Filing a mechanics lien helps improve your leverage during payment disputes and negotiations in construction. When you file a mechanics lien, the payment issue becomes public record, potentially scaring away real estate buyers and investors. Property owners therefore almost always settle all outstanding debts once a mechanics lien is recorded.
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However, filing a mechanics also requires a lien claimant to follow strict rules and deadlines. A simple misstep can invalidate a mechanics lien, so construction participants must be very diligent in making sure that they record their mechanics lien properly.
This guide lays out the process for filing a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania and provides tips that can help ensure that you record it successfully.
- Who can file a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania?
- Pre-lien notices in Pennsylvania
- When do you file a Pennsylvania mechanics lien?
- How to file a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania?
- Best practices when filing a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania
Who can file a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania?
General contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers have lien rights in Pennsylvania. Sub-subcontractors also have lien rights as long as they contract with a subcontractor who has a contract with the general contractor.
Note that architects, engineers, and other design professionals must have a contract with the property owner in order to have lien rights.
Pre-lien notices in Pennsylvania
There are two pre-lien notices to keep in mind in Pennsylvania: the Notice of Furnishing and the Notice of Intent to Lien.
Notice of Furnishing
Who is required to file a preliminary notice?
Parties who meet all the criteria below are required to file a preliminary notice called the Notice of Furnishing:
- You have no direct contract with the property owner.
- Your contract is worth over $1.5 million.
- You are working on a project whose property owner has filed a Notice of Commencement.
Note that the Notice of Furnishing is filed in the Pennsylvania construction registry.
When do you file a preliminary notice?
The Notice of Furnishing must be filed within the first 45 days of starting to work on a project.
What information should be included in the preliminary notice?
Include the following details in your Pennsylvania Notice of Furnishing:
- A general description of the labor or materials furnished
- Full name and address of the person supplying the services or items
- Full name and address of the person that contracted for the services or items
- A description sufficient to identify the Searchable Project, based on the description in the Notice of Commencement.
- The name of the county in which the Searchable Project is located
- The tax identification number of each parcel included in the project property
- The number of the building permit for the Searchable Project
What happens if you do not file a preliminary notice?
If you are one of the parties required to file a Pennsylvania preliminary notice and you failed to do so, you will lose your lien rights over the project in question.
Notice of Intent to Lien
Who is required to serve a Notice of Intent?
All parties who have no direct contractual relationship with the property owner must serve a Notice of Intent in Pennsylvania. Note that this notice is served on the property owner and not filed in the construction state registry. Also keep in mind that certain construction parties may have to file both the Notice of Furnishing and the Notice of Intent to Lien.
When do you serve a Notice of Intent?
The Notice of Intent to Lien in Pennsylvania is served at least 30 days before filing a mechanics lien.
What information should be included in the Notice of Intent?
The following pieces of information must be written on your Notice of Intent to Lien:
- The name of the party claimant;
- The name of the person with whom he contracted;
- The amount claimed to be due;
- The general nature or character of the labor or materials furnished;
- The date of completion of the work;
- A brief description sufficient to identify the property location.
Make sure that you clarify your intention to record a mechanics lien if payment is not made. Note that this notice is served on the property owner via first class mail, certified or registered mail, or personal delivery. You can also send it only through Handle.com.
What happens if you do not serve a Notice of Intent to Lien?
You will not be able to record a mechanics lien if you fail to fulfill the Notice of Intent to Lien requirement.
When do you file a Pennsylvania mechanics lien?
The Pennsylvania mechanics lien must be filed no later than 6 months after the date when you last rendered services to a project. Note that this deadline may not be extended, so be sure that your Notice of Intent to Lien is sent no later than 30 days before the 6-month deadline.
How to file a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania?
1. Serve a Notice of Intent to Lien on the owner
Before going ahead and filing a mechanics lien, you must remember to serve a Notice of Intent to Lien, especially if you do not have a contract with the property owner. This is one way of giving the owner an ultimatum, and it can be enough to prompt them to finally step in and release your payment.
Remember that certain parties can lose their lien right if they fail to serve a Notice of Intent to Lien, so be sure to complete this step before recording a mechanics lien. Also remember that the Notice of Intent to Lien must be recorded at least 30 days prior to filing a mechanics lien.
2. Prepare your Pennsylvania mechanics lien form
Pennsylvania requires its mechanics lien form to have the following details:
- Your name and address
- The name and address of the property owner
- The date of the completion of your work (Note: this does not include minor work or adjustments.)
- The name of the person with whom you contracted, if different from the property owner.
- The date when the Notice of Furnishing was filed, if required, and the date when the Notice of Intent was served, if required.
