Updated: December 20, 2022
If you’re owed money on a job, one of the fastest ways to ensure you get paid is to file a mechanic’s lien. Placing a mechanic’s lien — also known as a construction lien or a contractor lien — on a property means using the worth of that property as leverage in exchange for your agreed-upon wages. When you file a mechanic’s lien, you have the right to force the sale of the property and collect the amount you’re owed from the sale proceedings.
Essentially, a lien is insurance for laborers — holding all parties accountable for promises made before the work began.
How can you begin the process of filing a mechanic’s lien? In Washington, no one knows liens better than Northwest Lien Service; read on for our comprehensive guide to filing a construction lien in Washington state.
Not just anyone can walk into a recording office and file a lien. Though it’s usually less expensive than suing a customer outright, forcing foreclosure on a property can be just as damaging to a property’s worth. It’s a serious business, and every state treats it as such.
Washington law authorizes you to file a mechanic’s lien if you furnished labor, professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property. Qualifying “improvements” are defined as:
1. Constructing, altering, repairing, remodeling, demolishing, clearing, grading, or filling in, of, to, or upon any real property or street or road in front of or adjoining the same.
2. Planting of trees, vines, shrubs, plants, hedges, or lawns, or providing other landscaping materials on any real property.
3. Providing professional services upon real property or in preparation for or in conjunction with the intended activities in #1 or #2.
Part of the reason this type of lien assumes so many different names is because it applies to so many different types of work. If you represent a construction company looking to get paid by your hired contractor, you’re most likely eligible to file a lien. If you’re a landscaper whose client has been dodging your calls, you’re also most likely eligible to file a lien.
Suppliers who provided materials to other suppliers, unfortunately, are not protected.
Being in the right industry and providing the right type of work aren’t the only two qualifications you have to meet for lien protection, however. Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility to file a mechanic’s lien in Washington based on your role on the project, you must also consider whether you’ve taken the required steps to have preserved your lien rights throughout the project.
The primary requirement you had to have satisfied is sending notice to both the property owner and prime contractor, if applicable. This process is called sending “preliminary notice” if you acted as a subcontractor, supplier, or laborer on the project, and it must have been completed within 60 days of first furnishing (i.e., first providing your materials or services).
Prime/general contractors also have to send notice, though it is called “Notice to Owner” or a Model Disclosure agreement and is required before work commences. Read more about sending preliminary notices in Washington state.
The other requirement you must satisfy to preserve your right to lien is related to filing the lien itself. Once you’ve made the decision to lien a property, the mechanic’s lien must be filed within 90 days from last delivered labor or material for it to be considered valid. If your final day of providing materials or services was over 90 days ago, you are no longer eligible to file a mechanic’s lien in Washington state.
If it’s not apparent yet, we want to stress the importance of knowing your lien deadlines and ensuring you meet requirements throughout the process; deadlines can differ from service type to service type, so review all Washington lien deadlines here.
If you’re still unsure whether or not you qualify, don’t hesitate to reach out. We have a committed, local team waiting to lend some expertise.
By our count, there are two different methods of filing a construction lien in Washington: the easy way or the hard way.
What we consider “the hard way” for most lienholders is filing the lien on your own, or with the help of a lawyer. Many of our customers have come to us because they found — like most legal processes — the process of filing a lien on their own to be tedious, confusing, and/or expensive. There are countless details, statutes, and laws that must be understood and abided by to deem the lien “lawful” and enforceable; what’s more, these requirements often differ from state to state.
If you’d like to file the lien yourself, continue reading to learn best practices when filling out a Washington mechanic’s lien form. If you’re interested in learning more about “the easy way,” feel free to skip the next section.
Attention to detail while preparing mechanic’s lien documents is critical; any incorrect information can ultimately lead to an invalid lien. As outlined in Revised Code of Washington 60.04.091, your prepared “Claim of Lien” document must contain:
If you’re filing the lien on behalf of your business, your business name, phone number, and address must be present.
“The first and last date on which the labor, professional services, materials, or equipment was furnished or employee benefit contributions were due.”
In most cases, your first and last day of furnishing will be relatively straightforward: your first furnishing date is the day you began work, and your last furnishing date is the final day you spent working on the project in question. Preliminary tasks, like soliciting bids or prepping a job site, and “punch-list” items, like minor alterations and repairs once a job is completed, do not count when determining your first and last furnishing dates.
The “person indebted to the claimant” is usually your customer. If there are multiple people who owe you for work done on one project, it’s best to include the names of all indebted.
