Mechanics liens are powerful tools to prompt payment for companies that have not been paid on time – or at all – on a construction project.
There are many different ways mechanics liens can work to get you paid, but the most important thing to remember is that they work. By giving the claimant an interest in the improved property itself, the mechanics lien empowers construction participants to get what they’ve earned and deserve.
If you have decided to file a California mechanics lien, this step-by-step guide will tell you how. Keep in mind there may be preliminary notice and timing requirements that must be met prior to filing a valid California mechanics lien, and that it can be complicated and time-consuming to file a mechanics lien by yourself. But, once you’re ready to file, just follow the steps below to start the lien process.
Make Sure Your Mechanics Lien Has the Required Information
California has specific requirements that govern the information that must be included on the lien form. The failure to include the required information, including a specific statement in bold type, can result in an invalid lien. A California mechanics lien does not need to be notarized, but it must be a written statement, signed and verified by the claimant, containing all of the following:
- A statement of the claimant’s demand after deducting all just credits and offsets.
- The name of the owner.
- A general statement of the kind of work furnished by the claimant.
- The name of the person by whom the claimant was employed or to whom the claimant furnished work.
- A description of the site sufficient for identification.
- The claimant’s address.
- A proof of service affidavit completed and signed by the person serving a copy of the claim of mechanics lien pursuant to subdivision (c). The affidavit shall show the date, place, and manner of service, and facts showing that the service was made in accordance with this section. The affidavit shall show the name and address of the person or persons upon whom the copy of the claim of mechanics lien was served, and, if appropriate, the title or capacity in which he or she was served.
- The following statement, printed in at least 10-point boldface type. The letters of the last sentence shall be printed in uppercase type, excepting the Internet Web site address of the Contractors’ State License Board, which shall be printed in lowercase type:
“NOTICE OF MECHANICS LIEN ATTENTION! Upon the recording of the enclosed MECHANICS LIEN with the county recorder’s office of the county where the property is located, your property is subject to the filing of a legal action seeking a court-ordered foreclosure sale of the real property on which the lien has been recorded. That legal action must be filed with the court no later than 90 days after the date the mechanics lien is recorded. The party identified in the enclosed mechanics lien may have provided labor or materials for improvements to your property and may not have been paid for these items. You are receiving this notice because it is a required step in filing a mechanics lien foreclosure action against your property. The foreclosure action will seek a sale of your property in order to pay for unpaid labor, materials, or improvements provided to your property. This may affect your ability to borrow against, refinance, or sell the property until the mechanics lien is released. BECAUSE THE LIEN AFFECTS YOUR PROPERTY, YOU MAY WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOUR CONTRACTOR IMMEDIATELY, OR CONTACT AN ATTORNEY, OR FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MECHANICS LIENS GO TO THE CONTRACTORS’ STATE LICENSE BOARD WEB SITE AT www.cslb.ca.gov.”
Note that #7, above, is a proof of service affidavit. This is important. A California mechanics lien must be served on the property owner, and the affidavit of service must be filed with the recorder along with the lien itself. Service may be accomplished by sending the lien by registered mail, certified mail, or first-class mail, evidenced by a certificate of mailing, postage prepaid, addressed to the owner or reputed owner at the owner’s or reputed owner’s residence or place of business address or at the address shown by the building permit on file with the authority issuing a building permit for the work. Service is complete at the time of mailing. Complete an affidavit of service noting the method by which you mailed the lien to the property owner (certified mail), it is a good idea to include the tracking number. Print out a copy to send to owner with the lien, and another copy to include with the lien for filing.
How to File a California Mechanics Lien
Now it’s time to get the lien (and completed affidavit of service) filed.
- Sign and verify at least 2 copies of the mechanics lien.
- Send one copy to the property owner (and to whomever else you want to notify of the lien, e.g. Construction Lender if any, GC, etc.).
- Your last copy is for filing – California requires that mechanics liens be recorded in the county in which the property subject to the lien is located. This means the lien must be delivered to the county recorder in the county where the project took place, along with the appropriate filing fee.
- The lien can be delivered to the appropriate county for recording either by mail/FedEx; via a courier; or by walking it in yourself for filing.
- Note than in some California counties (Los Angeles county in particular) the backlog to get something recorded if it comes in by mail can be exceptionally long, so it is usually best practice to have the lien delivered by courier or to bring it in yourself.
- The filing fees can be determined by calling the county recorder, or asking in person if you bring the lien for filing in person. Generally, the fees are set at one amount for the first page with an additional, smaller, amount for each additional page.
- Once the document is recorded, a stamped copy of the recorded lien can be obtained for your records.
- Note that if you mailed your lien to the county for recording, or sent it via a courier, you will need to a) include the proper fees for recording with the document; and b) include a self-addressed stamped envelope with return instructions if you wish to receive a copy of the recorded lien for your records.
For a free, comprehensive How-To Guide on California Mechanics Liens, please click the button below.
Congratulations! As long as you served the document prior to submitting the document for recording, once you have a stamped copy of the recorded lien in your possession you have an official recorded mechanics lien. This is a powerful tool to get paid – but remember that just because a lien is recorded it doesn’t mean that it cannot be challenged. A lien can be recorded even if it is not valid for some reason, and, whether or not it is valid, a property owner (or their attorney) may make a claim that it is improper and needs to be removed.
Finally, a California mechanics lien only stays effective for 90 days from the date on which it was recorded – after that date the lien expires. Technically, lien extensions are available in California, but the extension process is difficult to manage since it requires an overly cumbersome amount of coordination and agreement between the owner and the lien claimant as well as the filing and recording of an additional document, “The Notice of Credit,” (which also must be signed by both the owner and the lien claimant). Because of this added burden, lien extensions in California are very rare.
Important – How to Extend a California Mechanics Lien
Recording a mechanics lien can be a powerful tool in making sure you are paid what you earned. The How-To guide above can empower you to take that step when and if it becomes necessary, and make sure you are treated fairly.