Washington Mechanics Lien Frequently Asked Questions
It’s easy to file Washington mechanics liens with zlien, the web’s leading all-in-one mechanics lien compliance manager and security platform. Plus, zlien’s platform can help you prepare and file mechanics lien cancellations, preliminary notices, and more. To learn more about Washington’s mechanics lien law, read the frequently asked questions below.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Washington Mechanics Lien FAQs
- Who can file a Washington Mechanics Lien?
- When is the Deadline to File a Washington Mechanic’s Lien?
- Do I Need to Send Notice the Lien Was Recorded?
- Can I Include Attorney’s Fees, Collection Costs, or Other Amounts in the Lien Total?
- When is the Deadline to Enforce a Washington Mechanics Lien, or, How Long is My Lien Effective?
- Will My Washington Lien Have Priority Over Pre-Existing Mortgages or Construction Loans?
- Must the Washington Lien Include a Legal Property Description?
- Must the Washington Lien Include be Notarized?
- Can I File a Washington Lien if I’m Unlicensed?
- Can I File a Washington Lien on a Condominium Project?
- Who Cancels the Washington Lien if/when I get Paid?
- What Are the Lien Waiver Rules?
- Are There Lien Rights on P3 / Public-Private Partnership Projects?
- Can I Electronically Record a Washington Mechanics Lien?
- Washington Preliminary Notice FAQs
- Do I need to send a Washington Preliminary Notice?
- When do I need to send a Washington Preliminary Notice?
- What if I send the Washington Preliminary Notice Late?
- How Should the Washington Preliminary Notice be Sent?
- Do I have to send the Washington Preliminary Notice to Someone Other than the Owner?
- Is the Washington Preliminary Notice Considered Delivered When Sent or When Received?
Who can file a Washington Mechanics Lien?
You are qualified to file a mechanics lien in Washington if you furnished labor, professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property. Washington law defines qualifying improvements as ” 1)Constructing, altering, repairing, remodeling, demolishing, clearing, grading, or filling in, of, to, or upon any real property or street or road in front of or adjoining the same; 2) planting of trees, vines, shrubs, plants, hedges, or lawns, or providing other landscaping materials on any real property; and 3) providing professional services upon real property or in preparation for or in conjunction with the intended activities in 1) or 2). You are not qualified to file a mechanics lien in Washington if you are a supplier to a supplier.
There is a bit of a gray area in the law about whether construction managers can file a mechanics lien in Washington. In California, the courts have determined that construction managers do have lien rights. The Washington Appeals Court for the First Circuit, however, recently decided that construction managers do not have any lien rights in Washington.
After much fanfare between the courts of whether to construe the lien laws strictly or liberally, in 2011 the Washington Supreme Court weighed in on the question in the Williams v. Athletic Field Inc. case. In that case, it was determined that courts must consider the law strictly to see who qualifies for lien protection, but once a party falls under the umbrella of protection, the law must be liberally construed to determine the exact rights and procedures for those parties. Read more here: To Strictly Construe or Not Strictly Construe? Washington Supreme Court Clears The Air.
When is the Deadline to File a Washington Mechanic’s Lien?
The “Claim of Lien” must be filed within 90 days from the date services, labor, or materials were last delivered to the project. Liens filed after this deadline are void. It is impossible to change the mechanics lien deadline by contract or agreement - it is what it is.
If a mechanics lien deadline falls on a weekend or a holiday in Washington state, the deadline is extended until the next business day. For more details on this rule, see the article “Washington Mechanics Lien Deadlines That End on Holidays or Weekends Extend to the Next Business Day.”
Do I Need to Send Notice the Lien Was Recorded?
Yes. Washington requires the “Claim of Lien” to be delivered to the Owner within 14 days of the date of filing. The Claim of Lien can be delivered by certified or registered mail, or by personal service.
If you do not deliver notice to the owner, the lien in not invalid, but you cannot recover attorney fees or costs if you foreclose on the lien.
Can I Include Attorney’s Fees, Collection Costs, or Other Amounts in the Lien Total?
