Mechanics Lien Overview

By PropertyClub Team
Jul 17th 2024
If you fail to pay a contractor or other service professional who does work on your home, they have the option of filing a legal claim against the property. This is known as a mechanic’s lien, and it will affect your rights as a property owner. Here’s an overview of the key aspects of mechanic’s liens.

hash-markTable of Contents

What Is a Mechanics Lien?
Mechanic’s Liens Explained
Example Of a Mechanic’s Lien
How to Remove a Mechanic's Lien
Mechanic's Lien Purpose
Mechanic's Lien Effects
Mechanic's Lien & Local Laws
Mechanic's Lien Bottom Line

hash-markWhat Is a Mechanics Lien?

A mechanic’s lien, also known as a construction lien or materialman’s lien, is a legal claim against a property by a contractor, subcontractor, laborer, or supplier who has provided labor or materials for a construction project and has not been paid. 

Whoever owns the home is responsible for paying the lien, which brings complications if you try to sell or refinance your loan. Plus, mechanic’s liens can also be filed by subcontractors who are not paid by the general contractor, even if the homeowner gave them the money to pay for it. So be careful who you hire to work on your home. 

Impact on Property Owners

  1. Title Clouding: A mechanic’s lien clouds the property’s title, making it difficult to sell or refinance until the lien is resolved.
  2. Credit: Having a lien on a property can negatively impact the property owner’s credit rating.
  3. Legal and Financial Consequences: If not addressed, a mechanic’s lien can lead to legal action and potential foreclosure of the property.

hash-markMechanic’s Liens Explained

The primary purpose of a mechanic’s lien is to ensure that contractors and suppliers are compensated for their work and materials. It provides a legal avenue for these parties to seek payment by placing a claim against the property they helped improve.

A lien will be recorded in the public records, which means that anyone who performs a title search can see the homeowner's outstanding debts. Mechanic’s liens are also typically a higher priority than other types of debt, meaning contractors and subcontractors must be repaid first, even if the homeowner also owes money to a lender or the IRS.

hash-markExample Of a Mechanic’s Lien

Mechanics liens are pretty simple to understand. Say you hire a contractor to help build you a deck that will cost $10,000. Halfway through the project, you run out of money but never call off the project. 

So, when the construction is completed, you only have $5,000 to pay the contractor. However, that won’t cover all the materials and labor. In that case, the contractor has a right to file a mechanics lien to collect the outstanding $5,000 if you had a contract. Plus, they also have the option to sue you for breach of contract.

hash-markHow to Remove a Mechanic’s Lien

  1. Payment: The most straightforward method to remove a mechanic’s lien is to pay the amount owed. Once payment is made, the lienholder must file a release of lien with the county recorder’s office.
  2. Bonding Off: In some states, property owners can post a bond to remove the lien from the property while disputes are resolved.
  3. Legal Challenge: Property owners can challenge the validity of the lien in court if they believe it was improperly filed or the amount claimed is incorrect.

hash-markMechanic’s Lien Purpose

The purpose of a mechanic’s lien is to give contractors and other service providers leverage if a homeowner doesn’t pay. While they can also sue you, it’s often expensive and time-consuming to go through this process. 

Filing a mechanic’s lien is comparatively much easier because all you must do is file some paperwork with the county clerk. Plus, it isn’t only contractors who can file a mechanic’s lien. Anyone who performs work on your property that isn’t compensated has the right to do so, including plumbers, electricians, roofers, and other service providers. So, always pay your bills on time to avoid these types of disputes.

hash-markMechanic’s Lien Effects

Having a mechanic’s lien on the title of your property can lead to many unwanted consequences. It will be a part of the public record, which means that anyone who does a title search can see that there is a claim against the property. As a result, it can be difficult to sell your home until the lien is paid off unless the buyer is willing to assume the debt. 

But this typically only happens if you’re in foreclosure and an investor is willing to assume your debts in exchange for a discounted price on the home. Lenders may also be hesitant to let you refinance or borrow against the home with a lien on the title. Plus, just like a mortgage, your home will eventually go into foreclosure if you fail to pay it off.

hash-markMechanic’s Lien & Local Laws

It’s also important to note that the laws regarding mechanic’s liens are often county and state-specific. So, while the basic concept is the same no matter where you go, certain details vary from place to place. 

For instance, some states set time limits on when a mechanic’s lien can be filed. In New York State, contractors have eight months to file a mechanic’s lien from the time the work was completed. Plus, individual counties have their own processes and system for how liens must be formatted and filed. While these differences may seem minuscule, they can significantly impact how mechanic’s liens are ultimately enforced in a given district.

hash-markMechanic’s Lien Bottom Line

A mechanic’s lien is a powerful tool for ensuring payment for construction-related services and materials. However, it also represents a significant encumbrance for property owners. Understanding the specifics of filing, enforcing, and removing a mechanic’s lien is crucial for both contractors and property owners. Consulting with a legal professional familiar with local lien laws is advisable to navigate this complex area effectively.