- A general description of the contract, if working under a written contract, or a detailed description of the services provided, if not working under a written contract
o Provide a copy of the contract, if applicable.
o List the amounts associated with the services provided.
- The amount being claimed
- A description of the property location that is sufficient for identification
The Pennsylvania mechanics lien does not have to be notarized prior to filing.
3. Record the Pennsylvania mechanics lien
The next step is to have your mechanics lien form recorded in the prothonotary’s office of the county where the property is located. Note that if a property is located in multiple counties, the mechanics lien must be recorded in the prothonotary’s office of each of those counties.
Filing may be done by mail, in person, or electronically. If filing by mail, make sure that you include at least two copies of the mechanics lien form as well as a self-addressed envelope and return instructions.
You will need the second copy to complete Step 4. Also include the money order that covers the exact amount for the filing costs.
Yes, there are filing costs associated with recording a mechanics lien, and these fees vary depending on the county. It is best to call the county clerk’s office ahead to know how much exactly you need to pay to record your mechanics lien in Pennsylvania.
You should also consider the deadline when filing a mechanics lien. A Pennsylvania mechanics lien must be recorded within 6 months of the date when you last provided labor or materials to a project. Minor work after substantial completion does not count. Be sure to file a Pennsylvania mechanics lien on time.
4. Serve a copy of the mechanics lien on the owner and file an Affidavit of Service
After filing your mechanics lien in the county prothonotary’s office, serve a copy of the mechanics lien on the property owner. You may serve the mechanics lien copy via personal delivery, or by posting the document in a visible location at the worksite if personal delivery is not possible. This step must be done within one month of recording your mechanics lien.
You should also prepare an Affidavit of Service to prove that you have indeed served a copy of your mechanics lien on the property owner. The Affidavit of Service must be filed in the same prothonotary office where the mechanics lien was recorded, and it must mention the date when the property owner was formally given a copy of the mechanics lien, as well as the manner of service.
Note that the Affidavit of Service must be filed in the prothonotary office within 20 days of serving the copy of the lien on the property owner. This step is an absolute requirement – the recorded mechanics lien may be invalidated unless a valid Affidavit of Service has been filed.
5. Enforce/release the Pennsylvania mechanics lien
Once you have completed all previous steps, the next course of action will depend on whether you get paid or not.
Releasing a Pennsylvania mechanics lien
Mechanics liens are highly effective, so once you receive your payment and the outstanding debt has been settled, you may choose to release or cancel your lien. This is not a strict requirement in Pennsylvania, but a property owner may ask you to do it.
The terms for this step are determined between you and your client. In general, you can release or cancel a mechanics lien by simply filing a lien release document in the same prothonotary office where you recorded the original Pennsylvania mechanics lien.
Enforcing a Pennsylvania mechanics lien
If, unfortunately, filing a mechanics lien does not prompt the property owner to pay up, you can choose to enforce a mechanics lien by filing a legal lawsuit against the property. If you win the suit, the property will be foreclosed and you will be able to recover your payment.
Enforcing a mechanics lien must be done within 2 years of recording the claim. Beyond the 2-year deadline, the mechanics lien loses hold on a property as it is no longer enforceable.
Before enforcing a mechanics lien, consider serving a Notice of Intent to Foreclose on the property owner. This will give the owner a chance to settle the payment dispute for the last time before they have to face a lawsuit. Getting the property owner to settle all the outstanding debts without having to go through a foreclosure lawsuit will also be beneficial to you, since enforcing a mechanics lien can be costly and time-consuming.
Best practices when filing a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania
1. Remember to serve the required pre-lien notices
Subcontractors and material suppliers will need to serve at least one of the two pre-lien notices in Pennsylvania. The Notice of Furnishing must be filed under certain circumstances, and the Notice of Intent to Lien must be served on the owner prior to recording a lien. Be sure that you complete these requirements because failing to do so will be fatal to your lien rights.
2. File the mechanics lien in the correct prothonotary office
It is common for construction parties to file their mechanics lien in the wrong county clerk’s office. Either they visit the prothonotary office where their business is based, or they go to only one of the required counties. Note that the Pennsylvania mechanics lien must be filed in the clerk’s office in the same county where the property is located. Also remember that if a property is located in two counties, the mechanics lien must be filed in the prothonotary offices of both counties.
3. Serve a Notice of Intent to Foreclose before enforcing the mechanics lien
The Notice of Intent to Foreclose is a document that informs the property owner about your plan to file a lawsuit against them. Sometimes this notice can be enough to finally get the property owner to pay up, so it is best practice to serve a Notice of Intent to Foreclose before enforcing a mechanics lien in Pennsylvania.