The Construction Lien Center

Construction Liens: Probably the most frequently discussed legal topic amongst contractors, the construction lien can be a very powerful tool for your company to avoid costly disputes and non-paying projects.

Here’s the catch: You must use it correctly.

There are lots of twists and turns in the Washington and Louisiana mechanic lien statutes. Wolfe Law Group has attorneys who are experienced in preparing, filing, enforcing and disputing construction liens.

Additionally, we have over 20 articles at WolfeLaw.com about construction liens, construction lien notices (Preliminary Notices), disputing construction liens, enforcing construction liens and more…


Construction Lien Articles


Construction Lien Forms – Free
Our website does more than just talk about liens…we provide you with free lien forms, notice forms and more. Here is a listing of some of the forms available for free download at WolfeLaw.com. Be sure to read our Disclaimer.

Louisiana Lien Forms:

Washington Lien Forms:


Lien Frequently Asked Questions
To read some of our Frequently Asked Questions about construction and mechanic’s liens, visit the Lien FAQs page.


Zlien, Inc.
Are you interested in having your construction lien professionally drafted, filed and distributed to all interested parties – all without lifting a finger?

Zlien is the Smarter Way to Lien. Liens are filed and delivered for $295.00 each, Preliminary Notices and Notices of Intent to Lien are $35.00, and Lien Cancellations are $125.00.

Learn more at www.zlien.com.

How To Cancel a Washington Lien

Every state has strict regulations about how a construction lien may be filed. Oftentimes, however, the cancellation of a construction lien may be more difficult than its filing.

In most states, a “lien release” or “certificate of cancellation” must be filed with the recorder where the lien was filed, and these releases are typically required to identify the property, identify the recording information on the lien (i.e. book #, page #, etc.), and be notarized.

This requirement to provide the recording information and book number highlights the importance of retaining a copy of the original lien document. Furthermore, in some states, the actual original lien document is required to cancel the inscription (In Georgia, the county recorder requires an original copy of the filed lien to grant a cancellation).

The process in Washington state is rather simple. The “lien release” direction is provided by state, in R.C.W. § 60.04.071:

Upon payment and acceptance of the amount due to the lien claimant and upon demand of the owner or the person making payment, the lien claimant shall immediately prepare and execute a release of all lien rights for which payment has been made, and deliver the release to the person making payment. In any suit to compel deliverance of the release thereafter in which the court determines the delay was unjustified, the court shall, in addition to ordering the deliverance of the release, award the costs of the action including reasonable attorneys’ fees and any damages.

The “lien release” document is a simple form that essentially provides three pieces of information:

  • The recorded lien’s identifying information;
  • A statement that the lien is requested to be released; and
  • The statement must be notarized.

This article was originally posted on Express Lien’s topic-specific Construction Lien Blog.

Disputing A Construction Lien

How To Dispute a Construction Lien in Louisiana or Washington

Filing a construction lien is incredibly simple, and here is a secret: when filing, no one checks to ensure that the property owner actually owes the claimant any money.

In fact, anyone with the wherewithal can actually draft a lien document and file it against any property owner. Not only will the parish or county recorder file the instrument….they must file the instrument.

Every state has some mechanism within its laws to prevent an abuse of this process, and usually a property owner of aggrieved party can recover attorneys fees and penalties from the party making the improper filing. Practically speaking, however, utilizing these proceedings to remove a lien can cost thousands and take months…and while you may get the lien instrument removed, you just as well may not.

This post explores the disputing of a construction lien.

What Makes A Lien Improper Anyway?
Before discussing what you can do to remove an improper lien, it’s prudent to highlight what exactly makes a lien improper in the first place.

Some common things that make a construction lien invalid:

  • Failure to adequately describe the property – i.e. filing without a legal property description;
  • When required, failing to provide the proper notices. In both Louisiana and Washington, in certain circumstances a contractor, subcontractor or supplier must provide property owners with “notice” of lien rights. If the liening party fails to provide these notices, it may forfeit its lien rights.
  • “Shooting for the Moon” – In the heat of the moment, a contractor may lien a project for an unreasonable sum (interests, attorneys fees, the cost of his time in dealing with the collection, etc., etc.). By “shooting for the moon,” the contractor weakens his claim as a whole.
  • Failure to meet all of the content requirements. Washington and Louisiana lien statutes are specific about what must be contained within a lien document…and the absence of any one component can be fatal to the claim.
  • Timeliness. In Louisiana and Washington and in virtually every state, a construction lien must be filed within a very specific timeframe. If the lien is filed just one day late, it is invalid.

