Liens - timing of events
The California 20-Day Preliminary Notice
preserves a lien claimant’s rights on a construction project
when the notice is served by the claimant on the property owner,
the lender and the general contractor (if a subcontractor or
supplier). As the name implies, the 20 days means the claim
can only extend for work performed up to 20 days before the
notice was served. If you have worked on a project (not as an
employee, but as a contractor) for 60 days before serving the
20-day preliminary notice, your lien rights only extend to the
most recent 20 days. You have no right to lien the value of
the work performed during the first 40 days.
However, if you do not serve the 20-day notice at all, you
will have lost all lien rights. The exception is if you have
a contract directly with the owner, or are a laborer for wages,
then you do do not need to serve a 20 day preliminary notice.
Common sense dictates that It is always a good idea to serve
the notice no later than 20 days after you start work on a project.
You can only record a mechanic’s lien
after all work contracted for is completed, or you no longer
have the ability to complete the work (project has shut down,
you have been terminated, etc.). If you record a lien before
the work is completed, you have created a premature lien, which
is not valid and you must remove it.
Without a notice of completion
The mechanic’s lien against any individual property must
be recorded within 90 days of the completion of the
work of improvement unless there is a recorded notice
With a notice of completion
With a recorded notice of completion, the deadlines are as
follows: A prime (general) contractor must record a lien within
60 days, a subcontractor or supplier must record
a lien within 30 days. This assumes that the
owner recorded the notice of completion within 10 days
of actual completion for these deadlines to apply. And, the
owner must serve all those that provided a 20-preliminary
notice, with a notice that a notice of completion has been recorded,
within 10 days of the notice of completion
recordation. Yes, it seems convoluted, and yes, it is important
that all the deadlines are followed, otherwise you may lose
your mechanic's lien rights.
If for some reason, the notice of completion is not done according
to the above timetable, the process may revert to the 90 day
If your work spans multiple properties as would be common with
a housing subdivision, your deadline is determined by the completion
of each individual property, not the completion of the entire
File a lawsuit within 90 days of
recording the lien. This is the only way to enforce your lien
rights. If you go past the 90 day deadline (there are some limited
exceptions), the lien becomes unenforceable and you are obligated
to go through the steps to remove the now "stale"
lien. If you refuse to do this, you may be liable for up to
$2000 in attorney fees for the owner to petition the Court to
have the lien removed.
A lien foreclosure lawsuit cannot be filed in small claims
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