How to defend against a subcontractor lien?

2 weeks ago

I had work done on my home last summer; fully paid the contractor with a series of bank checks.
Last week I received a subcontractor’s lien For $11k on my home because the contractor never paid the supplier.
Do I have any options? I called the contractor and he told me that the supplier was “playing dirty pool”.
He also told me that I don’t owe anything.
Will I have to sue the contractor?

Senior Legal Associate Levelset

It’s alarming to have a subcontractor file a mechanics lien out of nowhere, but an owner will typically have a few options to fight a mechanics lien that’s been filed on their property. We’ll discuss in greater detail below, but this resource might be helpful here: A Mechanics Lien Was Filed on My Property – What Do I Do Now?

Fighting a Massachusetts mechanics lien claim

The fastest and easiest way to have a mechanics lien removed from the property title is to have the claimant release their lien themselves. So, requesting or demanding that a lien be released may be a good first step. While a claimant might be reluctant to release their own lien claim, citing issues or errors with their claim – like a missed lien deadline, failed notice requirements, or an exaggerated lien – could help. And, citing potential penalties for filing fraudulent or improper lien claims could help to push a claimant in the right direction.

Further, Massachusetts property owners are also entitled to bond off mechanics liens which have been filed on their property. So, by securing a mechanics lien release bond, an owner can have the lien claim discharged from their property. Of course, bonding off a mechanics lien won’t make the claim disappear  but it will at least get the lien off of the property and can force the claimant to pursue legal action. Plus, if their claim is bogus, it would seem less likely that they’d pursue legal action on the bond.

Finally, note that challenging a filed mechanics lien claim via legal action is always an option for having a mechanics lien deemed invalid and unenforceable then have it discharged from the property. While not always an attractive option, that can be an effective one.

Holding a contractor accountable for their subs’ lien claims

While an owner may have a number of options for fighting a lien claim, themselves – they’re also often able to put pressure on their contractor to resolve the claim – potentially, by filing suit. As you mention above – if there is any payment issue, it’s between the contractor and their subcontractor, not with the owner who’s paid in full. So, it can be helpful to lean on a contractor and demand that they bond off the lien, themselves, or otherwise get the lien removed from the property.

Naturally, a contractor might be resistant. But, by threatening to bring the contractor into the lawsuit, an owner can force their contractor into resolving the dispute. Plus, threatening to take actions like filing a claim on their license bond or even leaving negative reviews online (i.e. Google Reviews, Facebook, the Better Business Bureau, or other sites) based on the dispute could be helpful, too.

Finally, if an owner does end up having to make payment on a subcontractor’s lien, or if the dispute does take a turn and end up in court, an owner will have claims available to them for ensuring the contractor is held accountable for the dispute, to some degree.

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