Who can file a lien?
If you provide “professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property” on a private project then you have lien rights on the improvement and the real property per RCW 60.04.021. For instance, if you are a tile subcontractor and you complete a $750 remodeling contract (let’s say $300 in labor and $450 in materials) you have a lien rights against the home for $750. Filing a lien is security for payment and, if you foreclosure on the lien, you can force the sale of the property.
Do I have to give notice before filing a lien?
Yes, pre-claim notice is required from “every person furnishing professional services, materials or equipment for the improvement of real property.” A general contractor must give proper pre-claim notice to: (a) residential owners for four or fewer units or contract value of $1,000.00 or greater; and (b) commercial contracts between $1,000.00 and $60,000.00. RCW 18.27.114. Subcontractors or material and equipment suppliers must give notice to single-family residential construction pursuant to RCW 60.04.031. A statutory form pre-claim notice is provided here.
RCW 60.04.031 also lists several exceptions to the notice requirement. Persons who contract directly with the owner or the owner’s common law agent, laborers whose claim of lien is based solely on performing labor or subcontractors who contract for the improvement of real property directly with the prime contractor do not have to give pre-claim notice.
If proper notice is not given then the lien is invalid. If you are a contractor make sure you give proper notification of your lien rights before the project begins. Technically, you can give notice at any time but you only have the right to claim a lien for professional services, materials, or equipment supplied after the date which is sixty (60) days before mailing the notice by certified or registered mail to the owner or delivering or serving the notice personally upon the owner. RCW 60.04.031. The time limit is ten (10) days for residential projects.
How do I serve the Pre-Claim Notice?
You must serve the Pre-Claim Notice on the property Owner and the Prime Contractor. You must send the Pre-Claim Notice via certified or registered mail. You may also personally serve the Pre-Claim Notice as long as you obtain a signature or an affidavit of service.
Do I need to serve the Owner a Disclosure Statement?
Yes. Under RCW 18.27.114 any Contractor contracting with an Owner to perform any contracting project for (a) the repair, alteration, or construction of four or fewer residential units or accessory structures on such residential property when the bid or contract price totals $1,000.00 or more or (b) for the repair, alteration, or construction of a commercial building when the bid or contract price totals $1,000.00 or more but less than $60,000.00 must provide the Owner with the proper disclosure statement. The proper disclosure statement can be found here. If you fail to provide the proper disclosure statement then you lose your right to claim a lien. You must retain a signed copy of the disclosure statement for at least three years. Common practice is to include this Disclosure Statement with your contract with the owners.
What format must the lien be in?
Fortunately, Washington statutes are very clear on how your claim of lien must be formatted. RCW 60.04.091 includes the format that must be used. You must include the lien claimant, name of person indebted to claimant, name of owner, legal description of the real property, tax parcl number, the date on which the claimant first commenced work on the project, the last date labor or materials were provided to the project by the claimant, the amount of the lien, and the claimant’s contractor registration number. A claim of lien may be found here. Contact your attorney for additional assistance.
When can I file a lien?
You must file a lien 90 days after you last worked or supplied materials to the project. RCW 60.04.091. This includes punchlist or remedial work if the work was done in good faith to complete the original contract and the work was not done for the sole purpose of extending lien rights.
The lien must be filed and recorded with the county recorder or auditor in the county in which the work was performed or the materials provided. If you do not file the lien within this timeframe, you lose your lien rights.
Do I have to give notice of the lien after I record it?
Yes. You must give post-claim notice within 14 days of recording the lien with the county auditor to the owner of the project. RCW 60.04.091. You must provide the Owner a copy of the lien by certified or registered mail or through personal service.
How long do I have to foreclose on the lien if I am not paid?
After your lien is filed, you have eight months to either remove your lien or start the foreclosure process. RCW 60.04.141. If you file a lien and then settle the claim with the owner, you can drop your lien suit. If the owner still refuses to pay the amount claimed, you will have to begin the foreclosure process before the eight month window closes.
You must file the lien foreclosure action in a court that has jurisdiction over the property where you supplied materials or work. You will likely need to consult an attorney to file a foreclosure action. Such actions are expensive and time-intensive so make every effort to settle the matter first!
What do I do if the owner pays after I have filed a lien?
If you have filed a lien and the owner has paid you the amount claimed, you must prepare and execute a release of lien rights and deliver it to the owner. RCW 60.04.071.
What do I do if I am the owner and the lien is frivolous or excessive?
If you are the owner and you feel that a general or subcontractor has filed a lien for an amount that is frivolous or excessive, you may move the Court to hold a hearing in which the general or subcontractor has to show that they are making a reasonable claim. If the Court agrees with you, the Court may reduce the lien amount or award you attorney fees and costs. RCW 60.04.081.
Legal Disclaimer: The information on this page does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as each situation is fact specific and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. The information on this page is solely for the purpose of legal education and is intended to only provide general information about the matters stated therein. The information on this page should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in the subject area of the matters stated therein. No attorney-client relationship is formed without an actual agreement confirmed in writing. I am licensed only in Washington and Oregon.