Subcontractor: how to file a construction lien on a commercial project in Wisconsin

Chad William Koplien

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Government Attorney

Contributor Level 13

Posted over 6 years ago. Applies to Wisconsin, 94 helpful votes



Notice of Intent to File Lien

In a purely commercial, non-residential private large project (as defined by Sec. 779), generally a subcontractor should prepare and serve a "notice of intent to file lien" form on the owner at least 30 days before to filing an actual "claim for lien" in Wisconsin circuit court, and within and no later than 5 months of last labor. This Notice must contain the following information: 1. A description of the nature of the claim; 2. The amount owed; and 3. A description of both the land and the improvements that you made on the land. It is recommended that you obtain the legal description of the property. Tip: Use AccessDane to research owners and addresses. The site is located in the link below.


File the Claim for Lien

The "claim for lien" must be filed within 6 months of last labor. The owner must then be served with the lien within 30 days after the filing of the "claim for lien." So, time is of the essence in these matters.


Foreclose on the Lien

Within and no later than, 2 years from the date of the filing of the "Claim for Lien" form, in order to enforce the lien, a claimant must file a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien. If you are organized as an LLC or corporation, you will need to retain an attorney to handle this portion. Tip: Make sure there are no allegations of substandard or defective workmanship on your part, as most certainly the owner will file a counterclaim against you.


Consider claims against the General Contractor

Prior to filing the lien foreclosure lawsuit, consideration should be made to bringing in the general contractor as an additional party, and assessing claims of breach of contract, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, and/or theft by contractor. These claims, if supported by fact and law, can be piggy-backed in the same lawsuit.


Last Tip

Obtain a title letter report from a title company prior to filing the lawsuit to ensure that you are not the tail wagging the dog. Or, in other words, to ensure that there are not significant liens ahead of you in priority which would result in you getting nothing if the property is sold.

Additional Resources

Tip: conduct an Internet search for additional articles and information on this subject.

Wisconsin lien law statutes

Ask Questions on Wisconsin Lien Law

Access Dane (find out who the owner is)

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