically in some locations.

Find a county recorder office to get contact information, filing fees, and more.

3. Serve notice to the property owner

After filing a lien (or sometimes simultaneously), the claimant typically needs to notify the property owner. This is known as “serving the lien.” Some states also require the lien to be served on the property owner, the prime contractor and the construction lender, if one exists. Notice is typically served by certified mail, though some states have more complex requirements.

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Mechanics Lien
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Mechanics Lien
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Mechanics Lien FAQs, Guides, Forms, & Basics - Everything you need to know about mechanics liens to get paid on your construction job.
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Levelset
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Watch: How to file a mechanics lien

Watch this video to learn the steps to file a lien in every US state.

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

What are the lien deadlines and lien rules in each state? The below map will provide an answer at a quick glance. Click on the map to explore the mechanics lien resources and guides for each state.

Lien Deadline
Calculation Rules
  • Lien Deadline
    Calculation Rules
  • Enforcement
    Deadlines
  • Full Price or
    Unpaid Balance Liens
  • Supplier to Supplier
    Lien Rights
  • States That Prohibit
    Waiving Lien Rights

Mechanics Lien Deadline Calculator

Wondering if you can file a mechanics lien on a project? Enter your project information to find the lien and notice deadlines.

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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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Mechanics Lien FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about mechanics lien rights, lien filing rules, and requirements. Answers are written by construction lawyers and payment experts.

Why do mechanics liens exist?

Getting paid in construction is slow and difficult. Projects often require significant costs up front, while the property owner only pays for the work upon completion. Because of this, the people who provide labor and materials spend a lot of time, effort, and money before they get paid.

Additionally, the construction payment chain can make it difficult for the owner of the property to identify everyone on the project. A subcontractor or sub-subcontractor may not even know who the property owner is. If their hiring party doesn't pay their invoices, these sub-tier parties have a right to place a lien on the real estate in order to get the owner involved.

Liens give leverage to the contractors and suppliers who provide work and materials for an improvement of the property. They can place a claim on the property if they don't get paid for their contribution, and even force it into foreclosure.

Why is it called a mechanics lien?

Despite the name, a mechanics lien doesn't have anything to do with car mechanics. The mechanics lien actually dates back to the founding of the United States, as newly titled landowners were rapidly developing their property. Thomas Jefferson introduced the first mechanics lien laws to protect builders and other tradesmen, who were known as "mechanics" in those days; which is why there are many states that now that refer to them as “construction liens.”

Who has the right to file a mechanics lien claim?

Generally, anyone who furnishes labor or material for a permanent improvement on real property will have lien rights. However, claimants must send all required notices within the appropriate time period. Requirements vary from state to state, from project to project, andeven by the claimant’s particular role. These determinations can be very complex.

• Visit our Construction Payment Resources Page and click on a state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

Can an unlicensed contractor 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.

But the loss of lien rights isn’t the only issue, there are other penalties and issues to consider. In states like Florida, the unlicensed contractor may also face criminal penalties. And to take a step further, there are other states such as Georgia, where an unlicensed contractor will have no legal right to recover payment on the project. Not to mention any additional fines and penalties from the state licensing board.

See which states require a license to file a lien claim here

Can a contractor file a lien without a written contract?

It's always important to get a construction contract in writing. However, 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.

See states which states require a written contract to file a lien claim here.

When is a mechanics lien normally filed?

Typically, a lien may be filed at any point during a construction project when a payment is late. Construction professionals can file a lien for unpaid progress payments, final payment, or retainage. However, every state sets a specific time frame in which a lien may be filed.

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 among themost powerful ways to ensure 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 to 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 have failed, like invoice reminders, demand letter, 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.

How long does a contractor have to file a lien?

The deadline to file a lien can vary depending on the state, the claimant's role on the project, and in some cases the type of project (i.e. commercial/residential). Contractors typically have anywhere from 2 months to 1 year to file a lien after completing work.

Calculate the lien filing deadline on any project here.

View state-by-state deadlines to file a lien by project role:

Prime contractors

Subcontractors

Material Suppliers

Equipment Lessors

How much does a mechanics lien cost?

The cost to file a mechanics lien varies, and depends on the filing method. If a contractor files a lien on their own, they will need to pay the recording fee with the county office where the project is located, along with any postage requirements. Lien recording fees range from just $5 in Montana to $345 in Hawaii.

Filing a single lien through Levelset costs $349, which includes valuable benefits like data verification, project research, and the peace of mind that it's done right. Levelset helps contractors avoid common mistakes that get liens rejected.

The contractor didn't finish the job. Can they still file a lien?

Generally, a contractor has the right to file a lien whether or not they complete the contract. If a contractor didn't finish the job, they are still likely able to file a lien for the work or materials they did actually provide, as long as they file within the state's required time limit.

There are, however, some exceptions. Take California for example, where a subcontractor can’t file a lien until they have “ceased” to provide work.

Are attorney fees or interest penalties allowed in a lien claim?

Generally, it's a bad idea to include extra amounts in a construction lien claim. This could be considered a fraudulent claim. It's best practice to only file a lien for the amount unpaid according to the contract.

