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ccan my brother in law put a mechanics lien on our house without a written contract and he does not have a license

CaliforniaMechanics LienPayment DisputesRight to Lien

my brother in law is not licensed (we found out later) and he did some work on our house last year. We had a verbal agreement for work to be done and an estimate of $20,000 and 4 weeks (we paid close to this amount already now he wants another $20,000 plus). We paid about half of the hours he invoiced before we realized he was drinking and destroying our house. We then got him to leave under threat of calling the cops. It took several more months for us to be able to live in our house. He has now sent us a letter stating that he will put a mechanics lien on our property if we do not pay the remaining unpaid hours. We had to tear out all of the work he did and have it redone as it was unsafe and done badly. Can he really put a lien on our house without a contract (he would never give us one) and without a license? We have photo documentation of the state the house was left in and we also have a letter from the electrician stating that the work that was done was unsafe and would have caused a fire. I am asking the plumber to give us a letter as well for all of the work that had to be redone.

1 reply

Sep 24, 2018
I'm sorry you have found yourself in this situation. It's always frustrating to need to deal with unsatisfactory work, especially after paying for it, but adding in the fact that family is involved it's even more messy.

California, like every state, has strict requirements that must be met in order to claim a valid lien for work done to improve property. In many cases, a notice must be provided within 20 days of beginning work, although this requirement is waived for someone who works pursuant to an agreement directly with the property owner if there is no construction lender involved on the project. Also, a lien must be filed within 90 days from completion of the work.

Those technical requirements only come into play for parties that would otherwise be allowed to file a lien, however. California is very strict about contractor licensing, and not only can unlicensed contractors not file an enforceable lien, s/he is also prohibited from filing a lawsuit to recover, and can be forced to disgorge and pay back all of the amounts paid to him/her for the work. Further, contracting without a license is a crime, and can result in fines and other penalties.

It's important to note, however, that even if a mechanics lien would be invalid or otherwise unenforceable, and could open up an unlicensed contractor to severe penalties, that is a legal limit to the lien, not a practical prohibition on having a lien recorded. Generally, county recorders do not act as gatekeepers for the valid of a lien presented for recording, and improper liens may be recorded, despite the invalidity of the document and claim itself.
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