Customer withholding payment on a job in Washington state? We can help!
Contractors encounter all sorts of situations when working for various clientele. Perhaps the most stressful and inconvenient circumstance in their line of work is when they are unable to collect payments at the right time or in the right amount. But did you know there’s a legal tool to help prevent these situations? Often called mechanics’ liens, construction liens, or materialmans’ liens, these tools can be a critical aspect of protecting your business.
The most commonly asked questions and topics are listed below in the FAQ sections.
If you don’t see what you’re looking for, contact us today to talk with our team of experts. We’ve been assisting companies big and small to protect their lien rights and secure outstanding payment for over 20 years — and we’d love to do the same for you.
Considered a legal tool, a mechanic’s lien is used as security for payment when you work on a person’s property. They may be equal to the value of the labor and/or materials you will use when working. Liens are usually the go-to method for security payments for contractors because they are less expensive and less time-consuming than a lawsuit for breach of contract.
In a lien agreement, the property owner grants the lien and is also referred to as the lienee. The lienor or lien holder, on the other hand, has the benefit of the lien (in this case, the contractor).
You should remember that a lien does not guarantee payment. However, it prevents the owner of the property from not paying the lien or posting a bond.
Use the links in the blue bar below to find more helpful information.
Know your deadlines! Missed lien deadlines are the most common and costly mistakes companies make when trying to recoup missing payment.
Below, we’ve laid out important dates to be aware of by role and document type.
Notice to Owner Deadlines
Under some circumstances, Notice to Owner is required before commencing work. Model Disclosure Statement due before work begins on all residential projects, and commercial projects under $60,000.
Preliminary Notice Deadlines
Preliminary notice, a.k.a. Notice of Intent or Notice of Right to Claim Lien, within 60 days from first delivering labor or materials. Who must receive the notice depends on the role of the party that hired the party giving notice.
Preliminary Notice Deadlines
Notice of Right to Claim Lien within 60 days from first delivering labor or materials. Who must receive the notice depends on the role of the party that hired the party giving notice.
If you are new to filing a mechanic’s lien in Washington, you may be confused and unsure of what to do. In this section, we briefly cover the process of obtaining a mechanic’s lien. For more detailed information, visit our comprehensive guide below.
Filing a lien is not for everyone. As we mentioned before, there are specific people who can file for a lien. You are eligible to file for a lien if you have furnished professional services, labor, materials, or equipment for the purpose of improving real property.
If you are a landscaper who has a client that’s avoiding you because of payments, for example, you are eligible for a lien. Alternatively, if you are a supplier to a supplier, you are not eligible to file a Washington mechanic’s lien.
Now that you know whether you are qualified to file a mechanic’s lien or not, it is time to prepare your Claim of Lien document. You must remember that the details are highly critical in preparing the lien document, and any incorrect information will lead to an invalid lien.
Here is the information your mechanics lien form must contain:
If you’d like someone to take care of the filing for you, file a mechanic’s lien with Northwest Lien.
After filling out the mechanic’s lien form, the next thing to do is file your mechanic’s lien claim. Also known as “recording the lien,” this step is important if you want your lien to be secured.
Where to file?
You must submit your mechanic’s lien file at the county recorder’s office of the county where the property is situated. If, however, the property is located in two counties, then the mechanic’s lien file must be recorded with both counties.
How to file?
There are three ways to record or file a lien. These are the following:
Which filing methods are available to you will depend on the county where work took place. For helpful filing information on each county in Washington, download our 2022 Washington State Contractor Cheat Sheet, a free and easily printable resource to use as you’re filing mechanics’ liens.
DOWNLOAD OUR FREE WASHINGTON LIEN CHEAT SHEET
After filing your lien, the county auditor will record it. Once recorded, you must send notice of lien to the property owner within 14 days of recording. Although your mechanic’s lien will not be invalidated, failure to send a notice will disqualify you from recovering any legal fees incurred when you enforce the lien (which can be costly!).
You can send the Notice of Lien to the property owner in person or by certified or registered mail.
A filed lien itself can be amazing leverage against the property owner; no property owner wants a lien placed on their property. Neither owners nor prime contractors like dealing with lien claims, so they may start to talk about payment once they receive a notice of the lien.
If, however, a mechanic’s lien did not push the owner to pay, you can send a Notice of Intent to Foreclose to help you. This document notifies the owner or contractor that you are willing to take them to court due to their nonpayment. Here are more steps you can take to enforce your filed mechanic’s lien in Washington, as suggested by one of our partner attorneys.