No. However, if you foreclose on the lien, the court may award the prevailing party the money paid for recording the lien, attorney’s fees, and the necessary expenses incurred by the attorney, as costs.
The specifics about whether attorney fees and other costs can be included in your Washington mechanics lien, and/or can be pursued in an action to foreclose a lien, was explored in this in-depth article on the subject: Can I Include Lien Costs or Attorney Fees in a Washington Mechanics Lien?
When is the Deadline to Enforce a Washington Mechanics Lien, or, How Long is My Lien Effective?
Washington law requires that a mechanics lien be enforced within 8 months from the lien’s filing. If this 8-month period passes without an action being filed to enforce the lien, the lien expires.
Foreclosing on the mechanics lien has a service requirement association with it, and it is also the opportunity for the court to inspect the lien filing closely to verify all formalities have been met. This can sometimes create confusing questions and answers for the courts, which was explored in the post: Foreclosing A Mechanics Lien in Washington Just Got More Confusing.
Will My Washington Lien Have Priority Over Pre-Existing Mortgages or Construction Loans?
No. A Washington mechanics lien has priority only over a lien or other encumbrance which attached to the land after, or was unrecorded, at the time labor, services, or materials were first provided by you.
Nevertheless, depending on the communication between the claimant and the lender in Washington state, there may be a claim against the lender established under an unjust enrichment theory. This happened in a recent Washington case. A construction project participant without privity of contract with the lender was able to establish an unjust enrichment claim against a lender if they were “promised payment” by the lender. This happens sometimes when a lender (or other party) promises to make a payment “if they finish” or if they “continue to supply.” Read more about this interesting and important case here: Mechanics Lien Rights and Unjust Enrichment Claims Cross Paths in Washington Case.
Must the Washington Lien Include a Legal Property Description?
No. A mechanics lien in Washington does not need to include a Legal Property Description to be valid. The lien requires a street address, legal description, or other description reasonably calculated to identify the location of the real property to be charged with the lien.
While there is bit of gray area as to what exactly constitutes a sufficient description, it is clear that even though lien requirements can be technical, fighting over small and uncertain matters can be risky to litigants.
Must the Washington Lien Include be Notarized?
Yes. A mechanics lien in Washington must be notarized to be valid.
Can I File a Washington Lien if I’m Unlicensed?
It depends. Washington requires builders to register and to obtain a certificate of registration. If you are a “builder” and fail to register, you lose your right to claim and enforce a lien. Suppliers of materials who do not perform the work of incorporating those materials into the project are exempt from these registration requirements. For more information, see this article addressing Washington law: If I’m Unlicensed, Can I File A Mechanics Lien?
Can I File a Washington Lien on a Condominium Project?
Yes. You may file a mechanics lien against a condominium project in Washington, if you are a party otherwise allowed to file a mechanics lien.
Who Cancels the Washington Lien if/when I get Paid?
Washington law (RCW 60.041.071) requires that a lien claimant release their lien rights “upon payment and acceptance of the amount due to [them] and upon demand of the owner or the person making payment. The lien claimant is required to immediately prepare and execute a release of lien rights, and deliver the release to the person making the payment.
Canceling a mechanics lien claim in Washington state is relatively simple. Review this article: How To Cancel A Washington Mechanics Lien.
What Are the Lien Waiver Rules?
Washington does not have statutory lien waiver forms, and therefore, you can use any lien waiver forms. Since lien waivers are unregulated, be careful when reviewing and signing lien waivers. See this article: Should You Sign That Lien Waiver?.
Washington state law is unclear or silent about whether contractors and suppliers can waive their lien rights before any work on the project begins. Accordingly, you want to proceed with caution on this subject. You can learn more about such “no lien clauses” at this article: Where Can You Waive Your Lien Rights Before Payment?
Are There Lien Rights on P3 / Public-Private Partnership Projects?
In addition to qualifying as protected under the mechanics lien statute, there is also the issue of whether the land itself is subject to a lien claim. It is clear in Washington, as in other states, that federal projects are governed by the Federal Miller Act and state projects are governed by the state’s own bond protections (frequently called the Little Miller Act). What happens, however, when the work is mixed between public and private projects?