What Does Not Make a Lien Improper? An Important Distinction

It’s important to distinguish between a dispute related to the construction lien itself and a dispute related to the underlying construction work addressed by the lien.

While both Louisiana and Washington provide mechanisms for property owners to dispute a construction lien as being improperly filed, these dispute proceedings will mostly only address the procedural appropriateness of the lien. It will not, in other words, consider whether the contractor’s work was done well or properly, whether the contractor “overcharged,” or decide any other substantive dispute between the contractor and the property owner.

In determining whether someone has abused the liening process, the courts will simply consider whether they had a right to file the instrument…not whether they will prevail in trial related to the underlying obligation or contract. In Washington, for example, court’s have even go so far as to state that “a lien is frivolous only 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. Constr., Inc., 115 Wn. App. 384, 62 P.3d 548 (2003).

That court goes on to sum up its findings with a phrase very applicable to this portion of our discussion, that “every frivolous lien is invalid, but not every invalid lien is frivolous.”

What to Do with an Improper Lien
The procedures for dealing with an improper lien are very similar in Louisiana and Washington.

In Louisiana, the procedure for disputing a lien is a two-step process, and is outlined within La. Rev. Stat. 9:4833. First, you are required to notify the other party of the lien defects and make a formal demand for its removal; and Second, if the lien isn’t removed, you file a petition requesting the court to compel its removal.

The “warning” letter is mandated by 9:4833 (A), and requires that you provide the liening party a period of ten (10) days to remove the inscription before proceeding against them. If the liening party fails to cancel the inscription within the 10-day warning period, you are directed to bring a “mandamus” action under La. Rev. Stat. 44:114(B) to compel the Parish Recorder to cancel the lien inscription.

According to Louisiana procedural rules, a mandamus action should be set for hearing within 2 to 10 days from service of the defendant. Unfortunately, however, the hearing is rarely that speedy as a practical matter. You should be prepared to wait for 20-75 days.

In Washington, the procedure for disputing a lien is outlined with R.C.W. 60.04.081, which labels improper liens as “frivolous claims.”

It’s a one-step proceeding in Washington, allowing an owner to immediately apply to the appropriate superior court by motion for an order directing the claimant to appear in court to show cause why the lien is proper. The hearing date according to §60.04.081 can be no earlier than 6 days and no later than 15 days following service of the motion.

A Washington lien is considered “frivolous” if it is made without reasonable cause or clearly excessive. The filed motion shall state the grounds upon which relief is asked, and shall be supported by the affidavit of the applicant or his or her attorney setting forth a concise statement of the facts upon which the motion is based.

Award of Attorneys Fees

Generally speaking, the laws in both Louisiana and Washington provide that a party disputing an improper lien may recover attorneys fees if they prevail in having the lien removed. Each state, however, has its own twist.

In Louisiana, attorneys fees may be recovered by the party challenging the lien if: (a) they sent the required 10-day notice as per La. R.S. 9:4833(C); (b) the lien is ordered invalid and removed; and (c) the claimant filed the lien with actual malice and in bad faith.

It is usually this third requirement that prevents a Louisiana litigant from being awarded attorneys fees, as it is quite difficult to show that the contractor was being purposefully malicious when filing the construction lien. In practice, Louisiana courts only grant attorneys fees when actual malice and bad faith can be demonstrated.

In Washington, on the other hand, there is no requirement that the lien be filed with actual malice or in bad faith, or that any “pre-litigation notice” be provided. However, §60.04.081 is interesting in that it grants attorneys fees and costs to the winner of the proceedings, regardless of whether that is the contractor or the property owner!

