Mechanic’s Liens

Experienced. Effective. Reliable. 

Our 10 lawyer firm handles mechanic's liens and construction law disputes in state and federal court, and in arbitration and mediation in Western PA.

 

 

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For more, call or use and easy contact form, or continue reading answers to commonly asked questions.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mechanic's Lien?  

A mechanic's lien is a security interest in the title to property for the benefit of the contractor, sub-contractor, or supplier who improved said property.  A mechanic's lien (sometimes misspelled as "mechanics lien") clouds title to property.

 

What a Mechanic's Is Not

A mechanics lien is not a money judgment that can be used to execute on a person's assets or force the sale of property. Obtaining a money judgment requires an action separate action at law for breach of a construction or home improvement contract or for unjust enrichment.   

 

Why Obtain a Mechanic's Lien? 

No property owner wants title to his property clouded; thus, the mere threat of a lien can often provide enough leverage to resolve a dispute. A mechanic's lien clouds title to property almost immediately, so long as a notice of intent to obtain a lien is timely served, as discussed below. While the mechanic's lien may be challenged in court, it remain in place until removed by order of court.  A claim in court for money damages, on the other hand, is separate and involves a lawsuit that has no effect on the Defendant's real property several months (sometimes years) later, until the action results in a money judgment.

 

How Much Does it Cost? 

Call our Pittsburgh mechanics lien lawyers about our reasonable flat fees.  Our Pittsburgh lawyers make it cost effective  to (1) perfect a mechanic's lien, (2) defend a lien, (3) negotiate a resolution, (4) and/or bring (or defend) a separate action for money damages for breach of contract to get a judgment, which can be used to execution on assets, unlike a mechanic's lien.

 

Those Needing Assistance 

Whether you are a builder, contractor, subcontractor, or supplier who has not been paid on a job, or perhaps you are a property owner receiving notice of a lien claim, our Pittsburgh lawyers can help.

 

Why Utilize Our Firm?   

Our 12 Pittsburgh lawyer firm has had the privilege of representing property owners and contractors in wide-ranging construction disputes and mechanic's lien actions throughout Western Pennsylvania.  Below is a more detailed discussion of the law in this area and the text of the PA mechanic's lien statute.  This is relevant to property owners (including home and commercial property owners), contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers.

 

Key Issues to Consider 

How much time do I have?  Those taking seeking to obtain a mechanic's lien must do so within key deadlines.  The lien must be filed within six (6) months after the goods or services are rendered. Importantly, unlike general contractorssuppliers and subcontractors must also give the property owner formal written notice before taking a lien, which means, notice must be served within five months of the work being completed, for the lien to be filed within six months of the goods or services being rendered.

 

The Notice Must Obey Formalities.   Your notice of lien ( sometimes called, notice of intent to file a lien) must be served properly and contain certain formalities, such as:

The name of the contractor, subcontractor, or supplier

The name of the person with whom the claimant contracted

The amount of money claimed

The nature and character of labor or materials provided

The date the claimant completed his work and/or supplied the last materials

A description of the real property

Know that courts are quick to strike a lien for any technical defect because the party seeking payment has another remedy:  he can sue in court for money damage.

 

Your Court Papers Must Be Perfect.  After you serve proper notice, where required, you must also file your mechanic's lien claim, which must include: (1) the claimant's name and whether he is filing as contractor, subcontractor, or supplier; (2) the name and address of the owner; (3) the date the claimant completed his work; (4) if the claim is filed by a sub-contractor, the name of the person with whom the claimant contracted and the dates on which the above Notice of Claim was given; and (5) a detailed statement of the kind and character of the labor and materials furnished and the prices charged for each. Alternative, if the claim is filed by a contractor pursuant to a contract for an agreed sum, an identification of the contract and a general statement of the kind and character of the labor and materials furnished, the claim must include: (1) the amount claimed to be due, and (2) a description of the improvement constructed and the real property subject to the lien.

Here, again, the deadlines are strict.  Plus there should not be any technical defects in the documentation or lien may be stricken.  At corrected lien cannot be re-filed once a deadline has passed. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that you obtain advice from a lawyer in Pittsburgh for assistance.

 

You Also Need to Perfect the Lien.   You have five years to perfect your mechanic's lien by filing a complaint in support of your claim and litigating it to a judgment.