“The street address, legal description, or other description reasonably calculated to identify, for a person familiar with the area, the location of the real property to be charged with the lien.”
Including the legal description is the safest choice here, but the legal description itself can be difficult to track down; requesting the property’s deed from your county assessor’s office is usually the best place to start. Unlike in a number of other states, however, including the legal description is not a requirement in Washington.
It’s possible for a construction lien to be deemed invalid if the correct property owner is not stated in the lien document. For this reason, we recommend including the name of any person believed to be the owner (a.k.a., the “reputed owner”) if you’re unsure.
If you have absolutely no idea who owns the property, Washington law allows claimants to state so on the lien; it’s usually advisable, however, to include any and all of your best guesses.
The lien amount is, of course, the amount of money you’re owed. Don’t go overboard here: any fabrication or inflation can lead to a fraudulent lien, rejected upon review. Additionally, you shouldn’t include any interest, legal, or filing fees in your total — just the principal amount you’re claiming on the lien. Attorney fees can often be recovered if proper steps are taken after the lien has been recorded.
Last but not least, the mechanic’s lien must be signed and notarized before it is believed to be “true and correct under penalty of perjury.” Ensure all details are correct and accurate before signing.
From here, you can file your Washington mechanic’s lien in person, by mail, or online. A lien must be recorded by the county auditor’s office where the project itself took place; if the project spanned across county lines, the lien must be filed in all associated county auditors’ offices.
Keep in mind that there are costs associated with filing a mechanic’s lien, so don’t forget to bring a form of payment if you file in person!
For those of us who prefer to focus our attention on our work (rather than filling out legal documents), working with Northwest Lien Service to file a mechanic’s lien in Washington is oftentimes the easier solution.
When it comes to matters of the law, it’s best to defer to the experts. Rather than writing and filing your own lien document, submit the following form to sign up for an account with Northwest Lien and start securing your mechanic’s lien online. Many times we can file a lien electronically in less than 48 hours.
Not only is our process quick and convenient, but it’s also effective; our team of local experts helped clients secure over $2 million in collections last year alone. Especially if you find yourself filing liens regularly, Northwest Lien is a great solution for filing and tracking mechanic’s liens in Washington state.
Once a lien has been recorded by the county auditor, it is the responsibility of the claimant to send a copy of the mechanic’s lien to the property owner within 14 days of recording. The lien is not at risk of invalidation if the claimant fails to serve the property owner a copy, but failure to do so does disqualify you from recovering any legal fees you incurred during the lien process.
Failure to notify the property owner may not result in legal invalidation of your mechanic’s lien, but it does make it nearly worthless in practice. If a lien is filed in the woods and there’s no one there to fulfill payment, was the lien ever really filed?
In most cases, filing a lien against their property is enough to convince a property owner to settle their debts; a mechanic’s lien makes the property significantly more difficult to sell, effectively decreasing its value, so most property owners will just pay the lien amount rather than have the lien cloud their title. Some property owners, however, need an extra push to write the check. The good news? Northwest Lien can help with the follow-up, too.
Once your Washington mechanic’s lien has been properly claimed, recorded, and served, you can file what’s known as a Notice of Intent to Foreclose. Like a Notice of Intent to Lien, a Notice of Intent to Foreclose is a type of warning document that lets indebted persons know that you’re willing and ready to take them to court if they are still non-compliant.
It’s important to keep in mind that Washington mechanics’ liens are only good for 8 months from the date they are recorded. So, if it becomes necessary to take more aggressive legal action, you must file a lien enforcement suit — and/or take other measures to “enforce” the Washington mechanic’s lien — before the lien has expired.
Once you’ve received payment, we recommend officially releasing the mechanic’s lien with a Washington lien release. Though the lien will expire automatically after 8 months, an expired lien doesn’t get removed from the records until it is officially released; the property owner will eventually need the expired mechanic’s lien off the books, and they may even have the right to file a lawsuit to get the record wiped. To avoid future liability, it’s best to just resolve the matter now and wipe your hands “lien” of it.
Like preliminary notices, Washington state does not require a specific form to release a lien, only specific information. Northwest Lien has created a free lien release template that contains all of the required information, available to download at no cost.
But we can even do you one better than our free template: if you filed your mechanic’s lien with Northwest Lien, we can release the lien for you. If you’re ready to get started with Northwest Lien, give us a call at (425) 201-5120 or order online today.