Two Common Problems With Contractor Liens In Washington State
Contractor liens are powerful tools. When contractors are not paid for their work, they may record a contractor lien (aka “materialman’s lien” or “mechanic’s lien”) against the property to ensure payment. RCW 60.04 governs the requirements for these liens. If a contractor records a proper lien against the property, RCW 60.04 allows them to foreclose on the property to recover the amount due. Because this is such a powerful tool against landowners, the statue also has built-in penalties for “frivolous” liens to discourage unwarranted claims. Liens that are found to be frivolous will be stripped off and the contractor will be required to pay the landowner’s attorney fees.
Two problems commonly arise in the recording and foreclosing of contractor liens:
- In certain situations, the contractor must give the landowner or general contractor a pre-claim notice as a condition of recording the lien. Contractors frequently neglect to do so.
- Contractors must record the lien timely, within 90 days of their last day of work at the property.
If contractors fail to meet either of these conditions, then the lien is improper. However just because a lien is improper does not mean that it is frivolous. A lien is only frivolous if “it presents no debatable issues and is so devoid of merit that it has no possibility of succeeding.” Intermountain Elec., Inc. v. G-A-T Bros. Const., Inc., 115 Wn. App. 384, 394, 62 P.3d 548, 553 (2003). Regardless, contractors obviously want to avoid both improper and frivolous liens, especially when statutory compliance is usually easy with a bit of legal coaching.
This brief description represents only a few of the many issues that can arise when dealing with contractor lien disputes. Each case presents its own unique challenges. The lawyers at Beresford Booth have many years of experience successfully prosecuting and defending against construction disputes. We would be pleased to assist you.