How to File a Lien

A lien (also known as a construction lien) is a special kind of protection that helps ensure that contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub-contractors get paid for the value of the work that they provided on the contract. A mechanics’ lien can apply to those who provide either labor or materials for a project.

There are a number of rules and deadlines that must be followed precisely when filing such a lien. Otherwise, the lien may not be enforceable. While Pennsylvania law does not require that anything related to the lien be filed prior to the commencement of construction, the application for the lien must be filed within six months of the completion of the contracted-for work. Note that this deadline is six months after the point at which the person filing the deadline completes his work on the project, rather than six months after the entire contract is fulfilled or completed. So, for example, a sub-contractor would not wait until the general contractor finished the entire project to file the lien, but would file it once he was done with his portion of the work.

Notice requirements vary depending on who is filing for the lien. Sub-contractors must provide formal notice to the owner that they will be filing the lien at least 30 days prior to actually filing it. General contractors do not have this requirement. However, all lien claimants must notify the owner in writing within a month after filing a lien. The lien claimant must then file an affidavit with the court no more than twenty days after notice is served to the owner stating that the owner was, in fact, notified of the lien claim.

Once a lien has been established, the claimant must file a lawsuit to collect the money owed on the lien within two years. If a lawsuit is not filed within two years, the claim is lost forever and the claimant can no longer recover on the lien.

 A contractor or sub-contractor can file a lien by going to down the local courthouse and filling out a lien form. The form requires certain information such as the name and status of the person filing the lien (contractor, sub-contractor, etc.), the amount of money in dispute, and any parties having interest in the dispute, among other things.

It is always a good idea to be as precise as possible when filing legal claims such as a mechanics’ lien. However, a recent Pennsylvania Superior Court decision held that the mechanics’ lien requirements should be liberally construed to afford more protection for contractors and sub-contractors. It is likely that, in light of this recent opinion, there will be more leeway provided in terms of the procedural requirements for people that file for a mechanics’ lien in Pennsylvania.