I am an architect and my client still owes me a part of my fee. My client is a tenant, not the owner, of the building. Can I file a lien?
Pennsylvania provides mechanics lien rights to a pretty broad spectrum of claimants. But, not everyone is entitled to file a lien claim in Pennsylvania.
Let’s break this down into two separate topics: (1) lien rights for Pennsylvania architects and (2) mechanics lien right when hired by a tenant.
Do architects have mechanics lien rights in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania architects will be entitled to mechanics lien rights when hired by the “owner.” § 1301 provides “contractors” the ability to file a mechanics lien when their work results in the permanent improvement of property but that work isn’t paid for. And, under § 1201(4), the term “contractor” also includes architects who are hired by the “owner.” Looking to the definitions section one more time – § 1201(3) defines an owner as “an owner in fee, a tenant for life or years or one having any other estate in or title to property.”
Mechanics lien rights when hired by a tenant
When hired by a tenant, the tenant’s interest in the project property will generally be subject to lien. However, unless the owner has explicitly approved the work, the owner’s interest will generally not be lienable. We discuss that idea here: What Happens to Mechanics Lien Rights If My Project is a Tenant Improvement?
Looking to Pennsylvania law, specifically – it seems that PA follows that general rule. § 1303(d) of the Pennsylvania mechanics lien statute says “No lien shall be allowed against the estate of an owner in fee by reason of any consent given by such owner to a tenant to improve the leased premises unless it shall appear in writing signed by such owner that the erection, construction, alteration or repair was in fact for the immediate use and benefit of the owner.”
Put in simpler terms: Unless the property owner has affirmatively stated the improvement is for their benefit, the owner’s interest will not be subject to lien. However, a lien against the leasehold interest is available. And, under § 1509 of the Pennsylvania mechanics lien statute, it appears that a lien claim can be filed against a tenant by listing them as the owner of the property.