 

Lien Waivers.  A contract to improve property may include lien waivers where, for example, a contractor may waive the rights of his subcontractors to record liens so long as he gives the subs notice of said waiver before they begin their work. Notice is typically provided by filing with the department of court records (or prothonotary) copies of the lien waivers, but there are restrictions.  With regard to the development of commercial property, the 2007 Amendments to Pennsylvania's mechanic's lien law did away with lien waivers as against public policy.  Lien waivers remain valid on residential jobs.

 

Payments Due to Subcontractors.  A property owner or contractor will be wise to pay subs directly (rather than money flowing through a GC who may or may not pay his subs) for each portion of the job pending the work passing inspection to reduce reliance on waivers.

 

Priority of Claims.  Even with a perfected a mechanic's lien, what happens when there are other claims against the property, or if the property owner files for bankruptcy? The automatic stay of proceedings in bankruptcy does not effect the perfection of mechanic's lien.  There are other nuances.  Contact our attorneys for more information.

 

Defense of Mechanic's Lien Claims.  Our Western PA lawyers handle the defense of liens.  We can advise you about:

How to strike off a mechanic's lien via Preliminary Objection,

How to get the amount of the claim reduced by a set off where, for example, the amount of the lien is reduced for incomplete or defective work,

Whether the property can bring a counterclaim for money damages against the party bringing the mechanic's lien claim,

Posting bond or discharge of the lien,

How to discharge by showing proof of payment, and, above all,

Creative strategies to end not only the mechanic's lien action, but also all other possible disputes between general contractors (GCs), property owners (or renters), subs, suppliers, engineers, architects, and any equity investors or banks that may be involved in residential and commercial projects.

 

We Handles Disputes Where Careful Planning Was Lacking  

The type of lawyer needed in these cases is called "civil litigation," as contrasted from criminal defense, family law, or corporate planning. An experienced Pittsburgh attorney should review the form contracts and "change orders" that the parties plan to use before major construction or improvements are commenced.   A lien waiver may not be enforceable.  Alternatively, a change order may conflict with the original contract.  The "nightmare" scenario for a property owners is where:  (1) he pays a general contractor the full price for all the work, but the contractor does not pay his subs who then obtain liens against the property for the amounts not paid to them by the contractor, and (2) the work is substandard, leaving the property owner saddled with liens and the obligation to file suit for incomplete work.  A contractor, on the other hand, needs to make sure the underlying contract protects him from the property owner dealing with subs directly, cutting out the general contractor. Careful planning can avoid these scenarios.

 

2014 Updates

The mechanic's lien law (sometimes misspelled "mechanics lien") of PA was updated in 2014.  Click here to read about said update which we addressed in the context of new builds.  

Call Us Today. 

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Below is the Mechanic's Lien Law in Pennsylvania. 

2007 AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW
The 1963 statute in this area existed with only minor changes until 2007. Contact our lawyers to find out how the 2007 amendments changed the following statute:

Unconsolidated Pennsylvania Statutes - PA Code
MECHANICS' LIENS (TITLE 49)
MECHANICS' LIEN LAW OF 1963
ARTICLE I. SHORT TITLE
§ 1101. Short title.
This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Mechanics' Lien Law of 1963 ".

ARTICLE II. DEFINITIONS
§ 1201. Definitions.
The following words, terms and phrases when used in this act shall have the meaning ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:

