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Real estate staging professional being stiffed by son's ex-fiancee - will a lien work?

IllinoisLien DeadlinesPayment Disputes

I am a real estate staging professional. I help people get their homes ready for sale doing anything from painting, repairing things, project and contractor management, sourcing materials, and on and on. I do whatever it takes to get a home ready for photographs and onto the market. I recently got a home ready doing all of the above and more. It happens to be my sons home. I dont want to drag this story out, but his ex-fiance left him with this fixer upper - he was to use my professional services and do whatever it took to get it to market...we accomplished the goal and completed it this past May 15th (its is sold now and due to close in 2 weeks). She has been contacted over and over and over again about paying her half of the bill which is over 8K. She keeps dragging this out and my son agrees that if i have to, i should file a lien against the house because she will not agree to how she will pay me her half. They are both on mortgage and should only probably break even at the sale...My sons lawyer says any monies should go into another escrow acct and be divvied after the closing...i feel that while she still has a stake in the house is my only leverage at this point..I want to sent a NOI this week (even tho it will be a few days after supposed deadline for IL) and then i want to lien the house...we never wanted it to get this far gone...she was so cooperative until recently. What can I do? should I proceed with NOI or not? Does her obligation stop once the house is sold? It is crunch time now and I am so stressed about this...I have been doing this for years and never ever had trouble getting paid...

1 reply

Aug 24, 2017
That is a sticky situation you've found yourself in, and I'm sorry for the payment trouble and confusion. Let's break your question down into a couple parts.

1. Is "staging" work protected by mechanics liens?

As the work was described above, the answer is yes - for at least portions of it. Painting, supplying materials, repair work, etc. are all clearly protected by mechanics liens. "Staging" in the sense of solely providing temporary furnishings and interior design work that will be removed upon sale is more of a gray area, but likely not an issue here.

2. Deadline Issues Regarding Notice of Intent

All parties not in direct contractual relation with the property owner (or owner’s agent) and who provided labor or materials to an owner-occupied single-family residence must provide a preliminary notice within 60 days from first furnishing labor or materials to the project.. And, all parties not in direct contractual relation with the property owner (or owner’s agent) on any private project must send a Notice of Intent to Lien within 90 days of the lien claimant’s last furnishing labor or materials.

Parties that contract directly with the property owner, however, do not have these requirements to retain the ability t file a lien. In the event that a direct contractor remains unpaid s/he can proceed directly with a lien filing. (Note that if the work was Home Repairs or Remodeling subject to the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act, parties must deliver a “Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights” pamphlet prior to the start of work. Failure to send this document does NOT impact the ability to file a lien, it can give the homeowner an action against the contractor for consumer fraud.)

3. Timeline - Closing in Two Weeks

In Illinois, a lien must be filed within 4 months of completion of the work to get priority over owner and third parties. It may be filed within up to 2 years if the property is still owned by the original owner for whom the work was accomplished. Since this property is in the process of being sold, a lien would need to be filed within the statutory deadline (4 months) in order to obligate the property and new owner for the payment of what you are owed.

If the desired behavior of the lien is to potentially affect the sale of the property, or specifically pressure the current owners to pay prior to the sale - the lien would need to be filed prior to the closing. That doesn't mean that the lien would be invalid if filed after the closing but within the original 4-month period, however. It would just be an obligation of the property and the new owners - who would then have their own action against the current owners.

While the current owners would have an obligation to pay you (whether or not a mechanics lien is filed through contract, unjust enrichment, etc.) the enforcement of the lien would be an action regarding the property and an obligation of the owners of the property at the time the suit is filed to pay (since the property could be foreclosed upon to pay you).

I hope this information is helpful.
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