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In evaluating mechanics lien rights one of the first questions that must be considered is whether the improvement qualifies as a “construction project“. Mechanics lien rights are tied to the improvement of real property, so the determination of whether the work undertaken constitutes a construction project for which a mechanics lien or bond claim remedy is available is important. Generally speaking, this determination is not too difficult – most construction projects are pretty self-explanatory. There are some cases in which additional inquiry or a closer examination is necessary, however. While things like mowing the grass and general landscape upkeep is generally not lienable (though not always), landscaping services like installing sod, laying a stone patio, or building a gazebo, likely would be. The same differentiation can be found inside a project building, as well. Most general interior construction would give rise to a mechanics lien right, but what about work that seems only ancillary to the construction? Making this determination is vastly important to a potential lien claimant, and significantly impacts the potential avenues to recovery of amounts owed.

Construction Definition Expanding In Illinois?

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A recent Illinois case, Firemans Fund Insurance Co. v. Rockford Heatingexamined whether the installation of a temporary ventilation system and ductwork for a temporary heater was subject to the 4-year statute of limitations for construction, or the general 5-year limit. While this case doesn’t pertain to mechanics liens, directly, the finding could provide some guidance to future potential mechanics lien claimants.

the temporary nature of the ventilation ductwork at issue did not preclude that work from being classified as an “improvement to real property”
At issue here is Illinois statute 735 ILCS 5/13-214(a), which states, in pertinent part, “Actions based upon . . . an act or omission . . . in the design, planning, supervision, observation or management of construction, or construction of an improvement to real property shall be commenced within 4 years”. (emphasis added) Since the term “improvement to real property” is not defined by the statute, the court was left to determine whether or not the installation of the temporary ductwork qualified. After some examination of the judicial history of determining whether or not work qualified as an improvement to property, and an examination of the definition of improvement – the court found that the temporary nature of the ventilation ductwork at issue did not preclude that work from being classified as an “improvement to real property”.

The court noted that the entire project as a whole was without question an improvement to real property, and the installation of the temporary ventilation system for the temporary heater was an “integral part of the entire operation”. Thus, the installation of the temporary ductwork which was necessary for the installation of a wood floor, gained “improvement” status by being a necessary precursor to something else that was unquestionably an improvement. Accordingly, the court determined that the 4-year statute of limitations applied.

For potential mechanics lien claimants, this provides some interesting food for thought. Work that may not originally spring to mind as work that would give rise to a mechanics lien remedy may qualify if the court could be persuaded to use the same reasoning as it used in this case. Work that is a necessary precursor to work for which a mechanics lien may be claimed may be alienable itself under this type of analysis. And this is potentially good news for lien claimants.