Check to see if you received a Preliminary 20-day Notice form
If you as the homeowner didn't hire the contractor who liened your property directly, then that subcontractor or supplier must have first sent you a form called a Preliminary 20-day Notice letting you know their name and address, who hired them, and what work or materials they were furnishing. They must have either delivered it to you personally or had it delivered to you by CERTIFIED mail. Regular mail doesn't count. No preliminary 20-day notice means their lien is invalid, and you can demand that they release it.
Check to see when the Preliminary 20-day notice was sent
If the Preliminary 20-day notice was sent too late, the lien is invalid. The Preliminary 20-day notice is supposed to be sent by the subcontractor or supplier within 20 days of first furnishing labor or materials on the project. The notice can be sent out late but it will then only cover labor or materials furnished 20 days immediately before the notice was sent, and the labor or materials furnished after that time. If the subcontractor's or supplier's labor or materials was fully furnished more than 20 days before the Notice was sent, then the lien is invalid and you can demand that they release it. Always ask the subcontractor or suppliers for copies of their invoices and time cards, and other information they have to prove their claim.
Check to see if lawsuit was filed to perfect the mechanic's lien
It's not enough for a contractor just to record the mechanic's lien. They must perfect the lien by filing a lawsuit in state court to foreclose the lien within 90 days (not 3 months but 90 days) of the recording date of the lien. If no lawsuit was timely filed, then the lien expires by operation of law and you can demand that they release it.
If contractor refuses to release lien after lien expires, you can petition Court to release lien for you
You or your attorney can then file a petition with the Court to release or "expunge" the mechanic's lien, and the Court can hold the contractor liable for up to $2,000 of your attorney's fees in having to bring the petition.
Send contractor a lien release form to sign and return to you
Many contractors know how to put a mechanic's lien on the property but they don't know how to take it off. It's a good idea for you or your attorney to send the contractor an already filled out Release of Lien form for them to sign and return to you in a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it easy for them to release the lien. You can then record it yourself and make sure it's done.
File a lawsuit against the contractor to quiet title to your property
If the contractor files suit against you to perfect his mechanic's lien, you can file a cross-complaint against the contractor for damages as a result of their invalid mechanic's lien on your property
Additional resources provided by the author
The contractors state license board website is a good source of information for homeowners in checking to see if a contractor is validly licensed. www.cslb.ca.gov
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