General Considerations for Filing Mechanics’ Liens in Pennsylvania
Initially, when thinking about filing a mechanics' lien in Pennsylvania, one must consider whether the debt is lienable at all:
- Determine if a Waiver of Liens has been filed in the Prothonotary’s Office. If a general contractor’s contract containing the stipulation against liens or a separate Waiver of Liens has been filed with the Prothonotary within specified time limits, this constitutes notice to all subcontractors and the property is not lienable.
- No lien may be filed where a tenant improves leased premises with the landlord’s consent and there is no writing signed by the owner admitting that the work was for the immediate use and benefit of the owner. 49 P.S. § 1303(d).
- No lien may be filed where the claimant is not a contractor or subcontractor as defined by the Act. 49 P.S. § 1303(a).
- No lien may be filed where the debt is less than $500.00. 49 P.S. § 1301.
In a majority of mechanics’ liens claims, a single claim will be filed. 49 P.S. § 1306(a). However, in situations where labor or materials were supplied continuously under more than one contract on a single improvement, separate claims may be filed. 49 P.S. § 1306(b).
Under the 2007 amendments, a mechanics’ lien must be filed within six (6) months after the completion of the subject work. 49 P.S. § 1502(a)(1). However, at least one (1) month before this is done, a subcontractor must give an initial notice in writing of his intention to file a mechanics’ lien claim. 49 P.S. § 1501. This initial notice must contain the following information per 49 P.S. § 1501(c):
- the name of the party claimant;
- the name of the person with whom he contracted;
- the amount claimed to be due;
- the general nature and character of the labor or materials furnished;
- the date of completion of the work for which his claim is made; and
- a brief description sufficient to identify the property claimed to be subject to the lien.
Service of this initial notice may be by first-class, registered or certified mail to the owner or the owner’s agent, or by an adult in the same manner as a typical writ of summons. 49 P.S. § 1501(d). If service cannot be effected in any of these ways, service by posting “upon a conspicuous public part of the improvement" is sufficient. Id.
If the initial notice is unsuccessful in resolving the subcontractor’s nonpayment, the mechanics’ lien must thereafter be perfected by filing a formal claim with the Prothonotary within the six-month period. Where the improvement is located in more than one county, the claim may be filed in any one or more of those counties, but shall be effective only as to the part of the property in the county in which it has been filed. 49 P.S. § 1502(b).
Per 49 P.S. § 1503, the claim must include the following:
- the name of the party claimant, and whether he files as contractor or subcontractor;
- the name and address of the owner or reputed owner;
- the date of completion of the claimant's work;
- if filed by a subcontractor, the name of the person with whom he contracted, and the dates on which formal notice of intention to file a claim was given;
- if filed by a contractor under a contract or contracts for an agreed sum, an identification of the contract and a general statement of the kind and character of the labor or materials furnished;
- a detailed statement of the kind and character of the labor or materials furnished, or both, and the prices charged for each thereof (unless there is an agreed sum);
- the amount or sum claimed to be due; and
- a description of the improvement and of the property claimed to be subject to the lien as may be reasonably necessary to identify them.
Once a claim is filed by a subcontractor, he or she must give formal notice of the lien to the owner within one (1) month. 49 P.S. § 1502(a)(2). Service is made according to original process rules, and an Affidavit of Service of Notice of Claim must be filed with the Prothonotary within 20 days of such service.
Service tip: If you are requesting the Sheriff to serve the lien claim, you should provide an Affidavit for the Deputy to sign upon service in addition to the standard Order for Service which should be completed fully with specific service instructions. “Failure to serve such notice or to file the affidavit of service within the times specified shall be sufficient ground for striking off the claim." 49 P.S. § 1502(a)(2) (emphasis added).
Claims may be amended, although none shall be permitted to be filed which attempts to substitute properties or parties, or increase the aggregate amount of the claim after the time for filing a claim has expired. 49 P.S. § 1504.
Once a lien claim is filed and perfected, it relates back to either the date of filing of an alteration/repair subcontractor’s claim; the date of visible commencement of an erection/construction contractor’s or subcontractor’s work; or the date materials were furnished by a materialman.
Owners and/or contractors retain certain procedural tools in defense of mechanics’ liens. First, and after completion of a subcontractor’s work, owners and/or contractors may proactively file a rule in the appropriate county court of common pleas requiring a named subcontractor to file any mechanics’ lien within 30 days “or be forever barred from so doing." 49 P.S. § 1506(a). Second, where a contractor or subcontractor has already filed a formal claim in court, a party may file preliminary objections pleading an exemption, an immunity or a failure to comply with the procedural mechanics’ liens rules. 49 P.S. § 1505. Unlike typical preliminary objections in civil cases, however, failure to file them in a mechanics’ lien proceeding does not constitute any waiver of issues or defenses in subsequent proceedings. Id.