What is the protocol for filing a lein on partial payment?

3 weeks ago

I sent some invoices through quick books, I found out a week later not all got sent. The Builder has paid us $15,000 last week. He paid us another $22,000 today. He owes us a total of $146,000 as of October 3rd. Not counting the $37,000 he has paid so far. He promises to pay next month the balance. What would I lein him on…the total he owes from 10/3 or to date? We started the job 09/03/19.

Senior Legal Associate Levelset

A Washington mechanics lien claimant is entitled to file a lien for all amounts that are owed but unpaid for work they’ve performed. Looking to RCW § 60.04.021, which establishes the right to lien in washington, a mechanics lien is allowed “for the contract price of labor, professional services, materials, or equipment furnished” to the project. So, if payment is owed and the work has been done, then that amount will be subject to lien.

Of course, recall that mechanics liens are generally considered the last-ditch or “nuclear” option, so attempting recovery by other means is often a good idea before resorting to a mechanics lien filing. Let’s look at some potential steps that may be helpful in that regard.

Talking out the dispute with your customer

For one, it’s a good idea to try and talk things out with a customer. Discussing the payment woes and the trouble it’s causing your business may help to get payment talks going in the right direction. And, even if the customer can’t make payment immediately, they may be willing to talk about options for assuring payment other than a mechanics lien.

Invoice reminders, demand letters, and Notices of Intent to Lien can get you paid without a lien

A little more formally, sending invoice reminders for all unpaid invoices and asking for payment on those statements can be helpful. And, if that’s not effective, proceeding to something a little more formal like a demand letter could do the trick, too. When a customer knows you’re serious about payment, they tend to be a little more attentive to disputes.

Taking things another step further with the threat of a lien claim can be particularly effective if a payment issue persists. Sending a document like a Notice of Intent to Lien can be really effective. When sent to an owner and your customer, a Notice of Intent to Lien is a warning shot showing everyone else on the job that is a mechanics lien filing is on the horizon if your issue isn’t resolved soon. And, when the deadline to file a mechanics lien isn’t particularly close, this can act as a way to force payment while also keeping a project on track. More on that here: What Is a Notice of Intent to Lien and Should You Send One?

Pursuing a Washington mechanics lien

Certainly, there are situations where a mechanics lien filing will become necessary. But, as discussed above, if a mechanics lien deadline isn’t forcing your hand, it may be helpful to explore some other options first.

Still, here are some tools that will be helpful if and when a mechanics lien becomes necessary:

(1) Washington Mechanics Lien Guide and FAQs
(2) How To File A Washington Mechanics Lien | Step-By-Step Guide

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