Filing a Construction Lien: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

Filing a Construction Lien: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide 1

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When you’ve provided services or materials for a construction project and haven’t been paid, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is a construction lien. Also known as a mechanic’s lien, this legal claim can provide you with leverage to secure payment, you can also compare these options bankruptcy vs debt settlement, however, the process of filing a construction lien can be complex, involving several specific steps that vary by jurisdiction. This article will guide you through the general process.


What is a Construction Lien?

A construction lien is a legal claim made by contractors, subcontractors, or suppliers who have not been paid for work done on a property. It places an encumbrance on the property title, making it difficult for the owner to sell, refinance, or obtain additional financing until the lien is resolved.

Steps to File a Construction Lien

Filing a Construction Lien: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide 2

While the specifics may vary by state or country, here are the general steps to file a construction lien:

1. Verify Your Right to File a Lien

Before starting the lien process, confirm that you have the legal right to file a lien. Typically, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers involved in the construction or improvement of a property can file a lien if they haven’t been paid.

2. Serve a Preliminary Notice

In many jurisdictions, the party planning to file a lien must first serve a preliminary notice (also known as a pre-lien notice or notice to owner) to the property owner. This notice informs the owner about your involvement in the project and your right to file a lien if not paid. The notice typically needs to be served within a specified time frame after you begin work or deliver materials.

3. Record the Lien

If payment isn’t received after serving the preliminary notice, the next step is to record the lien with the county clerk or recorder’s office in the county where the property is located. You’ll need to fill out a lien claim form, which usually requires information such as your name, the property owner’s name, description of the property, the work done or materials supplied, and the amount owed.

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4. Serve the Lien on the Property Owner

After recording the lien, you’ll need to serve a copy of it to the property owner. This can typically be done by certified mail, personal delivery, or sometimes even publication in a local newspaper.

5. Enforce the Lien

Filing a lien doesn’t necessarily guarantee payment. If the property owner still doesn’t pay, you’ll need to enforce the lien by filing a lawsuit. There’s usually a strict deadline for this—often one year from the date the lien was recorded—but the timeframe varies by jurisdiction.

6. Release the Lien

Once you’ve received payment, you should release the lien promptly. This is done by filing a lien release form with the same office where you recorded the lien.

Key Considerations When Filing a Construction Lien

Here are a few crucial considerations when filing a construction lien:

  • Deadlines: Lien laws are very particular about deadlines. Missing a deadline can invalidate your lien, so it’s crucial to understand and adhere to these timelines.
  • Proper Documentation: Keeping thorough records of your work, including contracts, invoices, and payment records, can support your claim if disputes arise.
  • Legal Assistance: Given the complexity of lien laws, it’s often beneficial to seek legal advice when filing a construction lien. An attorney can guide you through the process and help ensure all requirements are met.


Filing a construction lien can be an effective way to secure payment for your work on a construction project. However, the process is legally complex and requires careful attention to detail. It’s essential to understand the laws in your specific jurisdiction, meet all required deadlines, and consider seeking legal counsel. By following these steps and considerations, you can navigate the process of filing a construction lien more effectively


Filing a Construction Lien: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

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What is a construction lien?

A construction lien, also known as a mechanic’s lien, is a legal claim made by contractors, subcontractors, or suppliers who have performed work or provided materials for a construction project but have not been paid.

How do I file a construction lien?

The process can vary by jurisdiction, but generally, you need to file a notice of lien with the local county recorder’s office or courthouse. You will need to provide details about the work you performed, the materials you supplied, the amount you are owed, and information about the property.

When should I file a construction lien?

A lien should be filed as soon as you realize you haven’t been paid for your work or materials. Each state has specific deadlines for filing a lien, ranging from a few weeks to a few months after the last day of work.

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What information do I need to file a construction lien?

You would need the following: the legal property description, the name and address of the property owner, a detailed description of labor or materials provided, the agreed upon price for the labor or materials, and the amount unpaid.

Can anyone file a construction lien?

Only those who have directly performed work or supplied materials for a construction project and not been paid can file a lien. This can include contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers.

What happens after I file a construction lien?

After a lien is filed, the property owner is officially notified. If the debt isn’t paid, the lien allows the claimant to sell the property in order to recover the money owed.

What if the property owner disputes the lien?

If a property owner disputes a lien, it typically goes to court. There, the claimant must prove the work was performed or materials were supplied, and the agreed-upon amount was not paid.

Can a construction lien affect the sale of a property?

Yes, a construction lien can significantly impact the sale of a property. It creates an encumbrance on the property title, making it difficult for owners to sell or refinance the property until the lien is resolved.

How can I prevent a construction lien from being filed against me as a property owner?

To prevent a lien, ensure all contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers are paid in full. Requesting lien waivers from everyone who worked on your project can also protect you.

How long does a construction lien last?

The duration of a lien varies by state, but they generally last for one to two years if no action is taken. If a lawsuit is filed to enforce the lien before the expiration date, the lien can last until the end of the lawsuit.


  • Construction Lien: Legal claim made by contractors or subcontractors who have performed work on a property, but have not been paid. Also known as a mechanic’s lien.
  • Lien Claimant: An individual or a company that files a construction lien against a property owner.
  • Property Owner: The person who legally holds the title of the property and is typically the one responsible for paying for the construction work.
  • General Contractor: The main contractor who oversees a construction project and typically hires subcontractors to perform specific parts of the construction work.
  • Subcontractor: A company or person that carries out work for a general contractor which could include plumbing, electrical work, roofing, etc.
  • Notice of Commencement: A legal document that signifies the beginning of a construction project or work on a property.
  • Preliminary Notice: A document provided to the property owner, general contractor, and construction lender that provides formal notice of a party’s right to file a lien.
  • Lien Waiver: A written agreement between the contractor and the property owner where the contractor agrees to give up their right to file a lien in exchange for payment.
  • Lien Release: A document that removes the lien from the property record after the debt has been fully paid.
  • Notice to Owner: A document sent by the potential lienor to notify the owner about their rights to claim a lien if not paid.
  • Lien Rights: Legal right of a contractor, subcontractor, or supplier to claim a lien against a property if they are not paid for their work.
  • Lien Law: The area of law regarding the right to maintain control over a property until a debt owed by the owner is paid.
  • Payment Bond: A type of surety bond that guarantees all subcontractors and material suppliers on the project will be paid.
  • Claim of Lien: The official document filed with the county recorder’s office to put a lien on a property.
  • Sworn Statement of Account: A document that details the total amount due to the lienor for the work performed or materials supplied.
  • Work of Improvement: Any construction-related activity performed on the property, from new constructions to repairs or renovations.
  • Lienable Amount: The total amount that a contractor or supplier can claim through a lien.
  • Lien Priority: The order in which liens are paid off, usually determined by the date the liens are filed.
  • Lien Foreclosure: A legal process where the property is sold to satisfy the lien.
  • Lienor: An individual, business, or other entity that has the right to file a lien because they are owed money.

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