Once you are able to collect the payment, we recommend you release or cancel the lien claim. You can release the lien by filing a lien release form, which must be in recordable format. You must also identify all your previously filed mechanics liens on the property as well as state a request for the release of the lien.
Yes, since a mechanics lien involves real property, it is important to describe and identify the property in question carefully and accurately.
No, you cannot include fees in your lien amount. However, if ever you foreclose on the lien, you may be awarded by the court the amount paid for recording the lien, legal fees, and other necessary expenses incurred by your attorney as costs.
If your lien covers more than one property owned by the same person, the lien amount is allocated to each property.
Yes, a Washington mechanic’s lien needs to be notarized in order to be valid.
You can file and record your Washington mechanic’s lien at the county recorder’s office where the property is situated. If the property is located in two counties, the lien must be recorded with both county offices.
Download our 2022 Washington Contractor Cheat Sheet for a list of all Washington counties, their contact information, accepted payment methods, and more.
Yes, you need to send notice of lien to the property owner within 14 days of recording. You can do this by delivering the notice in person or by certified or registered mail.
Failure to send a notice does not invalidate the lien, but it will disqualify you from recovering any legal fees or costs if ever you foreclose on the claim.
Of course! You can file a lien against the entire complex by naming the owner’s association. In this case, the association will pay in full, or an individual unit owner can pay their proportion of the lien amount to release their unit.
You can also file a mechanics lien on an individual unit given the owner has expressed consent to the work.
A Washington mechanic’s lien is effective for 8 months after the date of recording/filing.
You can enforce action on the lien within this time period. The lien expires when you fail to take action in enforcing the lien after the eight months have passed. The eight-month period starts after you file the lien and cannot be extended.
The cost of filing a mechanic’s lien depends on the method you use. If you are filing on your own, it may cost you between $3 to $345.
You can also use a lien filing service such as Northwest Lien which only requires you to pay a flat fee. If you are interested in filing a mechanics lien, you can contact us today to get started — we’re looking forward to hearing from you!
No. The mechanic’s lien only has priority over a lien or other encumbrance attached to the land afterward. Your lien also has priority over others if these were unrecorded at the time you first provided the labor and/or materials.
Simply put, filing a lien is the single most effective method to secure payment for the labor and/or materials you put on a person’s property. In almost all cases, it is less expensive and time-consuming than suing for breach of contract.
When you file a lien, you have the right to require the County Sheriff to sell the property you put work into and collect the amount owing from the sale proceeds. Because of this right to sell and collect, most lending institutions or other prospective purchasers will avoid any property that has a lien filed against it. Who would want to invest in a piece of property if someone else has the right to sell and take some of the money first? Thus, when you file a lien, you are in a much better position to secure payment from the unwilling owner because he or she will have a difficult time selling the property with a lien clouding the title.
The filing of a lien does not guarantee payment, but it does prevent the owner from conveying the property without paying the lien or posting a bond. If you have not filed a lien (or do not meet the requirements to file a lien) but you do have a contract with the owner for the work you performed, then you can always proceed to court, which can be a lengthy and very costly process.
At Northwest Lien, we help you avoid all the guesswork, high legal fees, and uncertainty around filing this very important document. Being experts in Northwest lien laws, we find the legal description, legal owner, mail out to all parties involved and keep accurate records. Northwest Lien also keeps you informed of all important deadlines.
In most states, only certain professionals can file for a mechanic’s lien, including:
They are entitled to mechanic’s lien rights for the improvement of their client’s real property.
It is important to note that in filing a lien, most states require you to obtain a registration certificate; here’s more information on becoming a licensed general contractor in Washington state, for example; a contractor who does not have a registration certificate also does not have the right to a lien. On the other hand, if you are a supplier and you do not work on incorporating the materials into the property, then you are exempt from registering.
Filing pre-lien documents are the best way to ensure your lien rights are protected. A pre-lien document — also known as a Notice of Intent, Preliminary Notice, Pre-lien Notice, Notice to Owner, Notice of Furnishing, or Notice on Bond — is required in Northwest states prior to filing a lien for payment. Preliminary notices also inform your customer that you are working on the project and that you are serious about receiving your payment promptly and in full. Our clients who send these documents at the start of every project are the most successful with getting paid without needing to file a lien.
