How To File a California Mechanics Lien

California mechanics lien

Filing a mechanics lien requires care, discipline, and attention to detail. Filing a California mechanics lien is no exception.

To successfully record you mechanics lien, you need to comply with notice requirements, prepare and format documents according to great detail, meet certain deadlines, and record with the proper office. There are plenty of opportunities to make a mistake, and any small mistake can invalidate your lien. Keep reading to learn the four steps to filing your California mechanics lien.

Should I File a Lien?

If you’re considering filing a lien, you probably are owed money that is past due. The mechanics lien is a powerful, effective tool designed to help suppliers and contractors who aren’t getting paid. On the other hand, many potential lien claimants worry that filing a lien will damage their industry relationships. It’s a worthy consideration, and ultimately, nobody but you can decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Nonetheless, if you’ve done your work, you deserve to be paid.

There are a number of ways in which filing a mechanics lien will help you get paid. Primarily, mechanics liens will:

  • Prevent the sale of the property
  • Tie up progress payments or funding of the job
  • Bring more parties to the table to consider your claim
  • Transform the property into security for your payment
  • Allow you to sue the owner for work you performed, even if you did not contract with the owner directly
  • Allow you to recover attorney fees and legal costs against non-paying parties when you properly record a Claim of Lien

Step 1: Do You Have The Right To File a Lien?

You can’t file a California mechanics lien if you’re not eligible, or you haven’t satisfied the prerequisite requirement. Ask yourself two questions to see if you can file a lien.

1. Did you provide “lienable” services or materials?

According to California Civil Code § 8400 – 8400, the following people are entitled to file a lien:

8400. A person that provides work authorized for a work of improvement, including, but not limited to, the following persons, has a lien right under this chapter:

(a) Direct contractor.
(b) Subcontractor.
(c) Material supplier.
(d) Equipment lessor.
(e) Laborer.
(f) Design professional

8402. A person that provides work authorized for a site improvement has a lien right under this chapter.

8404. Work is authorized for a work of improvement or for a site improvement in any of the following circumstances:

(a) It is provided at the request of or agreed to by the owner.
(b) It is provided or authorized by a direct contractor, subcontractor, architect, project manager, or other person having charge of all or part of the work of improvement or site improvement.

The definition is relatively well-defined, but does contain some grey areas. For example, can can construction managers file liens in California? Generally, if you have provided labor or materials authorized for a construction or renovation project in California, you can file a mechanics lien.

2. Did you meet your notice requirements?

All potential lien claimants must satisfy California’s preliminary notice requirements, or else they will lose their right to file a mechanics lien.

Parties that contract directly with the property owner must send a 20 day preliminary notice to the construction lender, if one is exists on the project. Parties that did not contract directly with the property owner must send a 20 day preliminary notice to the prime contractor, property owner, and the construction lender (if one exists).

This notice must be sent within 20 days of first providing labor or materials. In most circumstances, if the notice is sent more than 20 days after beginning work, you may still file a lien to secure payment for some of your work. Consult zlien‘s California Lien Resources for a more in-depth explanation of notice requirements.

Need help meeting your notice requirements? Send free notices with zlien.

Step 2:  Prepare The Mechanics Lien

Now it’s time to produce the lien document. California Civil Code § 8416 sets forth which content the lien must contain:

8416. (a) A claim of mechanics lien shall be a written statement, signed and verified by the claimant, containing all of the following:

(1) A statement of the claimant’s demand after deducting all just credits and offsets.
(2) The name of the owner or reputed owner, if known.
(3) A general statement of the kind of work furnished by the claimant.
(4) The name of the person by whom the claimant was employed or to whom the claimant furnished work.
(5) A description of the site sufficient for identification.
(6) The claimant’s address

Additionally, California requires that lien claimants provide within the mechanics lien an affidavit swearing that the claimant served the lien upon the owner:

(7) …the affidavit shall show the date, place, and manner of service, and facts showing that the service was made in accordance with this section. The affidavit shall show the name and address of the owner or reputed owner upon whom the copy of the claim of mechanics lien was served… and the title or capacity in which the person or entity was served.

Last, but not least, a California mechanics lien must contain the following statement in at least 10-point boldface type (note that the statement is case-sensitive):


Upon the recording of the enclosed MECHANIC’S LIEN with the county recorder’s office of the county where the property is located, your property is subject to the filing of a legal action seeking a court-ordered foreclosure sale of the real property on which the lien has been recorded. That legal action must be filed with the court no later than 90 days after the date the mechanic’s lien is recorded.

The party identified in the mechanic’s lien may have provided labor or materials for improvements to your property and may not have been paid for these items. You are receiving this notice because it is a required step in filing a mechanic’s lien foreclosure action against your property. The foreclosure action will seek a sale of your property in order to pay for unpaid labor, materials, or improvements provided to your property. This may affect your ability to borrow against, refinance, or sell the property until the mechanic’s lien is released.


Step 3:  Serve The Owner and Record The Lien

As of 2011, California requires you to serve a copy of the mechanics lien upon the property owner at the same time as filing the lien itself. (As pointed out in Step 2, you must include an affidavit within the lien verifying that the mechanics lien was served on the owner.) Service on the owner is now very important in California, and equally important is the proof you must have to demonstrate that you did, in fact, serve the lien.

