This article originally appeared at Wolfe Law Group’s blog, http://www.wolfelaw.com, and is reproduced here with permission.
When filing a mechanic’s lien on a construction project, it is of course critical to identify the property within your lien. While a seemingly simple task, the laws in nearly every state are very specific about how property is identified…and the consequences of small mistakes can be fatal.
In most states, for example, the statutes and case law governing private construction liens clearly require a “property description” that is more specific than a municipal address. While the law does not explicitly require a “legal property description,” it is clear from the court’s interpretation of the laws that a legal property description is sufficient and a municipal address is not.
Since courts are typically not reluctant to dismiss a lien when simple formalities – such as the property description – are overlooked, to ensure your lien’s validity a legal property description should be used.
What Is A Legal Property Description?
Perhaps the best way to explain legal property descriptions is to demonstrate what it is not; A legal property description is not a simple address.
Accordingly, if you put something like this on your lien to identify a property, your lien is likely invalid:
123 Main Street
Seattle, WA 98134
If you were given a legal property description and a driving map, you’d probably have a very difficult time finding the property. This is because legal property descriptions typically speak in the language of county recorder offices, and not in the common directional parlance of everyday life. A legal property description looks less like the above and more like this:
Want the technical definition?
A legal description (also referred to as land description, property description or land boundary description) is “a written statement recognized by law as to the definite location of a track of land by reference to a survey, recorded map or adjoining property.”
How To Get the Legal Property Description
In many construction contracts (including AIA contracts), the contracting party in the higher tier is responsible for providing the legal property description to the lower tier party upon request. While very infrequently employed, most contractors have the right to make a simple RFI and acquire this valuable information.
It is sometimes better to make this RFI before work begins, as you’ll be less likely to get a party’s cooperation after a dispute arises. And since there are strict time limitations as to when you can and cannot lien, it is valuable to have this information at hand while things are smooth.
If you do not have the ability to request this as per your contract, or if you’re unable to get the information for practical reasons, there are of course other ways to acquire a legal property description, including:
- Go to the county records office, and pull the Act of Sale for the property. This document will likely have the property description within.
- Use a service to acquire the legal property description. There are many online services such as www.HomeInfoMax.com. If you are filing a construction lien, companies like Zlien.com will draft the lien and acquire the legal property description for you.
- An attorney may have access to county or parish records to acquire this information.
Common Mistakes and Problems
Sometimes, finding a legal property description can be very difficult.
Depending on your location, the records of the county or parish may or may not be complete or easy to use. If your address is in an area that has been recently subdivided or sold, the legal property description might be “up in the air” or otherwise difficult to obtain. Finally, property on corners or with multiple addresses may be difficult to find.
In our experience, we’ve even encountered instances when the municipal address used by a property owner is not the actual or correct address of the property, and as such, not likely to lead you to a correct legal property description.
In short, you should be careful when acquiring a legal property description as there are many tricks to the trade and many pitfalls for the unwary. Legal property descriptions are very precise, and very fickle. Since the stakes are high (the validity or invalidity of your construction lien), pay close attention as to how you describe the liened property.