§60.04.081 seriously raises the stakes of lien dispute litigation in Washington. If an owner instigates the proceedings and loses, he or she may be stuck with the claimant’s a
ttorneys fees bill. As such, while a property owner can dispute a construction lien in Washington state, he or she should be very careful about taking that step – especially since Washington courts overturn liens only when they present “no debatable issues and [are] so devoid of merit that it has no possibility of succeeding.”

Correcting Mistakes in a Construction Lien

It seems that a hundred things can go wrong when filing a construction lien. We’ve heard horror stories from clients of filing liens against the incorrect property, in the wrong parish or county, or for the wrong amount entirely!

It is of course possible to make a mistake when preparing or filing your construction lien. This begs a very important question: How do you fix it?

In Washington and Louisiana, the recorder’s office will require you to file an “amended” instrument, which is, for the most part, simply a new lien.

If the “error” or “mistake” is critical enough to compromise the validity of your lien, the amended lien must also be filed within the statutory lien period! If your mistake invalidates your lien, and your amendment is filed afterthe lien period…your first lien will be invalid because of the error and your second lien will be invalid because it’s untimely.

Notice of Intent to Lien and Preliminary Notice: What’s The Difference?

In the world of construction liens, the word “Notice” gets frequent use. The technical nature of each state’s notice requirements, however, are often misunderstood.

In general, there are 2 types of “notices” required by lien statutes: Preliminary Notice & Notice of Intent to Lien.

Preliminary Notice vs. Notice of Intent to Lien
A “Preliminary Notice” must usually be provided to the notified party before work begins on a construction project, or within a certain time frame from when materials and/or materials are first furnished.

A “Notice of Intent to Lien,” on the other hand, must usually be provided to the notified party before filing a lien, usually 7-15 days before the filing.

As you can see from these simple definitions, the requirements are extremely different. And it’s safe to assume that if your project and state requires notice, the failure to send it will result in the forfeiture of your company’s lien rights.

When Is Notice Required?
Every state’s requirements are different – and unfortunately, quite technical. Not only does the technical nature of lien statutes make them difficult to understand and interpret, but they also result in sometimes absurd consequences.

Here are some general notice trends:

  • Frequent Rule #1: Almost every state has notice requirements when work is being performed on an “owner-occupied” residence. In theory, this is to protect homeowners from getting burned and having to pay contractors twice. Some states (like Pennsylvania) even prohibit liens against single family homeowner residences. If you’re working on an “owner-occupied” residence – check your state’s lien laws.
  • Frequent Rule #2: The further down the chain you are, the more likely notice is required. Across the nation, there are more notice requirements for subcontractors than prime contractors, and more notice requirements for sub-subcontractors and suppliers than 1st tier subcontractors. If you’re contracting with a subcontractor – check your state’s lien laws.

Louisiana Notice Requirements
Here is some short-hand rules on Louisiana’s notice requirements for Private Works:

  • General Contractor (those contracting with an owner) must file a “Notice of Contract” with the Parish recorder if the project’s contract price exceeds $25,000.00. The notice must be filed before first furnishing labor and/or materials to the project.
  • When “improvement” work (i.e. not new construction) is being performed on an “owner-occupied” residence, the person contracting with the property owner must provide a “Notice of Lien Rights” to the property owner, and have the owner sign the same.
  • Lessors of movables (who did not contract with the property owner) must deliver a “Notice of Lease” to the property owner and general contractor within 10 days of delivering the movables to the jobsite.
  • On all residential projects, Sellers of movables (i.e. suppliers) must deliver a “Notice of Nonpayment” to the property owner at least 10 days before filing a construction lien.
  • On all projects where a Notice of Contract has been filed, sellers of movables must deliver a “Notice of Nonpayment” to the property owner and the general contractor at least 10 days before filing a construction lien.

You can learn much more about Louisiana Lien Laws through the many resources provided by Wolfe Law Group, including:

Construction Lien articles published on the Wolfe Law Group Construction Law Blog.

