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Can contractor put a lien against my property without a contract

IllinoisConstruction ContractLawsuitMechanics LienPayment Disputes

Hi I hired a contractor to perform a job on a driveway/sidewalk. We did not sign any contracts. At the beginning of a job I paid him half the money in cash (forgot to ask for a proof). Village required both pre-pour and final inspection. Final inspection failed because the sidewalk is above the house foundation and there is absolutely no pitch(slope) away from the house, so it crates a condition where water can get into the house instead of flowing freely away from the house. The contractor is extremely hard to talk to and not too much willing to fix the issue. He threatened however to put a lien against my house, which I think is ridiculous given the village failed the inspection. Can he even do that without us having any sort of contract? I keep sending him messages reminding the extent of the damage (it rained and water just puddles against a house). On a side note can I just hire a different contractor to fix the issue without worrying the one I hired will change his mind sometime in the future and will reach out to me to fix the issue? I don't want to pay another contractor only to find out I can shot myself in a foot and pay twice for same work. thanks !

5 replies

Oct 12, 2017
Hi. While this type of situation is frustrating, and it may seem ridiculous to have a lien filed for sub-par work, that does happen and there are generally very few prohibitions against it. Additionally, in most states, not having a written contract for the work in question is likewise not a bar to a mechanics lien being filed, or even being valid.

A written contract is only explicitly required in order to place a mechanics lien against a property in a couple handfuls of states, and in some of those states a written contract is only required for a lien in a couple specific circumstances. In most cases, there only needs to be work provided to improve the property subject to some agreement in order to give rise to mechanics lien rights. Occasionally, (but not usually) a lien can even be claimed if the work was performed by mistake.

Some information related to Illinois, specifically, and to whether poor workmanship results in lien rights, can be found below:

1) Illinois does not specifically require a written contract in order to be able to file a mechanics lien. An oral/verbal contract is sufficient, (whether express or implied, or partly expressed or implied) so provided there was any sort of agreement or partial agreement regarding the work - it is likely ok for the purposes of allowing mechanics lien protection.

2) In most cases, parties are allowed to lien for the value of the labor/material provided to the project, whether or not there are disputes as to the quality of the work. In the eyes of most mechanics lien requirements, shoddy work is still work for which parties deserve to be paid. In a situation where the work is so deficient that it harms the property, or results in a material breach of the contract such that somebody else needs to be called in to fix the issue, there could be an argument made in any potential enforcement of the mechanics lien that the damages offset the amount of the lien claim. Further, there may be an argument that the contractor never "completed" the work, since it didn't pass inspection.

3) Recorders seldom act as gatekeepers regarding the validity or enforceability of mechanics liens (and they shouldn't) so in most cases, a lien can be filed, even if it wouldn't be ultimately enforceable, and would appear in the property records and encumber the property until removed/extinguished.

That being said, there are things that could make the contractor less inclined to file a lien for poor or incomplete work. Illinois specifically allows for the recovery of attorney fees by the property owner when "a lien claimant has brought an action under this Act without just cause or right." Further, there may be a cause of action against the contractor for filing a lien if such lien is improper, including slander of title or other such actions.

Finally, when a contract is breached, the contract can be rescinded and alternate performance obtained. It is likely that, if the contractor is unreachable, and refuses to fix a major issue with the work, that they could be informed that the work needs to be fixed, and an alternate contractor will be obtained to perform the work. In fact, if the work may result in damage to the property for which the contractor could be liable, there may be a duty to mitigate the potential damages by getting it fixed. Then, an action for the costs of repair could be initiated against the first contractor.

Read more: State-by-state Overview of Whether a Written Contract Is Required in Order to File a Mechanics Lien

Illinois Mechanics Lien and Notice FAQs
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Jun 25, 2021
Can a person put a Lein on your property with no contract or invoice . Just verbal and he didn’t do the job and I have a witness to that effect
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