However, in many states, the prevailing party in a foreclosure suit can recover attorney fees and court costs, also, interest penalties may be available under prompt payment laws.

• Learn more: Mechanics lien amounts: What can you include in each state?

Can someone file a lien if work stops or gets delayed on a project?

Work can suddenly and unexpectedly stop on a construction project for many reasons -- weather, evacuations, acts of God, or, as we've seen in recent times, from pandemics like COVID-19. In many states, the lien deadline will be impacted by work stoppages. Further, a work stoppage can be a strong signal to contractors that they should file a lien.

• Learn more about what happens when work stops on a project

How does a lien waiver affect a contractor's ability to file a lien?

A lien waiver is a document that gives up the right to file a construction lien for the amount specified in the waiver. It's sometimes known as a lien release or lien waiver and release.

There are 4 different types of lien waivers typically used in construction. The biggest difference is between conditional and unconditional lien waivers. If a contractor signs a conditional waiver, it releases lien rights only after they receive the payment. As a result, conditional waivers or releases carry minimal risk. An unconditional lien waiver gives up the right to file a lien as soon as it's signed. Signing an unconditional lien release or waiver can be dangerous for contractors who haven't received payment yet.

Some states have statutory lien waivers, meaning they are governed by state law, and they require specific language on the form. In other states, there are no specific waiver requirements. In such states, claimant should pay close attention to the language contained therein, to ensure they aren't waiving more rights than intended.

Can I file a mechanics lien on a government project?

Mechanics liens are not allowed to be filed on public construction projects. On most public projects run by a government agency, the general contractor will be required to purchase a payment bond. Unpaid contractors or suppliers will need to ffile a claim against the payment bond.

• Visit our Bond Claim Resources Page and click on a state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements to make a bond claim

Do mechanics liens last forever?

Liens are only effective for a certain period of time; which varies from state-to-state. An unpaid lien claimant must enforce their lien claim before the state's deadline. Enforcing a lien requires legal action, so it's advisable to consult with a construction attorney before the enforcement deadline.

Once this time frame has passed, the mechanics lien claim will expire, 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. Failing to file a lien release could result in penalties.

What happens after a mechanics lien is filed?

After a mechanics lien is filed, it will be a matter of public record and can show up on the property title. However, a lien doesn't last forever, as mentioned above, lien claims are only effective for a certain period of time; at which point the claim must either be enforced or released.

There are, however, certain steps you can take after filing a mechanics lien that can help you get paid before having to resort to filing an enforcement action in court.

How does someone enforce 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, foreclosing on a lien claim may be necessary.

An enforcement action is a full lawsuit, which is a complicated, and time-consuming procedure. 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.

Need an attorney? See how Levelset Legal Guard can help you

The homeowner already paid the GC. Can a subcontractor still get paid on their lien?

In general, as long as they met the notice requirements and applicable deadlines, a subcontractor or supplier can file a lien if they didn't get paid -- however, the amount they can recover if the owner already paid the full contract amount to the general contractor can be limited depending on the state. The determining factor is whether the state is considered a “Full-Price” or an “Unpaid Balance”.

A full price lien allows a subcontractor to recover the full amount unpaid under their contract, putting homeowners in a tough spot, by forcing them to double pay for the work.

On the other hand, an unpaid balance lien state will limit the amount a subcontractor can recover to no more than the remaining unpaid balance to the general contractor or hiring party. Claimants in such states should act quickly to ensure they have the most lien protection possible.

Does a mechanics lien have priority over other types of liens, mortgages, or construction loans?

Lien priority matters in the event of a foreclosure or property sale, and the rules will ultimately be determined by state law.

However, lien priority generally follows the “first in time, first in right” rule. This means that liens have priority based on when they were created. On residential construction projects, a mortgage lien is typically the first type created, when the homeowner gets financing. A mechanics lien generally attaches when a builder starts work or a supplier first delivers materials. So in many cases, a mortgage holder will have priority over a mechanics lien claimant. However, this is not the case in all circumstances.

A judgment lien is another common security interest in property that can conflict with a construction lien. While the priority generally goes to the lien that existed first, judgment liens aren't nearly as powerful as mechanics liens. While a mechanics lien can survive a bankruptcy, a judgment lien may not. One contractor in Kentucky learned this lesson the hard way, after letting their lien expire and trying to enforce a judgment lien after the property owner went bankrupt.

One type of lien that often has first priority over other claims is a tax lien, since this security interest is owned by the government. And though it's not always the case, government tax liens can have priority even if they attached to the property after a mechanics lien.

How can a homeowner or property owner remove a lien?

The quickest way for a property owner to remove a mechanics lien from their property is to pay the claim. However, if the owner believes it is invalid, they can take steps to challenge the mechanics lien claim, or, in the states where they are available, send a demand to enforce the lien which will significantly reduce the time to enforce the claim.

If the claim has already been paid, the owner can request that the claimant file a lien release. In some states, failure to release a lien in a timely manner can result in penalties.

Lastly, before a project begins, property owners would be wise to take steps to avoid surprise mechanics liens.

Have more questions? Experts are here to help.

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Construction attorneys: Courtney Stricklen, Christopher Ng, Andrea Goldman, and Peter Ryan

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