Mechanics Lien
Guide, Forms & Resources

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Mechanics Lien Deadline Explanation Infographic

What is a mechanics lien?

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mechanics lien is a legal claim for unpaid construction work. 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.

Typically, anyone who provides labor or materials to property improvements can file a mechanics lien if they are not paid. Because a lien disrupts the flow of funds on a construction project, it gets multiple parties, like lenders, property owners, and general contractors involved in making sure the right person gets paid.

The origin of the mechanics lien 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. Every US state now has construction lien laws to ensure that contractors, suppliers, and others are paid.

Types of mechanics liens

A mechanics lien is a broad category for any type of construction lien on real property. When referring to parties who supply materials to a project, it may be known as a materialman’s lien or supplier’s lien. A design professional’s lien is used by architects, engineers, and others in the design field. An artisan’s lien is available to tradesmen, though it is often used on personal property, like a vehicle, rather than real estate.

In general, these are all types of mechanics liens, and they all attach to real property in the same way.

Why mechanics liens exist

Getting paid in construction can be slow and difficult. Construction projects often require significant costs up front, while the property owner only pays for the work after it’s complete. Because of this, the people who provide labor and materials spend a lot of time, effort, and money before they get paid.

Additionally, it can be difficult for the owner of the property to identify everyone on the project to ensure they get paid. 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.

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 construction law governing who has lien rights, or the right to make a valid claim.

General contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and laborers can typically file a mechanics lien if they do not receive payment for their labor or materials. Some states also provide lien rights to equipment lessors, architects, engineers, and other design professionals.

Liens are typically only available on private construction projects, like residential, commercial, or industrial construction or renovation. While a lien cannot be placed on public property, workers on most public projects will be able to make a bond claim if they are unpaid.

How liens work in construction

It’s best to think of a mechanics lien as a process, rather than a stand-alone document. Before you can record a mechanics lien, you must take initial steps to protect your right to file a claim. 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, there are 4 basic steps in the process:

Provide 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. Many states have notice requirements that construction professionals must follow in order to protect their right to make a lien claim later on. It may be called by a variety of names, like Notice to Owner or pre-lien notice.

Even in states where a written notice isn’t required to protect lien rights, sending preliminary notice can improve communication and visibility on a construction project.

Send a Notice of Intent

notice of intent to lien (NOI) is a document that notifies the GC, property owner, and others that a mechanics lien will be filed if they do not make payment. An NOI is effective at encouraging payment without the need to file a lien.

File a Mechanics Lien

Filing a mechanics lien involves filling out a lien claim form with accurate detail on the property, the work performed, the amount owed, etc. The form is generally filed with the county recorder’s office where the project is located. Unpaid contractors must follow the steps to file a mechanics lien carefully, or risk losing their right to make a claim.

Release or Enforce the Lien

After filing a lien, the lien claimant will need to take additional steps. If the lien is satisfied, then releasing or cancelling the lien is often required to avoid penalties.

If the hiring party still doesn’t pay, then the lienholder can choose to enforce the lien. Enforcing a lien requires a court action to foreclose on the property. If you choose to enforce a lien, it’s a good idea to get legal advice from a construction lawyer or law firm before proceeding.

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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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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 your state? The below map will give you 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
  •  
  • These states calculate the deadline from project's completion
  • These states calculate the deadline from the claimant's last furnishing date
  • These states calculate deadlines in some combination
  • 90 days or less
  • 120 - 180 days
  • 180 days - 1 year
  • 1 year - 3 years
  • 6 years
  • Full Price
  • Unpaid Balance
  • Suppliers to suppliers likely do not have rights
  • Suppliers to suppliers likely have rights
  • Suppliers to suppliers may have rights
  • Lien rights cannot be waived
  • Lien rights can be waived
  • No explicit law
  • Law is conflicting

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 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 construction lien. A claim of lien 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 help someone get 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.

When is a mechanics lien normally filed?

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 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, like invoice reminders or demand letters 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?

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, and by the claimant’s particular role. These determinations can be very complex. You can visit our Resources Page and click on your state for a full breakdown of all the rules and requirements.

Can I include attorney fees or interest penalties in my 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, as well as interest penalties under prompt payment laws.

What is a lien waiver?

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 you sign a conditional waiver, it releases lien rights only after you 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 if you 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 others states, there are no specific waiver requirements.

Make sure you understand what you're giving up before you sign a lien waiver. If you're not sure whether or not you should sign one, you may want to run it by a construction lawyer or law firm to get their legal advice.

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.

Find out if your state requires a license to file a claim here.

Do I need to have a written contract?

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.

Find out if your state requires a written contract.

Can I file a mechanics lien when the project starts?

This 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 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!

Can a contractor file a lien if they didn't finish the job?

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, as long as you file within the state's required time limit. The lien will be for you to get paid for the work or materials that you did provide on the job.

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 file a claim against the bond. 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 in a lien claim?

Making a mistake with preparing, filing, and serving your lien claim can have significant consequences. Learn about some of the worst mistakes people make when filing a mechanics lien.

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 require unpaid parties to send specific written notices before 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, it's a good idea to follow up with the owner of the property and other project stakeholders to request payment. A lien doesn't remain effective forever - claimants will need to take action after filing.
Pay close attention to the state's enforcement deadline. If you are not paid within this timeframe, you will need to enforce your lien or file a release of lien.

Do mechanics liens last forever?

Liens are only effective for a certain period of time. An unpaid lien claimant must enforce their lien 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 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. Failing to file a lien release could result in penalties.

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 your lien claim may be necessary.

An enforcement action is a full lawsuit, which is a complicated, and time-consuming procedure. You should always consult a local construction 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.

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. It is important to pay close attention to your mechanics lien rights and deadlines during these situations. In many states, your lien deadline will be impacted by work stoppages. Further, when works stops, this is a BIG SIGNAL that you should file a lien. Learn more here: Guide to Filing A Mechanics Lien when Coronavirus Impacts Your Job

Does a mechanics lien have priority over other types of liens?

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 after a mechanics lien.

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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