A mechanics lien is a "hold" against your property, which is recorded by the county recorder's office, filed by an unpaid contractor, laborer, or material supplier. The homeowner is, in general, liable even if the prime contractor was paid. If you are buying a house which has obvious signs of recent work, you will want to investigate if a mechanics lien can be filed on the property.
Even though a Preliminary Notice is required from subcontractors and suppliers, the preliminary notice could have been delivered to the current owner who can not be reached or claims to have never received it. If subcontractors and suppliers don't provide the owner with the notice, they lose the right to file a lien.
One way homeowners avoid having liens placed on their property is to make payments using joint checks. That requires all parties to endorse the check, which provides proof of the payment. If the current owner will provide proof of payment for work, that can be used to prevent a lien from being filed. Lien releases are also sometimes obtained when payment is made.
If a Notice of Completion is filed with the county recorder's office after work is completed the amount of time during which a mechanics lien can be filed is reduced. The time a prime contractor has is reduced from 90 to 60 days. The time a subcontractor or materials vendor has is reduced from 90 days to 30 days.
What To Do About A Mechanics Lien
- If the work was not completed or supplies were not included in the plans or contracts the lien may not be valid.
- If the required timelines were not met, the lien may not be valid.
Try to obtain the Preliminary Notice, if one was filed. (Direct contractors and laborers do not have to file preliminary notices.) A claim is only valid for work done or supplies delivered from 20 days before notice was given to the end of the work.
See if the Notice of Mechanics Lien accompanies the lien claim. There should be a Proof of Service Affidavit completed and signed by the person serving the Notice and the claim.
Check with your superior court to see if a timely lien foreclosure action has been filed. A claimant must file a foreclosure action with 90 days of the recorded mechanics lien. Failure to do so can make the lien invalid.
You may be able to get the claimant to remove his claim if you contact him. Petitioning the court is a complicated process that may require the services of an attorney.