California Mechanics Lien: How To File A Mechanic’s Lien in California

California Mechanics Lien: How To File A Mechanics Lien in California

When filing a mechanic’s lien in California, one must tread carefully.  Any little mistake can invalidate your lien, and there are plenty of opportunities to make a mistake.  This post aims to educate you on the importance of filing a mechanic’s lien in California, and how to actually file the document.  At the end of the post, we even provide you with a free form to use.

Why You Should File A Lien

If you’re unpaid on a construction project in California, there are a lot of reasons why you should file a mechanic’s lien. I’ve dedicated this entire blog to the mechanic’s lien remedy because I believe it’s the most powerful way for contractors and suppliers to collect on unpaid debts. Check out these posts on Why Liening is Important.

Aside from those posts, here is a summary of what effects a lien’s filing may have (see also the 17 Ways A Mechanics Lien Works To Get You Paid):

  • 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 didn’t 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 Lien?

Before filing a lien in California, you must first determine whether you have the right to file the lien.  This really requires you to answer two questions.

First, did you provide lienable services or materials and are you among the class of parties protected by the lien laws?  This can be a complicated question, and is especially complicated when the work you performed does not fit within a traditional contracting role (i.e. construction managers). Our California lien law resources page provides this answer to the question of “Who Can File” 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.

This topic is further discussed in the post: FAQ:  What Work Qualifies Me To File A Lien? While the details matter a great deal, the general answer is that you can usually file a lien if you performed labor or provided materials to a construction project.

Second, did you deliver required notices?  Pre-lien notices are typically required in California for those who do not contract with the property owner, who must deliver a “20-Day Preliminary Notice” to the prime contractor, the property owner and the construction lender.  If you failed to deliver this notice within 20 days of first furnishing labor or materials to the project, and you were required to deliver it, you are prohibited from filing a lien.

If you furnished lienable services and sent all required notices, you are eligible to file a mechanic’s lien in California.

Step 2:  Prepare The Form

Now it’s time to produce the lien document. There are strict requirements (via Cal. Civ Code § 8416) about what your lien must contain:  (1) Signature and verification by claimant; (2) Statement of demand; (3) Name of the property owner; (4) General statement of services furnished; (5) Name of party who hired claimant; (6) Description of the jobsite (legal property description); (7) An affidavit swearing that Notice of the Mechanic’s Lien was served on the owner;  and (8) the following statement in boldface 10-point type:

NOTICE OF MECHANIC’S LIEN
ATTENTION!

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.

BECAUSE THE LIEN AFFECTS YOUR PROPERTY, YOU MAY WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOUR CONTRACTOR IMMEDIATELY, OR CONTACT AN ATTORNEY, OR FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MECHANIC’S LIENS GO TO THE CONTRACTORS’ STATE LICENSE BOARD WEB SITE AT www.cslb.ca.gov.

Step 3:  Serve The Owner and Record The Form

Recent changes to the California lien laws require you to serve a copy of the mechanic’s lien upon the property owner contemporaneously (i.e. at the same time) with filing the lien itself.  In fact, as you can see from the above-explained Step 2, you must include an affidavit within the filed lien verifying that the mechanic’s lien was served on the owner.  Service on the owner is now very, very important in California, and equally important is the proof you are required to have to demonstrate you served it.

Insofar as the filing goes, the lien must be filed in the Recorder’s Office in the county where the project is located.  There is a small fee required to record the lien (usually between $20-$40).  Be careful about mailing your lien to the recorder, however, 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.

Remember that hiring a service like zlien to file your California Mechanic’s Lien may be a good idea.  Their fee includes all filing and service costs, and they make all of the arrangements for you.  Mechanic’s liens can be quite complex, and it may be most efficient to leave the technical work to folks who file liens every day.

Step 4: Foreclose or Extend!

Once your lien is filed, it’s effective for a period of 90-days.  After this 90-day period, if the lien is not foreclosed upon or extended, it will expire!

Extending a mechanic’s lien is usually not an option.  California, however, is a rare exception to the rule, allowing lien claimants to extend the effectiveness of a mechanic’s lien for additional 90 day periods.  Getting an extension can be a bit tricky in California, however, as the lien extension is only valid if the property owner agrees to it and signs the extension document itself.  Therefore, you and the property owner must likely be in negotiations or on some payment plan for the extension to make any sense.

More likely, you’ll need to foreclose on the lien by filing a lawsuit.  You can hire an attorney to do this for you, or you can let zlien arrange for the foreclosure suit through its Collections service.

Free California Mechanic’s Lien Form

If you’d rather do the lien work yourself, here are some resources that can help you, including the California Mechanic’s Lien form as provided by the Sacramento County Public Law Library.

California Mechanics Lien: How To File A Mechanics Lien in California

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  • Tom

    need to get paid, whats your rate for file ML

    • http://www.zlien.com 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?

    • http://www.zlien.com 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?

    • http://www.zlien.com/ 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?

        • http://www.zlien.com/ 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, avvo.com

      • Troy A. Dyer

        It depends … How?

  • Owen

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

  • http://www.zlien.com/ 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.