Step-by-step guide to protecting payment for construction, improvement, and material supply work in California. Learn how to secure and assert your mechanics lien rights for when non-payment becomes an issue.
Determine If You and Your Services Are Eligible To File A Mechanic's Lien
A mechanic's lien can only be filed by those who contract with the property owner, prime contractor, subcontractor, or agent of any of these, to furnish labor, materials or services to a private construction project within California.
Deliver 20-Day Preliminary Notice If You Did Not Contract With The Property Owner
If you did not contract directly with the property owner, you must send a "20-Day Preliminary Notice" to the property owner, the prime contractor and the lender (if any) via certified mail. This preliminary notice must contain the exact language mandated by the statute, and you must retain proof of delivery (i.e. an affidavit of delivery). The notice must be sent within 20 days of first furnishing labor, materials or services. If you send it late, it will only protect your right to lien for the labor, materials or services furnished to the project within 20 days of the notice's delivery. Sending a preliminary notice is very technical, and you may want to use a preliminary notice service like Zlien (link below) to handle the task.
Prepare Your Mechanic's Lien Document
Now it's time to prepare the actual mechanic's lien document. The law is very strict here, and you must meet all the statute's requirements. The "Claim of Lien" must contain the following: (1) Statement of your demand; (2) Property Owner's name; (3) Statement identifying what the lien is for; (4) Name of party who hired you; (5) Description of the job site (legal property description is best); (6) Proof of service affidavit attesting to delivery of the lien to required parties; (7) Statutory notice statement; and (8) Verification. Again, preparing a mechanic's lien is very technical, and you may want to use a mechanic's lien service like Zlien (link below) to handle the task.
Deliver Your Mechanic's Lien to the Property Owner
Once your lien is prepared, you need to make a copy, sign and verify it, and slip it in the mail to the property owner. Your copy of the lien must be sent to the property owner via certified mail. Be sure to keep a record of the mailing and to draft and sign an affidavit attesting that you delivered a copy of the lien to the owner by certified mail, as this will need to be attached to and filed with your lien.
Timely File Your Lien With the Recorder's Office
The original copy of your lien, together with the affidavit of delivery upon the property owner, must then be filed with the Recorder's Office for the county where the project was located. In California, mechanic's liens must be recorded within the earlier of: (1) 90 days from when the entire project is completed or abandoned; or (2) 60 days from when a Notice of Completion or Notice of Abandonment / Cessation is filed. The filing fee to record your lien will be between $20 - $50. Be careful about sending your lien for recording via mail or fedex, as some recorder offices (like Los Angeles) are weeks behind, and your lien will sit in the mail bin unrecorded for quite some time. Sent it with a courier, bring it directly to the recorder, or use a service like Zlien.
Make Additional Collection Attempts and Prepare for Litigation if Unpaid
Once the lien is recorded you can resume your collection efforts by contacting the property owner or other interested parties to see whether the lien makes a difference in their willingness to pay. If it does, and you get paid, you'll need to file a lien cancellation. If it doesn't and you need to escalate your action again to get paid, you'll need to prepare a lawsuit to "enforce your lien." This suit must be filed within 90 days of the date your lien is filed, or the lien will expire.