You delivered the work or materials on a project, and now the client keeps putting off payment or even outright refuses to pay. Now what?
Sadly, many independent contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers find themselves in this tricky situation. Enough that Virginia has a legal provision that workers in the construction and home services fields can use to ensure they get paid: the Mechanics’ Liens.
If you need help navigating the legal aspects of pursuing a client for non-payment in Northern Virginia, our experienced attorneys at PJI Law, PLC are here to help.
What Is a Mechanics’ Lien and How Does It Work?
A Mechanics’ Lien exists to guarantee payment to contractors, subcontractors, builders, construction firms, and suppliers that work on construction or building repair projects. In case of property liquidation, mechanics’ liens ensure that the contractors receive their payment before anyone else.
The property’s owners typically have high motivation to settle a Mechanics’ Lien because an active lien makes selling an asset difficult. A title search would show any potential buyer that a lien exists, and complicate or even cancel a sale.
Likewise, banks and other financial institutions usually won’t refinance a lien-encumbered property or provide a loan against a property until the owner receives a lien waiver from the contractor. An unpaid lien may remain on the property owner’s credit record for up to 10 years.
Who Can File a Mechanics’ Lien?
In Virginia, any party that provides labor, equipment, or materials worth at least $150 for building or structure construction, repair, or improvement can count on the protection of a mechanics’ lien. Typically, this includes:
- General contractors
- Suppliers of custom-made materials for the project
It’s important to understand that you can file a lien against a property even if you didn’t work directly with its owner. This is great news for subcontractors.
Do I Need to Be Licensed to File a Mechanics’ Lien in Virginia?
Yes. If your occupation requires a license according to the Virginia contractor requirements, you can only file a Mechanics’ Lien if you have been operating under a valid license. You will need to include your certificate or license number and its expiration date in the lien form.
Likewise, if you are a licensed subcontractor and work with an unlicensed contractor, you cannot file a Mechanics’ Lien on the project if the property owner withholds payment.
When to File a Mechanics’ Lien
In Virginia, the deadline for filing a Mechanics’ Lien is 90 days from the end of the project or 90 days from the end of the month in which you last supplied materials or labor for the project. Once the deadline has passed, any filed liens will be invalid.
Please note that the lien amount can only include the labor and materials you supplied within 150 days before finishing the project. A lien cannot include costs such as attorney’s fees and other legal expenses.
In some cases, when pursuing personal liability against the property’s owner or general contractor, you must give a pre-lien notice within 30 days from the end of the project before the lien is filed. The pre-lien notice should verify the cost of labor and materials.
I Didn’t Have a Written Contract. Can I Still File a Lien?
Yes. In most cases, you can still file a Mechanics’ Lien in Virginia even if you supplied labor or materials following a verbal agreement and did not send a preliminary notice at the start of the project.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Mechanics’ Lien?
While you certainly have the right to file a Mechanics’ Lien yourself, working with an experienced business lawyer can give you a substantial advantage.
A business attorney can help you fully understand the terms of your contract and ensure compliance with Virginia laws when filing a Mechanics’ Lien and any required pre-lien notices. If you end up proceeding to lien foreclosure, you will need a skilled attorney to represent you in court.
PJI Law, PLC: High-Quality Legal Services in Northern Virginia
Are you a contractor, sub-contractor, or supplier who did not get their due payment for a construction project in Northern Virginia? We know how to leverage the existing legal tools to protect your rights.
At PJI Law, PLC, we help small business owners take legal headaches off their plates so they can focus on their work. To speak to a lawyer about a Mechanics’ Lien today, call (703) 865-6100 or contact us online.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.