Lien legality?

WashingtonRight to Lien

Can someone file a lien if I refuse to pay for trees being trimmed, when I only signed an estimate and I have emails clearly stating they would call to schedule? They came when I wasn’t home and just did it. Without my knowledge. The estimator clearly told me it was an estimate an d they would call to schedule. Now they are putting a lien on my house unless I pay $1085!!!

1 reply

Jul 31, 2019
I'm really sorry to hear about that. Before getting too far along - mechanics liens are typically only available when authorized work has been performed and when that work permanently improves the property. So, where unauthorized work has been provided and/or when the work done isn't permanently improving the property, a lien claim might not be an appropriate remedy.

Authorized work
For one, § 60.04.021 of Washington's mechanics lien statute when the work is "furnished at the instance of the owner, or the agent or construction agent of the owner." So, right off the bat - regardless of whether the work done was lienable or not lienable, a mechanics lien cannot be filed unless the owner (or their agent) authorized the work.

Does the work give rise to lien rights?
Now, the question as to whether tree trimming could give rise to lien rights is a little more complex. Generally, maintenance work that must be done regularly in order to upkeep property won't qualify for mechanics lien rights. Rather, for work to be lienable, it must usually create some permanent or lasting impact on the property. Washington's lien statute doesn't provide a ton of clarity, though.

§ 60.04.011(5) defines an "improvement" to include "(a) Constructing, altering, repairing, remodeling, demolishing, clearing, grading, or filling in, of, to, or upon any real property or street or road in front of or adjoining the same; (b) planting of trees, vines, shrubs, plants, hedges, or lawns, or providing other landscaping materials on any real property; and (c) providing professional services upon real property or in preparation for or in conjunction with the intended activities in (a) or (b) of this subsection." Generally, tree trimming doesn't seem to fall into the descriptions provided above. Of course, an argument might be made that tree trimming "alters" or "clears" land, or that tree trimming is a professional service that should give rise to lien rights. However, because no permanent improvement results from merely trimming trees, it's unlikely that a valid and enforceable mechanics lien could be filed fo that service. Though, keep in mind - if the trimming involved substantial work and would seemingly fall under the definition above, then that work might give rise to lien rights.

With the above being said, keep in mind that even in a situation where a lien claimant doesn't have the basis for filing their mechanics lien, that lien could still actually be filed. County offices typically have neither the bandwidth nor the authority to investigate each claim, and a claimant could secure a lien, even if that lien would ultimately be improper. Though, when an improper lien is filed, the lien claim can usually be removed and the claimant might even face legal liability. Finally, I think these articles might be helpful: (1) I Just Received a Notice of Intent to Lien – What Should I Do Now?; and (2) A Mechanics Lien Was Filed on My Property – What Do I Do Now?
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