This article was originally posted on March 1, 2012. This post (and the download it links to) has been updated to reflect changes in lien laws since that time.
Note that this chart is for parties that have contracted directly with the property owner. Not you? …
The mechanics lien (sometimes referred to as a contractor lien) is a contractor’s strongest tool for overcoming non-payment. Mechanics liens are specific to the construction industry, and the automatically law grants contractors the right to file a lien. (Learn the 17 ways a mechanics lien gets a contractor paid).
Mechanics lien rules seem tricky and complicated to many contractors, but with the right information, this challenge becomes a lot easier.
It dawned on me over the weekend that zlien has collated and published all sorts of information on filing a mechanics lien and sending a preliminary notice, and we have state-by-state charts of requirements, but we’ve never published a simple, comprehensive chart outlining the mechanics lien deadlines in all 50 states. Such a chart would be insanely useful to contractors who want the Readers Digest version of lien laws.
We went through our comprehensive mechanics lien law resources and stripped down all of the discussion to the bare facts, and put that into a mechanics lien deadline chart. I love this chart. I think it’s a fantastic thing to keep on your desktop to quickly reference the mechanics lien and notice requirements in a particular state.
Download the chart here:
This chart will teach you four deadlines for each state (and Washington DC):
- Preliminary notice
- Notice of Intent to Lien
- Mechanics Lien
- Lien Enforcement
Every state has a mechanics lien deadline and a deadline to enforce the lien. Most states also have a preliminary notice or notice of intent to lien deadline.
How To Use This Mechanics Lien Deadline Chart
To protect your lien rights means to take all necessary steps such that if and when the time comes, you can file a valid mechanics lien. If you do not send the required notices at the correct times, and if you do not file your mechanics lien by the required date, you may find that your lien is void and worthless.
The deadlines progress in the order listed above:
- Preliminary Notice: A letter usually sent near the time that a contractor begins work.
- Notice of Intent (NOI): This letter is not required as often as preliminary notices are. NOIs are sent before, and near, the time that a contractor would file a mechanics lien. (Many contractors will voluntarily send NOIs, even when they are not required, as a warning that they intend to file a mechanics lien if they are not paid.)
- Mechanics Lien: This is the foundation of a contractor’s effort to secure payment. The deadline to file a lien is anywhere from 2 months to 1 year after completing work.
- Lien Enforcement: A mechanics lien is only good for a certain period of time. When the lien does not itself encourage payment, a contractor can file a suit to enforce or “foreclose upon” the lien, in order to recover payment from the sale of the property. A contractor must bring the lawsuit before the deadline to enforce the lien passes.
Two Principles to Mechanics Lien Claims Anywhere in the USA
Putting together this chart reminded me of an article I wrote for Chris Hill’s Construction Law Musings blog a few weeks ago titled “The Life Of A Mechanic’s Lien: Preserve, Perfect & Enforce.” The table separates each state’s requirements into its preservation deadline, its perfecting deadline and its enforcement deadline.
From this perspective, I think there are two take-aways from this exercise:
A) That the format in most states is PRESERVE-PERFECT-ENFORCE. Preliminary notice is sent at the beginning of work to preserve the right o file a lien. The lien is filed after work if unpaid to PERFECT the lien right. And if still unpaid, a lawsuit is filed to ENFORCE the lien right.
B) That the time periods vary greatly depending on the state. Sometimes, they can be very short (8 days to send notice in Oregon, or only 90 days to enforce a lien in California), but other times, they can be quite long (60 days for notice in Washington and 6 years for enforcement in Ohio).
Read the Fine Print
I’m a lawyer, so I’m compelled to tell people to read the fine print on this chart. I made this form as accurate and as simple as possible. However, because mechanics lien laws are hyper-complex, I had to make some compromises in exchange for brevity and simplicity. I discuss those compromises at the beginning of the download.
It’s also important to know that deadlines are only one component of lien and notice requirements. In addition to being sent or filed on time, every document must be sent to a specific group of people, by a particular method of mailing, and each document must be prepared in a certain way.
To learn the specifics, visit zlien.com/resources and select your state.