1. "Improvement"
includes any building, structure or other improvement of whatsoever kind or character erected or constructed on land, together with the fixtures and other personal property used in fitting up and equipping the same for the purpose for which it is intended.
2. "Property"
means the improvement the land covered thereby and the lot or curtilage appurtenant thereto belonging to the same legal or equitable owner reasonably needed for the general purposes thereof and forming a part of a single business or residential plant.
3. "Owner"
means an owner in fee, a tenant for life or years or one having any other estate in or title to property.
4. "Contractor"
means one who, by contract with the owner, express or implied, erects, constructs, alters or repairs an improvement or any part thereof or furnishes labor, skill or superintendence thereto; or supplies or hauls materials, fixtures, machinery or equipment reasonably necessary for and actually used therein; or any or all of the foregoing, whether as superintendent, builder or materialman. The term also includes an architect or engineer who, by contract with the owner, express or implied, in addition to the preparation of drawings, specifications and contract documents also superintends or supervises any such erection, construction, alteration or repair.
5. "Subcontractor"
means one who, by contract with the contractor, express or implied, erects, constructs, alters or repairs an improvement or any part thereof; or furnishes labor, skill or superintendence thereto; or supplies or hauls materials, fixtures, machinery or equipment reasonably necessary for and actually used therein; or any or all of the foregoing, whether as superintendent, builder or materialman. The term does not include an architect or engineer who contracts with a contractor or subcontractor, or a person who contracts with a subcontractor or with a materialman.
6. "Claimant"
means a contractor or subcontractor who has filed or may file a claim under this act for a lien against property.
7. "Materials"
means building materials and supplies of all kinds, and also includes fixtures, machinery and equipment reasonably necessary to and incorporated into the improvement.
8. "Completion of the work"
means performance of the last of the labor or delivery of the last of the materials required by the terms of the claimant's contract or agreement, whichever last occurs.
9. "Labor"
includes the furnishing of skill or superintendence.
10. "Erection and construction"
means the erection and construction of a new improvement or of a substantial addition to an existing improvement or any adaptation of an existing improvement rendering the same fit for a new or distinct use and effecting a material change in the interior or exterior thereof.
11. "Alteration and repair"
means any alteration or repair of an existing improvement which does not constitute erection or construction as defined herein.
12. "Erection, construction, alteration or repair"
includes
(a) Demolition, removal of improvements, excavation, grading, filling, paving and landscaping, when such work is incidental to the erection, construction, alteration or repair;
(b) Initial fitting up and equipping of the improvement with fixtures, machinery and equipment suitable to the purposes for which the erection, construction, alteration or repair was intended; and
(c) Furnishing, excavating for, laying, relaying, stringing and restringing rails, ties, pipes, poles and wires, whether on the property improved or upon other property, in order to supply services to the improvement.
13. "Prothonotary"
means the prothonotary of the court or courts of common pleas of the county or counties in which the improvement is situate.

ARTICLE III. RIGHT TO LIEN
§ 1301. Right to lien; amount.
§ 1302. Presumption as to use of materials.
§ 1303. Lien not allowed in certain cases.
§ 1304. Excessive curtilage.
§ 1305. Right to lien in case of noncompletion of work.
§ 1306. Consolidation or apportionment of claims.
§ 1307. Removal or detachment of improvement subject to claim.

§ 1301. Right to lien; amount.
Every improvement and the estate or title of the owner in the property shall be subject to a lien, to be perfected as herein provided, for the payment of all debts due by the owner to the contractor or by the contractor to any of his subcontractors for labor or materials furnished in the erection or construction, or the alteration or repair of the improvement, provided that the amount of the claim, other than amounts determined by apportionment under section 306(b) of this act, shall exceed five hundred dollars ($500).

§ 1302. Presumption as to use of materials.
Materials for use in or upon an improvement placed on or near the property or delivered to the owner pursuant to a contract shall be presumed to have been used therein in the absence of proof to the contrary.

§ 1303. Lien not allowed in certain cases.
(a) Persons Other Than Contractors or Subcontractors. No lien shall be allowed in favor of any person other than a contractor or subcontractor, as defined herein, even though such person furnishes labor or materials to an improvement.

(b) Public Purpose. No lien shall be allowed for labor or materials furnished for a purely public purpose.

(c) Conveyance Prior to Lien. If the property be conveyed in good faith and for a valuable consideration prior to the filing of a claim for alterations or repairs, the lien shall be wholly lost.

(d) Leasehold Premises. No lien shall be allowed against the estate of an owner in fee by reason of any consent given by such owner to a tenant to improve the leased premises unless it shall appear in writing signed by such owner that the erection, construction, alteration or repair was in fact for the immediate use and benefit of the owner.

(e) Security Interests. No lien shall be allowed for that portion of a debt representing the contract price of any materials against which the claimant holds or has claimed a security interest under the Pennsylvania Uniform Commercial Code or to which he has reserved title or the right to reacquire title.

§ 1304. Excessive curtilage.
Where an owner objects that a lien has been claimed against more property than should justly be included therein, the court upon petition may, after hearing by deposition or otherwise, limit the boundaries of the property subject to the lien. Failure to raise this objection preliminarily shall not be a waiver of the right to plead the same as a defense thereafter.

§ 1305. Right to lien in case of noncompletion of work.
Except in case of destruction by fire or other casualty, where, through no fault of the claimant, the improvement is not completed, the right to lien shall nevertheless exist.

§ 1306. Consolidation or apportionment of claims.
(a) Consolidation of Claims. Where a debt is incurred for labor or materials furnished continuously by the same claimant for work upon a single improvement but under more than one contract, the claimant may elect to file a single claim for the entire debt. In such case, "completion of the work" shall not be deemed to occur with respect to any of the contracts until it has occurred with respect to all of them.

