Serving a mechanics lien, or providing a copy of the lien to interested parties, ensures that they receive notice and can promptly recognize and pay your claim. In most states, mechanics liens lien may be served through the mail, usually by sending it via certified mail – sometimes with return receipt requested. Not every state makes the process this simple, however. Some states require that claimants serve a mechanics lien in person. Three such states to keep an eye out for are Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and South Carolina.
While Connecticut allows for a legal courier service to serve your lien, both South Carolina and Pennsylvania generally require service to be made through the sheriff’s department of the liened property’s county.
Is there any difference between using a private process server vs. the sheriff’s department?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: despite the rules that occasionally force sheriff’s offices to be used for service, there can be practical problems associated with doing so.
Normally, a standard private process server guarantees speedy and regulated service on the intended party. Because this type of company relies on customer service, private process servers tend to keep you well informed of how and when any document in their control will be served. Most process servers tend to respond quickly and efficiently if something should happen to go wrong with your service as well, such as sending you an email if your contact information is incorrect or invalid.
While using the sheriff’s department is also a regulated process that will usually ensure quick and proper service, there is often more room for error based on the the particular sheriff’s methods and procedures. To get proper and timely service via a sheriff’s department, it’s mandatory to be aware of their standard practices, and to make sure the document to be served is acceptable for service. This often includes properly filled out cover letters, correct fees, and creating a time-buffer in which service can be made prior to the expiration of any applicable deadlines. Service through the sheriff’s department is usually dependent on the Civil Process Division, and it is imperative to follow this division’s guidelines. If the specific rules are not followed, a party may find the request for service returned through first class mail without being served. Since most service requirements have relatively strict deadlines by which service must be accomplished, having a service request sent back could cause these deadlines to expire prior to service, resulting in an invalid lien.
If using the sheriff’s department is more difficult – how can I make sure a lien is served on time?
Not to fear! While there may be more room for error when using the sheriff’s department for service (after all, it is a bureaucracy), sheriff’s departments aren’t out to get anybody requesting service of documents. Like all bureaucratic processes, using the sheriff’s department for service requires dealing with red tape, but if you do your homework and follow the rules, service should be easy.
Personal Mechanics Lien Service Cheat Sheet
In order to make sure that mechanics lien service (or service of any other document) through a sheriff’s office goes off without a hitch, one should be mindful of the following steps.
- Do the necessary research. Researching who must be served is the most vital step to ensuring proper service. While, in the context of mechanics liens, there are always the easy cases where a service for a residential lien needs to be made on the property owner at a residential address – not everything can be quite so simple! If the party to be served is a business, it may be necessary to find a registered agent or other party upon which service may be made. A handy place to find out this type of information can be the secretary of state site for whichever state the project is in. These sites are useful in providing vital information such as the registered agent’s name, the information of the company’s president or secretary, and the correct address to serve. It is imperative to have as much detail as possible on who is to be served.
- Call ahead. Service isn’t always as straightforward as it appears. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the correct contact to serve may be in a different county than the one the lien was filed in. This means the service must be sent to the sheriff’s office of the original county the lien was filed in, and then deputized out to the correct county the contact is in. Sounds confusing? That’s because it is – and not every county in the same state has the same procedures, prices, and requirements to serve a lien. Calling the Civil Process Division of the appropriate sheriff’s office can provide the correct information on how to go about requesting proper service, including odd or specific occurrences with which you aren’t familiar (such as how to serve a husband and wife at the same address).
- Always leave directions. While helpful, a phone call to the Civil Process Division is likely not enough to ensure proper service – written directions can be helpful. Some counties require their own specific form to request service. However, if request for service forms are not available online, and if you are not able to pick one up from the Sheriff’s office, it may be possible to make your own. If using a self-created request for service form, it should be as thorough and detailed as possible to avoid confusion, and to include every detail the particular sheriff may require. Generally, each request for service form is only applicable to one specific contact being served, so if more than one party is to be served, more than one request of service form will be required. Further, it is a good idea to leave detailed contact information in case there is a question about the service request.
What else can stop personal mechanics lien service?
Personal service doesn’t always go as planned. Problems can occur in any manner of ways, from bad locations (what looks like an office suite turns out to be a shopping center in which no one is aware of the company or party to be served), to bad information (the party determined to be the agent for service is incorrect), to bad timing (delay at the sheriff’s office causes a lien to be served late by a day or two).
Terrifying! Can this be fixed?
That depends, depending on the state, (and the helpfulness of the deputy serving the lien) there can be ways to fix some issues. While missing a deadline can be fatal to a lien claim, issues with finding proper parties to be served may be contemplated by the laws of the particular state. In many occasions, if a lien cannot be personally served, it may/must be posted in a conspicuous area of the liened property’s site (or publicized in some other manner). If all of the details of attempted service were documented by the deputy in an Affidavit of Service, that can be sufficient to meet the statutory mandates for serving the lien.
Missing deadlines can, and usually does, extinguish lien rights, so it’s important to remember specific service requirements, and plan accordingly. A lien that is recorded at the last minute may cause significant problems in getting it served within the appropriate time frame, so it is always best to plan ahead. For more information on each state that may require personal service, see our lien FAQs for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and South Carolina.
Download a helpful guide from zlien
“How to File a Mechanics Lien – A Guide That Works for Any State.”