If you have not been paid for work you have done on a property, you may be able to collect the money you are owed by filing a construction lien, or commonly referred to as a Mechanics Lien. You can file a lien on your own, you can use a Lien Filing System like Zlien, or an experienced attorney can help you navigate the paperwork and legal process.
How to file a construction lien
Claimants must file their lien with the auditor in the county where the liened property is situated. Filing fees vary from county to county, and each county has specific margin and page requirements that must be met. To learn more about any particular county, you can do an online search for your county's auditor's office, where a fee schedule is usually provided.
In general, a one- or two-page lien costs about $50. Most county auditors require that the lien be printed on 8 1/2 x 14 (legal size) paper, with a three-inch margin on the top of the first page and one-inch margins on every other page.
You can file the construction lien yourself, or you can hire a third party to prepare and file your lien document. This third party may be an attorney, but it can also be a legal document preparation service. Legal document preparation services are becoming more popular across the county, and they offer professionally produced legal documents at a fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney.
The contents of a lien
A lien must be signed and notarized, and must state the following:
- Name, phone number, and address of claimant
- First and last dates on which labor, professional services, materials or equipment was furnished
- Name of the person indebted to claimant
- Street address and description of property to be charged with the lien
- Name of the owner
- The dollar amount for which the lien is claimed
What happens next?
After you file a construction lien, you may very quickly receive payment from the adverse parties and be able to cancel your claim. However, if the construction lien itself does not produce payment, you must bring an action to foreclose on the lien within 8 months. This is an ordinary type of lawsuit, except that the liened property is connected to the proceeding to secure your payment.
If a construction lien is filed improperly, you may also find yourself as a defendant in a lawsuit to have the lien removed. The property owner will seek (and may be entitled to) attorneys' fees and legal costs. As strong as the lien laws are for contractors who are unpaid, they are equally as strong for property owners who get liened improperly or when formalities are not met.
Examples of improperly filed liens include:
- A lien filed past the deadline
- A lien filed without proper notice
- A lien filed without the required contents
The role of counsel
Of course, it's always recommended to get legal counsel as soon as possible in the event of a dispute, or even when preparing to work on a construction project. Legal counsel can help you understand your obligations under the lien statutes, and help you take measures to preserve your right to lien in the event a dispute arises.
Construction liens may be filed without the aid of counsel, and there are legal document services that you can use. However, be prepared to get counsel if you have to foreclose on your lien or defend the validity of your lien. In both cases, you may find yourself in complicated legal proceedings where legal counsel is strongly recommended, and may even be required.
Related Legal Guides:
Construction Liens in Washington State
Disputing a Construction Lien in Washington State