(b) Apportionment of Claims. Where a debt is incurred for labor or materials furnished by the same claimant for work upon several different improvements which do not form all or part of a single business or residential plant, the claimant shall file separate claims with respect to each such improvement, with the amount of each claim determined by apportionment of the total debt to the several improvements, and in such case, the amount of each separate claim may be less than five hundred dollars ($500), provided that the total debt exceeds five hundred dollars ($500). In no other case shall an apportioned claim be allowed.

§ 1307. Removal or detachment of improvement subject to claim.
(a) Removal Prohibited; Effect.-No improvement subject to the lien of a claim filed in accordance with this act shall be removed or detached from the land except pursuant to title obtained at a judicial sale or by one owning the land and not named as a defendant. Any improvement otherwise removed shall remain liable to the claim filed, except in the hands of a purchaser for value.

(b) Restraint of Removal by Court.-The court may on petition restrain the removal of the improvement in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure governing actions to prevent waste.

ARTICLE IV. WAIVER OF LIEN; EFFECT OF FILING
§ 1401. Waiver of lien by claimant.
A contractor or subcontractor may waive his right to file a claim by a written instrument signed by him or by any conduct which operates equitably to estop such contractor or subcontractor from filing a claim.

§ 1402. Waiver by contractor; effect on subcontractor.
A written contract between the owner and contractor or a separate written instrument signed by the contractor, which provides that no claim shall be filed by anyone, shall be binding; but the only admissible evidence thereof, as against a subcontractor, shall be proof of actual notice thereof to him before any labor or materials were furnished by him; or proof that such contract or separate written instrument was filed in the office of the prothonotary prior to the commencement of the work upon the ground or within ten (10) days after the execution of the principal contract or not less than ten (10) days prior to the contract with the claimant subcontractor, indexed in the name of the contractor as defendant and the owner as plaintiff and also in the name of the contractor as plaintiff and the owner as defendant. The only admissible evidence that such a provision has, notwithstanding its filing, been waived in favor of any subcontractor shall be a written agreement to that effect signed by all those who, under the contract, have an adverse interest to the subcontractor's allegation.

§ 1403. Release as waiver.
A release signed by the claimant shall not operate as a waiver of the right to file a claim for labor or materials subsequently furnished, unless it shall appear thereby that such was the express intent of the party.

§ 1404. Effect of credit or collateral.
The giving of credit or the receipt of evidence of indebtedness or collateral otherwise than as provided in section 303(e) shall not operate to waive the right to file a claim, but where credit is given, no voluntary proceedings shall be taken by the claimant to enforce the lien until the credit period has expired.

§ 1405. Right of owner to limit claims to unpaid balance of contract price.
Where there has been no waiver of liens and the claims of subcontractors exceed in the aggregate the unpaid balance of the contract price specified in the contract between the owner and the contractor, then if the subcontractor has actual notice of the total amount of said contract price and of its provisions for the time or times for payment thereof before any labor or materials were furnished by him, or if such contract or the pertinent provisions thereof were filed in the office of the prothonotary in the time and manner provided in section 402, each claim shall, upon application of the owner, be limited to its pro-rata share of the contract price remaining unpaid, or which should have remained unpaid, whichever is greatest in amount at the time notice of intention to file a claim was first given to the owner, such notice inuring to the benefit of all claimants.

§ 1406. Right of subcontractor to rescind after notice of contract provisions.
Any provisions of a contract between the owner and the contractor, which reduce or impair the rights and remedies of a subcontractor or which postpone the time for payment by the owner to the contractor for a period exceeding four (4) months after completion of the work, shall be grounds for recision by the subcontractor of his contract with the contractor, unless such subcontractor was given actual notice thereof prior to the time of the making of his contract with the contractor, or the contract or the pertinent provisions thereof were filed in the office of the prothonotary in the time and manner provided by section 402. Such recision shall not impair the right of the subcontractor to recover by lien or otherwise for work completed prior thereto.

§ 1407. Contracts not made in good faith; effect.
A contract for the improvement made by the owner with one not intended in good faith to be a contractor shall have no legal effect except as between the parties thereto, even though written, signed and filed as provided herein, but such contractor, as to third parties, shall be treated as the agent of the owner.

