As we noted in another post, more than 300 counties across the country offer electronic filing of mechanics lien and/or notices. Furthering electronic capabilities, some entire states, such as Iowa, are moving toward housing the entire lien registry online. Recently, North Carolina also implemented an online registry for lien agents through which notice to lien agents may be delivered. I was curious to see if the transition from paper filing in the county recorder’s office to online filing would be smooth, so I registered an account at www.LiensNC.com to find out just what the site could offer. (Note: North Carolina’s website is not for electronically filing mechanics liens; rather, it is only for registering a lien agent on certain projects and sending notice to those agents. Note also, that while electronic notice is ok under the recent North Carolina lien law amendments, it is only one of several acceptable methods of serving notice, despite what the lien agents may insinuate – but that’s a topic for another post.)
Initial Impressions of the Website
www.LiensNC.com certainly isn’t the flashiest website. That said, it appears to be usable.
The website’s homepage makes it clear who is intended to use the website and starting when
The website’s homepage makes it clear who is intended to use the website and starting when. In big, bold letters, the website notes that law behind the website went into effect on April 1, 2013. Below that, owners or property developers and contractors and subcontractors on certain projects are given notice that they may register with the website to facilitate appointing a lien agent. While lien law can often be confusing, the website specifies that it is only necessary to appoint a lien agent on:
- Improvements of $30,000 or more.
- Improvements that are not on the owner’s residence.
- Improvements on private projects. (Registration, in other words, for public projects is not required.)
Electronic Filing for Registered Users
After exploring the publicly viewable pages, I then decided to create my own account. Registration was easy and only required a name, username, and password. The site does not ask for a phone number, address, or any other equally intrusive information.
Once registered, I was able to login and view pages that are only available to users with accounts at www.LiensNC.com. After logging in, the page gives registered users two options to either 1) appoint a lien agent or 2) send notice to a lien agent. Below those two choices users can even view registered agents or notices on any qualified property by searching through a variety of options, including address or name of agent.
Feedback for Electronic Filing Websites
The website does fall short in a few instances, however.
For example, when owners are appointing their lien agents, the section on “pre-permit workers” is very confusing. The website instructs owners to provide the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mails addresses of any architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers, amongst other parties, who provided labor or materials prior to the lien agent being appointed.
Not only is this a cumbersome task for an owner who in all likelihood may not even know who all the subcontractors are on the project, the website doesn’t make clear at all why the owner has to provide this information. The law should be clear on this issue; all parties who own or work on qualified projects must register a lien agent or send notice to that agent, respectively. The only reasons I can think of for this lack of clarity is that since the law went into effect only recently, on April 1st, this time is still a period of transition in which some parties are covered by the law but some parties on current construction projects aren’t.
The website could also clean up its use of legal language in other areas.
The website could also clean up its use of legal language in other areas. For example, the website asks owners, who probably have zero experience in legal wording, to provide the “date of first furnishing.” Many parties can be unclear as to the exact meaning of the “date of first furnishing” and unfortunately, the website provides no link or clarification to help untrained parties learn the language of mechanics liens. The only link provided, in fact, is to North Carolina’s mechanics lien statutes.
Despite a few drawbacks, I was impressed with the electronic filing website’s usability and clarity. And, the cost of using the website – only $25 or $50 to register a lien agent, for example – did not seem prohibitive.