Aside from P3 Construction Projects, there are also a category of confusing projects — such as those when private parties lease public property and perform improvements on them. We wrote about this circumstance in Washington state in the context of the Puget Sound Ferris Wheel in Seattle. In such an instance, it is suggested that lien rights would attach to the leasehold estate owned by the pier operator.
There are currently no laws associated directly with the lien rights in Washington state.
Can I Electronically Record a Washington Mechanics Lien?
It is becoming increasingly common for state governments to pass Electronic Recording Acts enabling their county recorder offices to accept certain filings electronically. These acts, however, only enable the counties to adopt this technology and usually do not mandata adoption. Therefore, even though a state may have electronic recording available, determining whether a mechanics lien document itself can be recorded in a county requires a county-by-county evaluation.
Nevertheless, in Washington state, most counties are accepting electronically recorded documents, and electronically recorded liens specifically. We wrote about this in the article: Mechanics Liens Filed Electronically in most Washington Counties.
Do I need to send a Washington Preliminary Notice?
If you did not contract directly with the owner, you are required to provide the owner with a “Notice to Owner.”
If you contracted directly with the owner, you are required to provide the owner a “Model Disclosure Statement” when your work involves the repairing, altering or building of 4 or fewer residential units on residential property and the bid price is $1,000 or more, or when the work to be done is on a commercial building and the bid price is between $1,000 – 60,000. A detailed discussion of this is found in the article, “Deliver the Model Disclosure Statement or Else.” Another discussion is in this article: A Step To Notice: The Washington Contractor Registration Disclosure Form.
Note that if you are only furnishing labor, you need not send a Washington preliminary notice. However, if there is any material component to the contract or furnishing, preliminary notice is required to protect your full mechanics lien rights. In the circumstance when you are providing labor and materials, it may be possible to file a lien for the labor portion of the work (and exclude the materials cost) without a preliminary notice…however, it is a best practice to avoid this need. For more, see: You Don’t Need Preliminary Notice in Washington for Labor Portion of Work.
As you can see, there are a few nuances associated with the preliminary notice requirements in Washington. We published this helpful article way back in 2007 (!), yet it is still useful in evaluating all of these nuances and helping you understand if notice is required on a Washington project: Is Notice Required Before Filing A Construction Lien? Washington Law.
When do I need to send a Washington Preliminary Notice?
If you did not contract directly with the owner, the “Notice to Owner” can be sent at any time, but it only protects your rights to claim a lien for a limited period of time prior to delivery of the notice. To fully preserve your lien rights, the Notice to Owner must be delivered within 60 days of the date labor or materials were first furnished to the property for all commercial cases, and on a remodel, alteration, or repair of an owner-occupied single-family residence. If your work was the new construction of a single-family home, the Notice to Owner should be delivered within 10 days of first providing labor or materials to the project.
If you contracted directly with the Owner, the “Model Disclosure Statement” must be delivered prior to the initiation of work. The statement must be signed by the Owner, and you must retain a copy of the signed document for at least three years.
What if I send the Washington Preliminary Notice Late?
How Should the Washington Preliminary Notice be Sent?
If you are delivering a “Notice to Owner” it may either be sent to the owner via certified or registered mail, or, personally delivered to, or served on, the owner. If the notice is personally delivered or served to the owner, a signed receipt from the owner or an affidavit of service is required.
Do I have to send the Washington Preliminary Notice to Someone Other than the Owner?
If you did not contract directly with the prime contractor, notice must also be given to the prime contractor.
An interesting situation arises when working on condominium projects in Washington state. At the start of a condo project, it’s possible that the entire facility is owned by a single development company. However, this may not be the case, and if work is being performed on common elements after the units have already been sold, the condominium project may be owned by an assortment of different parties. This creates a complicated legal question about who must receive the preliminary notice. This head scratcher is discussed in more detail to help you determine which parties should and should not receive notice in the article “Who Gets Preliminary Notice When Working On A Condominium Complex in Washington?”
Is the Washington Preliminary Notice Considered Delivered When Sent or When Received?
If sent by registered or certified mail, the notice is considered delivered three days after mailing, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.