When does the mechanics lien clock start and stop?

This is a complicated question whose answer will vary from state to state. It’s also a question we’ve addressed on the Construction Payment Blog in the past, but only with respect to whether punchlist, remedial and warranty work would extend a lien claimants filing period (usually, it doesn’t).

A recent unpublished opinion from the Kansas Court of Appeals tackles the issue from another perspective, addressing whether the mechanics lien filing period is extended when subcontractors of a party perform work on the project. The case is Nicholson v. Hartnett.

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The defendant in this case, Hartnett, was a general contractor.  General contractors have 4 months to file a mechanics lien in Kansas, and it was admitted in the case that Hartnett’s own last work at the property was more than 4 months from the filing. Hartnett claimed, however, that since one of its subcontractors was at the property working within that 4 month period, its particular lien period could be extended based on that work.

Judge Daniel Love of the Ford District Court ruled at the trial level that the mechanics lien was late, and that the general contractor could not claim the benefit of work performed by its subcontractors.

The appeals court slapped Judge Love’s wrist here, because the law in Kansas clearly provides that Hartnett’s mechanics lien would be timely, as the law would provide virtually anywhere on this topic. It seems obvious that one party could claim the work performed by its subcontractors, as its subcontractors are doing the work of the higher tiered contractor’s contract.  This is what the appeals court had to say about this issue in Kansas’ mechanics lien law:

The district court was wrong on this point. K.S.A. 60-1102(a) clearly allows the contractor to file a lien within 4 month after the last work is done “under the contract.” And the subcontractor is doing work under the contract–thus the very term, subcontractor. A contractor is hired to do the work but often tasks parts of the jobs to a subcontractor. Even so, the contractor remains responsible for getting the job done under the contract, and the contractor also has a duty in most cases to pay subcontractors.

Unfortunately for Hartnett, the win here was hallow because its mechanics lien claim was defective in its contents.