Forms Available:
Notice of Lien Rights (for generals on owner-occupied improvement work)
Notice of NonPayment (for suppliers)
Notice of Lease (for lessors)

Washington Notice Requirements
Here is some short-hand rules on Washington’s notice requirements for private construction projects:

  • You are required to send written notice of a right to claim a lien to the property owner in every circumstance except: (1) if you contract directly with the owner or owner’s agent; (2) if you are a laborer making a claim based solely on labor; or (3) if you are a subcontractor who contracted with the prime contractor.
  • An exception applies if the project is “improvements to existing owner-occupied single family residences,” in which case you must send notice to the property owner unless you contracted with him/her.
  • The form of the “notice” is provided for by Washington Statutes: click here.
  • A lien is only valid as to services, or materials performed or delivered 60 days before the notice is delivered to the property owner (for most projects), and 10 days before the notice is delivered in new construction single-family-residence projects.

How to Send Notice
In general, notices should be sent via hand delivery or certified mail with return receipt requested. You should keep affidavits of delivery or mailing to later prove that the notices were in fact sent and received. If a notice requires signature, you’ll likely have to hand-deliver the notice.

There are legal document services that will properly prepare and send out construction lien notices. Zlien, Inc., for example, prepares and delivers construction notices for contractors across the nation, and they keep copies of the notice and proof of delivery on their servers with client access. Their website is http://www.zlien.com.

What’s Inside A Lien?

So what exactly is required to be within a construction lien? Each state has statutes that set out very specifically what a “claim of lien” or “mechanics lien” must contain to be considered valid.

Since lien statutes are typically “hyper-technical,” even the smallest mistake can cause your lien to be considered worthless by a court. Hiring an experienced legal document preparation service like Zlien helps ensure that your liens meet the technical filing requirements and protect your company’s right to payment.

A construction law firm in Seattle, WA and New Orleans, LA – Wolfe Law Group – just published an article on their blog about the contents of construction liens in Washington and Louisiana. The article, titled “The Guts of a Construction Lien,” gets very specific about what must be recorded with every claim of lien in those states.

Take a look at the article for more information – they even provide readers with construction lien forms for both states at no charge.

Identifying Property in a Mechanics Lien

This article originally appeared at Wolfe Law Group’s blog, http://www.wolfelaw.com, and is reproduced here with permission.

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When filing a mechanic’s lien on a construction project, it is of course critical to identify the property within your lien. While a seemingly simple task, the laws in nearly every state are very specific about how property is identified…and the consequences of small mistakes can be fatal.

In most states, for example, the statutes and case law governing private construction liens clearly require a “property description” that is more specific than a municipal address. While the law does not explicitly require a “legal property description,” it is clear from the court’s interpretation of the laws that a legal property description is sufficient and a municipal address is not.

Since courts are typically not reluctant to dismiss a lien when simple formalities – such as the property description – are overlooked, to ensure your lien’s validity a legal property description should be used.

What Is A Legal Property Description?
Perhaps the best way to explain legal property descriptions is to demonstrate what it is not; A legal property description is not a simple address.

Accordingly, if you put something like this on your lien to identify a property, your lien is likely invalid:

123 Main Street
Seattle, WA 98134

If you were given a legal property description and a driving map, you’d probably have a very difficult time finding the property. This is because legal property descriptions typically speak in the language of county recorder offices, and not in the common directional parlance of everyday life. A legal property description looks less like the above and more like this:

Subdivision: Breatheway
Range: 105
Lot: 66
County: King
Square: 4-A

Want the technical definition?

A legal description (also referred to as land description, property description or land boundary description) is “a written statement recognized by law as to the definite location of a track of land by reference to a survey, recorded map or adjoining property.”

How To Get the Legal Property Description

In many construction contracts (including AIA contracts), the contracting party in the higher tier is responsible for providing the legal property description to the lower tier party upon request. While very infrequently employed, most contractors have the right to make a simple RFI and acquire this valuable information.

It is sometimes better to make this RFI before work begins, as you’ll be less likely to get a party’s cooperation after a dispute arises. And since there are strict time limitations as to when you can and cannot lien, it is valuable to have this information at hand while things are smooth.

If you do not have the ability to request this as per your contract, or if you’re unable to get the information for practical reasons, there are of course other ways to acquire a legal property description, including:

  • Go to the county records office, and pull the Act of Sale for the property. This document will likely have the property description within.
  • Use a service to acquire the legal property description. There are many online services such as www.HomeInfoMax.com. If you are filing a construction lien, companies like Zlien.com will draft the lien and acquire the legal property description for you.
  • An attorney may have access to county or parish records to acquire this information.

