Securing mechanics lien rights, in any state, is a process. Many states require specific forms, notices, and deadlines that must be met. Failure to meet any one of the requirements can put those rights in jeopardy. Pennsylvania is no different. A recent case out of the Superior Court of PA emphasized the strict enforcement of notice deadlines. Even when the late notice isn’t the claimant’s fault.
Pennsylvania lien notices
The Pennsylvania mechanics lien notice requirements are…complicated, for lack of a better term. The entire mechanics lien process could involve filing a Notice of Furnishing, sending a Notice of Intent to Lien, and sending a Notice of Filing of a Claim. Each notice comes with its own service deadlines. A misstep with any one of these could spell disaster for a claimant’s lien rights.
Take the Notice of Filing of a Claim for example. After you’ve filed a Pennsylvania mechanics lien, the claimant must send notice of the filing within 30 days under §1502(c).
Service of the notice of filing of claim shall be made by an adult in the same manner as a write of summons in assumpsit, or if service cannot be so made then by posting upon a conspicuous public part of the improvement.
After serving this notice, the claimant needs to file an Affidavit of Service form within 20 days of service.
The Notice of Filing of a Claim can be as simple as a letter informing the owner of the claim, with a copy of the recorded claim. Typically, the local Pennsylvania Sheriff’s Office serves these notices.
Unfortunately, as one contractor learned the hard way, sheriffs aren’t always the most reliable when it comes to serving lien notices.
PA contractor’s lien dismissed because sheriff served notice late
The case in question is Americo Construction Company v. Four Ten, LLC and Ford Investment Group.
- Owner: Four Ten, LLC (Four Ten)
- Contractor: Americo Construction Company (Americo)
Americo claimed that it was owed around $26K for the work they performed under contract with Four Ten. When Four Ten failed to pay, Americo filed a mechanics lien on June 26th.
Four days after filing the lien, Americo requested the Sheriff’s Office to serve the notice on Four Ten personally. They also requested that if the Sheriff’s Office couldn’t complete personal service, to post the notice on the property by July 21st (within the statutory 30-day deadline).
Sheriff fails to serve or post the notice
On July 11, the Sheriff’s Office attempted and failed to serve Four Ten. They put this attempt on record on July 17th (with 4 days left until the service deadline). There was no mention of the posting.
Weeks later, on August 8, Americo received the notice of return from the Sheriff’s Office. Again, there was no mention of posting the notice. After Americo contacted the Sheriff’s Office, they posted the notice a few days later. Americo then filed their Affidavit of Service.
At trial, Four Ten filed an objection to the lien claim. They claimed that Americo failed to comply with the 30-day notice requirement. The court agreed and dismissed Americo’s lien claim. Americo appealed.
Notice deadlines are strictly enforced
The main issue the appeals court needed to determine is whether late service could be relieved due to a “breakdown in the judicial system.”
The court began by stressing that lien rights are statutory rights, meaning that they must be construed strictly. Many courts take this approach when dealing with mechanics liens. Americo argued that they “substantially complied” with the notice requirements.
However, the substantial compliance doctrine only applies to issues with the form of the notice, not the timeliness of it.
The court admitted that Americo did everything required of them to serve timely notice on Four Ten. And the Sherrif’s Office gave them no indication that they hadn’t posted the notice until 18 days after the affidavit of service was due.
Nonetheless, service was late. The trial court decision to dismiss the lien claim was affirmed.
Plan ahead when it comes to PA mechanics liens
This is an unfortunate result for Americo. Particularly when a recent PA case upheld a service of the same notice by FedEx! But, as the court mentioned, substantial compliance only applies to the form of notice, not the timing. And as they begrudgingly admitted, Americo did everything they were supposed to do.
However, deadlines are deadlines. Even if the notice was late due to no fault of your own. It can still cost you your lien rights. Filing a Pennsylvania mechanics lien takes careful timing and planning.