We love county clerks and recorders. They are an integral part of the execution of mechanics lien laws in all 50 states, nationwide. They control, process, and file hundreds if not thousands of mechanics liens each and every week, all in service of helping a company just like yours get paid the money that they’ve rightfully earned on a construction project.
Sometimes though, they really push our buttons.
From our experience filing many thousands of official construction documents nationwide, here are the five worst habits of county recorders (and why you should be on the lookout!).
Having Completely Unrealistic Recording Standards
While all recording offices will have quality standards for documents, some have more unrealistic expectations than others. For example, in Arizona most recorders use a process of scanning and storing documents via micrographic film. This process in infamous for distorting documents if the text is not spaced out. While this may seem reasonable to include proper spacing in all documents submitted to the recorder, Arizona generally requires exhibits (such as the written contract or invoices) to be provided as an exhibit with the lien. Often times contracts can have handwritten components (such as signatures), or may have images such as diagrams, logos, or pictures included. Microfilm will significantly distort these visual elements, making the document illegible and leading to its rejection for recording. Rejecting a document due to to the process of using microfilm is a completely unrealistic standard to hold over lien claimants, and yet it still persists. We’re looking at you, Arizona!
In New York, several counties have raised their recording fees for mechanics liens in recent years to as much as $300 (and in some cases even more). This is the cost just to file with the county recorder and does not include any of the other costs commonly associated with a lien filing including mailing and postage costs, attorney or lien software processing prices, or notary fees. In particular, Nassau County is notorious as one of the most expensive counties to file a lien with in the entire country! While the costs to file a mechanics lien may vary around the country, very few counties come as close to this steep in price and with little to no explanation as to why the prices are so expensive. We all know the cost of living in New York is among the highest in the country, but this is ridiculous.
Poor Phone and Web Support
In our experience, many if not most counties have excellent phone support, exceptionally clear directions easily found on their websites, and in some cases, even both. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to find the opposite – counties that provide neither helpful phone support nor useful web assistance. In this category we would include counties that don’t provide any document updates over the phone (even better would be online, but baby steps!), and others that rely solely on USPS to send your documents back. Sometimes the directions are there and easily found, but they’re so poorly worded that reading them is of little or no help. Still other counties provide “directions” that leave out essential recording requirements, such as current fee schedule. Since most counties will reject a document sent with improper fees, it would make sense for the recording offices to make sure this information is accurate and readily available!
Having Slow-as-Molasses Return Policies
Most counties will record documents the same day, or within a few days, of receiving them. However, other counties do this really annoying thing where they record the document quickly and then…they let the recorded document sit in their offices for weeks at a time. These same counties often mail outgoing documents just once a week or so in batches. This causes a painfully slow return of the recorded documents that can keep a claimant biting their nails until they get the document back weeks later. Georgia, for instance, has some of the nicest recorders in the country , and a wonderful online search tool for finding recorded documents. But their processing times on sending recorded liens back in the mail is over three weeks long on average. Way to keep us all on the edge of our seats, Georgia!
Not Providing ALL of the Reasons for a Document Rejection in the Initial Rejection Letter
Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Sisyphus? Sisyphus was punished by the gods to spend eternity rolling an enormous boulder up a steep and winding hill, only for it to roll back down the moment he got to the top. Please keep this in mind when reading about what is, in my opinion, the most annoying of all recorder habits by far.
Everyday and in every state in the country, documents get rejected by county recorder offices. It’s a natural but frustrating part of the process – it’s just the way it is. But the reason why a recorder decides to reject a document is a crucial piece of information, since claimants rely on the rejection reason so that when they re-submit the document, they can do so with the assurance that they’ve gotten it correct.
And so, in cases where a recorder rejects a document for multiple reasons, but they don’t include all of those reasons in the rejection letter, they set the claimant up to get rejected again, this time for a mistake that was there the first time but wasn’t brought to the claimant’s attention. Sometimes a resubmitted lien will be seen by a different recorder, and when seen by a fresh pair of eyes it may be rejected again for new reasons. Other times, recorders may not want to fully inspect a document for other inaccuracies once they find a first mistake. When this happens (and believe us, it happens!), a lien claimant may be forced to record their document multiple times over many weeks, finding out each mistake one-at-a-time instead of all at once. So annoying, and I’m sure anyone reading this will surely agree!