More about the Notice:
The notice serves as a “heads-up” to your customer about your right to file a lien and what a lien entails. With limited exceptions, this notice is required even if you don’t expect to file a lien. Because filing a lien is such a powerful tool, the law says the owner must be aware that if he or she doesn’t pay bills, or if his or her contractor doesn’t pay the subs or suppliers, a lien can be filed against the property. The notice is most important in the latter situation — the homeowner usually pays the general and assumes those payments are making their way down the chain to the subs and suppliers. Notice language generally advises the homeowner on how to avoid liens by writing checks to more than one party, obtaining lien waivers upon payment, or using an escrow agent. There are three types of notice documents, two of which are used by general contractors and the other by subcontractors and suppliers. Northwest Lien has a chart, available on this website, detailing the notice process and which forms you need. General contractors should focus on the first row, subs, and suppliers on the second. The most notable exception to notice requirements is if you are contracting directly with the property owner. However, the safest approach is to provide notice for all construction projects before you start work and include lien provisions in your underlying contracts.
No other document in the construction industry is as powerful at securing payment than liens. They create the best chance for you to get paid. At Northwest Lien, we have an excellent track record of securing payment for our customers who file a lien. Last year alone, we helped our clients secure over $2 million in collections.
That said, in the rare event that your lien is not immediately satisfied, there are other strategies for prompting payment available (that do not involve going to court). Learn more about enforcing a mechanic’s lien in Washington.
In Washington, you are required to provide the owner with preliminary notice, sometimes called “Notice of Intent”, if you did not contract directly with the owner. Learn more about sending preliminary notice in Washington state.
If you contracted directly with the owner, you are required to provide the owner a “Model Disclosure Statement” when your work involves the repairing, altering, or building of 4 or fewer residential units on residential property and the bid price is $1,000 or more, or when the work to be done is on a commercial building and the bid price is between $1,000 – 60,000. Learn how to submit a Model Disclosure Statement in Washington.
Note that if you are only furnishing labor, you need not send a Washington notice (though a Model Disclosure statement will still be required if you contracted directly with the owner). However, if there is any material component to the contract or furnishing, preliminary notice is required to protect your full mechanic’s lien rights. In the circumstance when you are providing labor and materials, it may be possible to file a lien for the labor portion of the work (and exclude the materials cost) without a preliminary notice … however, it is a best practice to avoid this need. As you can see, there are a few nuances associated with notice requirements in Washington.
As a best practice, Northwest Lien recommends to all our clients to send notices prior to entering into any new project. It is an inexpensive way to protect your lien rights should you have problems getting paid down the road.
If you did not contract directly with the owner, the preliminary notice can be sent at any time, but it only protects your rights to claim a lien for a limited period of time prior to delivery of the notice.
To fully preserve your lien rights, the Notice to Owner must be delivered within 60 days of the date labor or materials were first furnished to the property for all commercial cases, and on a remodel, alteration, or repair of an owner-occupied single-family residence.
If your work was the new construction of a single-family home, the Notice to Owner should be delivered within 10 days of first providing labor or materials to the project.
If you contracted directly with the Owner, the “Model Disclosure Statement” must be delivered prior to the initiation of work. The statement must be signed by the Owner, and you must retain a copy of the signed document for at least three years.
If you miss the required date and deliver notice late, all is not necessarily lost. A late notice in all commercial cases, and on a remodel, alteration, or repair of an owner-occupied single-family residence will protect your lien rights for 60 days prior to the date notice was delivered. In the case of a new construction of a single-family home, a late notice will protect your lien rights for the 10 days preceding the delivery of the notice.
If you contracted directly with the owner, a Model Disclosure Statement must be delivered to, and signed by, the owner.
If you are delivering preliminary notice, it may either be sent to the owner via certified or registered mail, or personally delivered to, or served on, the owner. If the notice is personally delivered or served to the owner, a signed receipt from the owner or an affidavit of service is required.
Northwest Lien handles this process from start to finish for our clients. Simply order the notice right here on our site and we notify you when the document has been filed and recorded.
If sent by registered or certified mail, the notice is considered delivered 3 days after mailing, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.
A bond claim in the construction context is a notice against a prime contractor’s surety company that a claimant is owed money on a project. If a general contractor is the “first guarantor” of payment to its subcontractors and suppliers on a construction project, then the bonding company acts as a “second guarantor.”
You can feel confident trusting us to provide the most effective tools in the industry aimed at collecting your hard-earned money.
Because Northwest Lien is based right here in the Great Northwest and only serves local clients, we are the foremost experts in Washington and Oregon lien laws.
Moreover, we are a service-based company. You will never hear any computer voice prompts or have calls and emails go unanswered. Our team is available Mon-Fri 8am-5pm to answer all questions and offer expert advice given your unique situation. Our website makes it easy to research, sign up and order documents you need to help collect payment. We also keep you informed throughout the process with notifications as your documents make their way to being recorded with the appropriate county. We’re with you every step of the way.