Avoiding a Mechanics Lien

Avoiding a Mechanics Lien

By William L. Porter. He practices construction law with Porter Law Group in Sacramento. This article is based in his article “This Legal Tool May Help Your Client Avoid a Mechanics Lien”, published in California Lawyer.

More information about how to Avoid a Mechanics Lien is available in the California Portal of the American Encyclopedia of Law.

In California, a powerful legal mechanism—the mechanics lien—enables laborers and those who supply materials and services to construction projects to obtain full payment. The lien stems from a provision in the state constitution (Cal. Const., Art. XIV, § 3; see also Clarke v. Safeco Ins. Co., 15 Cal. 4th 882 (1997)). It applies to private-construction projects as well as those undertaken by government. (See Cal. Civ. Code §§ 8160–8848 (private works) and §§ 9000–9566 (public works).) This article discusses private projects only.

Before getting into the statutory intricacies of the lien process, it is helpful to understand the various layers of participation in a typical private construction project. First and foremost, there is the owner; his or her property will be directly affected (hopefully improved) by the construction work at issue. The main party performing that work is the general contractor. But in carrying out the project, the general contractor may work with subcontractors, consultants, and suppliers who have no direct contractual relationship with the owner.

When payment is not made to those parties, any one of them may assert a claim—not only against the contractor, but also against the owner’s real property that serves as the site of the construction project. Such a claim against the property comes in the form of a mechanics lien, which can apply even when the property owner has no direct relationship with the lienholder. (See Cal. Civ. Code §§ 8200–8204.)