When people talk about liens placed on their homes by contractors, they’re talking about mechanics liens. A mechanics lien is a statutorily permissible legal claim recorded by a contractor to secure payment for work performed. In short, mechanics liens are intended for situations where a homeowner refuses to pay for a contractor’s services. Because a mechanics lien can result in the forced sale of your property (i.e., a foreclosure), the law requires your contractor to strictly abide by a variety of requirements contained in the mechanics liens statutes.
For example, contractors may not enforce mechanics liens unless they record their claims after completing their contractual obligations and before the earlier of either of the following:
• within 90 days after completion of the work; or
• within 60 days after a property owner records a notice of completion or cessation.
Unfortunately, more often than you might think, a dishonest contractor will record a mechanics lien against your property even when there’s a legitimate dispute between you and the contractor regarding the amount of money owed—e.g., the contractor didn’t properly complete the work. For example, if your contractor performed shoddy work, or failed to complete the project as agreed, and you had to hire someone else to do the work, you might decide (rightly) not to pay the contractor for the bad workmanship. A dishonest contractor, however, might go ahead and record a mechanics lien against your home counting on the fact that you might not know your rights, all in an effort to strongarm you into paying for services you shouldn’t have to pay for.
This is when you need to hire an experienced real estate attorney because when a contractor records an invalid lien against your property, you do have options. In fact, there are real consequences facing a contractor who records an invalid lien, including payment of your attorneys’ fees and costs.
An experienced real estate lawyer will first send a demand letter to your contractor explaining why the lien is invalid, and demanding that it be removed immediately. If the contractor refuses, however, then your attorney will file a motion to have the mechanics lien expunged. This is where you get to tell the court your side of the story (i.e., why you didn’t pay the money demanded), and if the court agrees with you, then the contractor will not only be ordered to remove the lien, but your contractor might also be ordered to repay you all of your attorneys’ fees and costs.