Common Mistakes and Problems

Sometimes, finding a legal property description can be very difficult.

Depending on your location, the records of the county or parish may or may not be complete or easy to use. If your address is in an area that has been recently subdivided or sold, the legal property description might be “up in the air” or otherwise difficult to obtain. Finally, property on corners or with multiple addresses may be difficult to find.

In our experience, we’ve even encountered instances when the municipal address used by a property owner is not the actual or correct address of the property, and as such, not likely to lead you to a correct legal property description.

In short, you should be careful when acquiring a legal property description as there are many tricks to the trade and many pitfalls for the unwary. Legal property descriptions are very precise, and very fickle. Since the stakes are high (the validity or invalidity of your construction lien), pay close attention as to how you describe the liened property.

The Guts of a Construction Lien

We’ve published a good deal of information about why you should lien a non-paying project, what you’re required to do to preserve your rights to lien, and more….but it’s about time we explained what exactly comprises the construction lien itself. We’re even going to provide you with a form.

Picky, Picky, Picky
One reason you should always consider engaging counsel or a third party provider to draft and file your construction lien is because the lien statutes in Washington and Louisiana are extraordinarily technical. The statutes governing private construction liens are very specific about what each lien should contain, and the failure to include this information can be fatal to your lien claim.

Not only must your lien meet substance requirements, but it must also meet rigorous form requirements. To make matters worse, the “form” of the lien may change from county-to-county or parish-to-parish.

Needless to say, be very careful when drafting your construction lien, as even typographical errors can ruin your lien’s validity.

The Guts of a Louisiana Lien
So, what exactly must a Louisiana lien contain?

The Louisiana Private Works Act, in La R.S. 9:4822 (G) provides that a construction lien:

(1) Shall be in writing;

(2) Shall be signed by the person asserting the same or his representative;

(3) Shall reasonably identify the immovable with respect to which the work was performed or movables or services were supplied or rendered and the owner thereof;

(4) Shall set forth the amount and nature of the obligation giving rise to the claim or privilege and reasonably itemize the elements comprising it including the person for whom or to whom the contract was performed, material supplied, or services rendered.

Although the law in Louisiana previously required construction liens to be notarized and sworn to, the comments to LA R.S. 9:4822 make it clear that “[t]he requirement that the statement be sworn to has been abrogated.”

Furthermore, remember that the requirement to “reasonably identify the immovable” requires more than a municipal address. Although the court and statute has not mandated a legally property description, a legal property description suffices as a reasonable identification. Click here to read our article about property descriptions in liens.

Want to see a Louisiana lien form? Take a look at one here. Read our disclaimer.

The Guts of a Washington Lien
So, what exactly must a Washington lien contain?

R.C.W.§ 64.04.091 provides that a notice of claim of lien:

The notice of claim of lien:

(1) Shall state in substance and effect:

(a) The name, phone number, and address of the claimant;

(b) The first and last date on which the labor, professional services, materials, or equipment was furnished or employee benefit contributions were due;

(c) The name of the person indebted to the claimant;

(d) 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;

(e) The name of the owner or reputed owner of the property, if known, and, if not known, that fact shall be stated; and

(f) The principal amount for which the lien is claimed.

and

(2) Shall be signed by the claimant or some person authorized to act on his or her behalf who shall affirmatively state they have read the notice of claim of lien and believe the notice of claim of lien to be true and correct under penalty of perjury, and shall be acknowledged pursuant to chapter 64.08 RCW. If the lien has been assigned, the name of the assignee shall be stated. Where an action to foreclose the lien has been commenced such notice of claim of lien may be amended as pleadings may be by order of the court insofar as the interests of third parties are not adversely affected by such amendment.

Unlike in Louisiana, a construction lien in Washington must be notarized.

Furthermore, refer to Wolfe Law Group’s article on identifying property within mechanic’s liens before filing a Washington lien with a simple municipal address to identify the property.

Want to see a Washington lien form? Take a look at one here. Read our disclaimer.