Filing a Lien for Payment

Filing a Lien for Payment

A lien is a claim on a property for an unpaid debt or other obligation of the operator. If you’re owed money for work on the house, the most appropriate course of action is to negotiate with the proprietor and work out a payment program. If this proves impossible, and you want to place a lien on a house, there are procedures to follow and deadlines to meet. Every state has its lien law, and prior to taking this step you should become knowledgeable about it.

Preliminary Notice

In most states you need to provide a notice to the proprietor of your intention to file a lien. As a notice, this is known in California. It should be furnished no later than 20 days once you begin to provide any advantage to the property in the kind of renovations, improvements or repairs. The notice will maintain your rights to file a lien for no longer than 20 days ahead of the date it’s served and runs through the completion of the contracted work.


If you were hired directly by the property owner, the contract used to arrange the work serves as the lien notice. In cases like this, service of a preliminary notice is unnecessary. Back in California, subcontractors who don’t contract directly with the owner, and who don’t file a lien on work worth greater than $400, are subject to disciplinary action by the registrar of contractors.

Recording the Lien

After you have completed work, you have a limited amount of time within which to file your lien with the clerk of court or other public recorder. Back in California, this filing must be done with the county recorder after all the work is completed, or until you’re excused from staying work. The deadline runs in 90 days. If you’re a subcontractor, this time period goes to all work done under the principal contract.

Notice of Completion

If the owner records a notice of completion within 10 days of this work being completed on the property, the 90-day deadline becomes a 30-day deadline (for subcontractors) or 60 days (for main contractors) in the date of the proprietor’s recording.


After recording the lien, you have to submit a suit in civil court to enforce it. Back in California, this is known as a lien foreclosure, and you have 90 days from the date you’ve recorded the lien with the county recorder to document it. The suit must name all parties holding an interest in the property, to the best of your knowledge. This includes owners, creditors, and anyone else who has recorded a lien. If you fail to file the suit, the lien is considered void.

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