The lien must be filed in the Recorder’s Office in the county where the project is located. Most county’s charge a small fee to record a lien (usually between $20-$40). Be careful about mailing your lien to the recorder, as some counties have back logs and your lien won’t get filed for weeks! You’ll likely need a courier to hand-deliver the lien to the recorder.

Need help filing a mechanics lien? Record your lien online in less than 10 minutes. No research, preparation, or mailing required. File your lien now.

Step 4: Enforce, Release, or Extend the Lien

A California mechanics lien is valid for 90 days after the date that it is filed. After this 90-day period, if the lien is not foreclosed upon or extended, it will become void and unenforceable. You’ll want to take one of three actions by the time your 90-day deadline is approaching:

  1. Extend your enforcement deadline: Liens in California (unlike most other states) can be extended, allowing lien more time, beyond the 90-day period, to make collections attempts before needing to enforce the lien. Getting a lien extended can be tricky in California, however, as the lien extension is only valid if the property owner agrees to it and signs the extension document. Therefore, you and the property owner must likely be in negotiations, or on some payment plan, for an extension to be agreed to.
  2. Enforce the lien: If you cannot extend your deadline, and you still have not been paid, you’ll likely want to bring an action to enforce the lien. Doing so enables you to foreclose upon the property to recover the money you’re owed. Enforcing a lien requires filing a lawsuit. You can hire an attorney to do this for you. Alternatively, zlien has a collections program through which you can foreclose on your lien.
  3. Release (or cancel) the lien: If you’ve been paid, you will probably be asked to file a lien release. The process of filing a lien release is similar to that of filing a lien. You must file the release in the same office in which you filed the lien.


Filing your California mechanics lien starts with meeting your notice requirements. Pay attention to these requirements, as they are time-sensitive and the clock runs out fast — usually, 20 days after starting work. Prepare your mechanics lien document with detail, according to the specifics set forth by California lien statute. Don’t forget to include the proof of service affidavit! Record the lien in the county recorder’s office in the county where the property is located.

After you record the lien, start the timer. If 90 days after the date of recording is approaching, consider requesting a lien extension from the property owner. If that option isn’t available. Prepare measures to enforce the lien, with the help of an attorney. If you get paid, great! File a lien release in the same office in which you filed the lien.

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  • Tom

    need to get paid, whats your rate for file ML

    • Scott Wolfe Jr

      Tom – Thanks for your comment. Zlien charges a flat $295 fee to file a mechanics lien. This fee includes all expenses such as service costs, postage, courier fees and filing fees charged by the recorder.

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  • hugh mccaffrey

    Great site, thanks—
    i work as an indepented contractor and hired by the hour by an inspection firm( who is paid by the owner). i committed to a project which started yesterday and i have billable hours already toward the project, can i still file the pre lien? i just read about the 20 day deadline.

  • hugh mccaffrey

    Additional info is that i work in Calif. and i think they concider my work a service or consulting. is this the same as labor or materials?

    • Scott Wolfe Jr

      Thanks for your comment and for reading the blog. Here are some notes that may help you:

      #1) Sending your preliminary notice late is okay, as long as it is not too late. It will protect you for all services furnished from 20 days before sending the notice, until the end of your work. Think about it like this: Take the day you send the notice, count back 20 days, and all work you furnished from that point forward is covered. If you started yesterday, you can send the prelien today and be clean.

      #2) Whether you are doing lienable work is another question, and a much more difficult question. Just because your work is “consulting” or a service doesn’t necessarily make it not lienable. But, it’s hard to say for sure that it is lienable. This may help: California Mechanics Lien FAQ: Who Can File A Lien?

    • Scott Wolfe Jr

      It depends.

      • jim

        Hi Scot i did alot of work on a friends cars and his home and i was never paid all the money for the work that i had done and completed. Can i file vehical liens and a property lien?

        • Scott Wolfe Jr

          Jim – we only discuss construction liens here on the blog. Sorry we can’t be of help. You may find some better luck on the Attorney Q&A site,

      • Troy A. Dyer

        It depends … How?

  • Owen

    The fees for the lien can they be included in the lien amount?

  • Scott Wolfe Jr

    Troy, the FAQs from our California Mechanics Lien Law Resources and Information page provide the following about who is entitled to a mechanics lien in California:

    The following parties are entitled to mechanics’ lien rights in California: Direct Contractor; Subcontractor; Material Supplier; Equipment Lessor; Laborer; Design Professional; Person providing work authorized for a site improvement. For all parties, of course, it is required that the party provided work authorized for a work of improvement.

    The question is whether the services are “work” for a “work of improvement,” which is a vague question left a bit gray by the courts, and then, whether you did that work as a “direct contractor, subcontractor, material supplier, equipment lessor, laborer, or design professional.” You would likely need to argue you would be a direct contractor, subcontractor, or laborer.

    This will all depend on the nitty gritty details of your work, and then, more unfortunately, on the judge’s whim.