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Can a landscaping company file a mechanics lien for failure to pay for lawn mowing and trimming?

CaliforniaMechanics LienRight to Lien

Hi! I'm the President of an HOA in California. Over the last year, we have had increasing issues with our landscaping company. Their work has gotten really bad. They heard that we had gone out to bid for our work and they terminated the contract early. We did not pay our June monthly fee because we believe that we have offset against their fees for prior work that we paid for. We sent them a 4 page letter with over 50 pictures. Their response was to threaten to file a Mechanics Lien against us. I don't see how mowing lawns and trimming bushes would qualify as improvements to real property. Any ideas?

1 reply

Aug 5, 2019
That's a great question. The applicability of mechanics liens is rarely completely black and white. This is the case with liens for landscaping in California - the applicability of a mechanics lien is directly related to the specific nature of the work.

California considers "[d]emolition or removal of improvements, trees, or other vegetation" and "[s]eeding, sodding, or planting of real property for landscaping purposes" suitable to qualify for lien protection. However, whether the "removal of vegetation" and/or landscaping planting is met by routine "landscape maintenance" is a not clear.

The general rule is that routine maintenance work, like cutting grass does not qualify for lien protection, while more substantial work like planting or removing trees, landscape design, or similar work would qualify for protection. The trouble is found in determining the gray area between what is “planting for landscaping purposes” and maintenance.

So, whether or not a valid and enforceable mechanics lien may be filed depends on the extent of the landscaping work being undertaken. However, whether the lien will be valid and enforceable if filed is a different question than whether a mechanics lien could be filed. The answer to that question is likely, "yes." County recorders rarely (and shouldn't) work as gatekeepers for determining the validity of liens in order to allow or prevent their filing. So, a lien may be able to be filed even though it may not ultimately be enforceable.

There are also the general issues with respect to compliance with deadlines, service, description of property, etc. These can be more difficult for potential lien claimants when the property in question is part of an HOA - whether individually owned property, the common areas, or a combination of both.

It may be worth sending a letter to the landscape company outlining the reasons the lien would not be appropriate, pointing out their own probable breach of contract, and informing them that an improper lien would represent a improper cloud on the properties' titles and that damages may be incurred therefrom. If this route is decided on, it would likely be beneficial to talk to a local attorney to help with the drafting of a letter. Good luck.
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