ARTICLE V. FILING AND PERFECTING CLAIM; DISCHARGE OF LIEN
§ 1501. Notice by subcontractor as condition precedent.
§ 1502. Filing and notice of filing of claim.
§ 1503. Contents of claim.
§ 1504. Amendment of claim.
§ 1505. Procedure for contesting claim; preliminary objections.
§ 1506. Rule to file claim.
§ 1507. Indexing claims, et cetera.
§ 1508. Priority of lien.
§ 1509. Effect of forfeiture of leasehold.
§ 1510. Discharge of lien on payment into court or entry of security.

§ 1501. Notice by subcontractor as condition precedent.
(a) Preliminary Notice in Case of Alteration and Repair. No claim by a subcontractor for alterations or repairs shall be valid unless, in addition to the formal notice required by subsection (b) of this section, he shall have given to the owner, on or before the date of completion of his work, a written preliminary notice of his intention to file a claim if the amount due or to become due is not paid. The notice need set forth only the name of the subcontractor, the contractor, a general description of the property against which the claim is to be filed, the amount then due or to become due, and a statement of intention to file a claim therefor.

(b) Formal Notice in All Cases by Subcontractor. No claim by a subcontractor, whether for erection or construction or for alterations or repairs, shall be valid unless, at least thirty (30) days before the same is filed, he shall have given to the owner a formal written notice of his intention to file a claim, except that such notice shall not be required where the claim is filed pursuant to a rule to do so as provided by section 506.

(b) Venue; Property in More Than One County. Where the improvement is located in more than one county, the claim may be filed in any one county, the claim may be filed in any one or more of said counties, but shall be effective only as to the part of the property in the county in which it has been filed.

§ 1508. Priority of lien.
The lien of a claim filed under this act shall take effect and have priority:

(a) In the case of the erection or construction of an improvement, as of the date of the visible commencement upon the ground of the work of erecting or constructing the improvement; and

(b) In the case of the alteration or repair of an improvement, as of the date of the filing of the claim.

§ 1509. Effect of forfeiture of leasehold.
The lien of every claim shall bind only the interest of the party named as owner of the property at the time of the contract or acquired subsequently by him, but no forfeiture or surrender of a leasehold, or tenancy, whether before or after the filing of the claim, shall operate to prejudice its lien against the fixtures, machinery or other similar property.

§ 1510. Discharge of lien on payment into court or entry of security.
(a) Cash Deposit. Any claim filed hereunder shall, upon petition of the owner or any party in interest, be discharged as a lien against the property whenever a sum equal to the amount of the claim shall have been deposited with the court in said proceedings for application to the payment of the amount finally determined to be due.

(b) Pro-rata Allocation. In any case where the claim or claims are limited in the manner and to the extent provided in section 405, the owner may deposit with the court in separate proceedings a sum equal to the total allowable amount of said claims determined in accordance with said section, whereupon the court, on petition of such owner, shall order all of said claims discharged as liens against the property, and the sum so deposited applied pro rata to the payment thereof in the amounts finally determined to be due.

(c) Refund of Excess. Any excess of funds paid into court as aforesaid, over the amount of the claim or claims determined and paid therefrom, shall be refunded to the owner or party depositing same upon application for the same.

(d) Security in Lieu of Cash. In lieu of the deposit of any such sum or sums, approved security may be entered in such proceedings in double the amount of the required deposit, or in such lesser amount as the court shall approve, which, however, shall in no event be less than the full amount of such required deposit; and the entry of such security shall entitle the owner to have such liens discharged to the same effect as though the required sums had been deposited in court as aforesaid.

(e) Authority of Court. The court, upon petition filed by any party, and after notice and hearing, may upon cause shown:

require the increase or decrease of any deposit or security;
strike off security improperly filed;
permit the substitution of security and enter an exoneration of security already given.

(d) Limitation on Time of Obtaining Judgment. A verdict must be recovered or judgment entered within five (5) years from the date of filing of the claim. Final judgment must be entered on a verdict within five (5) years. If a claim is not prosecuted to verdict or judgment, as provided above, the claim shall be wholly lost: Provided, however, That in either case, if a complaint has been or shall be filed in the cause and if the cause has been or shall be at issue, all time theretofore or thereafter consumed in the presentation and disposition of all motions and petitions of defendants, substituted defendants and intervenors in the cause, and in any appeal or appeals from any order in the cause, from the date of perfection of such appeal to the date of return of the certiorari from the appellate court to the court of common pleas, shall be excluded in the computation of the five (5) year period herein provided.