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Last edited 14 Jan 2021
In the United States, a mechanic’s lien is a legal guarantee that ensures payment for labour or materials that have been supplied to improve property. Originally developed in relation to motor vehicles, mechanics were allowed to place a lien on the vehicles title if they were not paid for repair works.
However, the use of liens has subsequently widened and they are now sometimes referred to as construction liens, property liens, materialman's liens, supplier's liens and so on, and they are filed when payment has not been received for work done or goods or services provided.
In relation to property, liens appear in public property records and ‘travel with the land’, meaning that when property is bought and sold the lien is still attached to the land. This can make it difficult for property owners to complete a sale, if money is still owed to a contractor, and banks and lenders may be unwilling to refinance or lend against properties with liens attached. This can give property owners the incentive to have the issue settled and the lien removed.
The rules applying to costs that can be included in a lien vary from state to state, but generally, only costs relating to labour, goods and services that have improved the property are accepted. It is not usually possible for legal fees, punitive or qualitative damages to be included in the lien as these are not classed as having improved the property.
The claimant must file a court action to enforce the lien within an specified period of time, otherwise it becomes invalid. A Release of Lien can be sought from the lien holder if they have not brought an action, since this still has the potential of hindering the passing on of the property to a new owner.
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