Mechanic’s Lien Basics

By:  Saphronia Young  —

Much of our construction practice is devoted to litigating mechanic’s liens.  The right to file a mechanic’s lien arises from RCW 60.04, and there are very specific requirements that must be met in order to “perfect” this unique type of security interest.  No matter how long one has practiced in this area of law, most attorneys find themselves reviewing the relevant statutes in each case, because no two cases that I’ve handled have ever been the same.  One may focus on the issue of who has the right to file a lien; the next case may focus on whether the correct parcel was identified.  Generally, here are some basic lien-filing rules: (1) The lien must be filed within 90 days from the last date of work on the site; (2) The lien must be filed against the same parcel upon which the work was performed; (3) The suit foreclosing the lien must be filed in Superior Court, and it must be filed within eight months from the lien filing date; (4) Any party whose interest is sought to be foreclosed against must be joined in the lawsuit.

Liens are often very straightforward, and the issues are clear.  Many times, the parties will engage in very brief discovery, and the matter is resolved well prior to trial.  Lien litigation CAN be complex, however.  Some cases involving multiple parties, with competing claims, and large amounts of money (and even project completion) can hang on the outcome.

Liens can only be amended after the 90-day filing period if the initial lien that was filed was proper.  Thus, a truly defective lien cannot be revived by filing a perfected amendment.  (See, DKS Construction Management Services v. Real Estate Improvement Company, Division II of the Court of Appeals).  However, not every problem renders a lien “defective,” and the amount of the lien is frequently amended to reflect payments, adjustments, credits, or other issues that do not render the original lien defective.

Liens are valuable as payment enforcement mechanisms because they provide for recovery of reasonable attorney fees, in situations where the underlying contract may not.  However, this sword cuts both ways…the landowner that successfully defeats the claim of lien is entitled to recover attorney fees as well.  SEE, RCW 60.04.185.

Another interesting issue with liens involves when notices are required, and what notices must be given.  Not every party is required to provide pre-lien notice, under RCW 60.04 — persons with direct contracts with the general contractor do not have to provide pre-lien notice, nor do persons with direct contracts with the owner.  Additionally, the lack of notice defense is often not available to the construction professionals themselves, but only to the land owner.  Moreover, in some (but not all) cases, an additional notice is required under RCW 18.27 (the contractor’s licensing statute).  Many construction professionals are unaware of this fairly new law, although it is only required within certain dollar parameters, and for certain types of work.

If you have specific legal questions concerning your situation, please don’t hesitate to call either Saphronia Young, or Rita Amer.  Our office telephone is: (253) 833-3004 and we try to keep every Friday open for appointments.

This summary is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult an attorney in regard to your particular situation.