Strict Requirements for Filing a Mechanics’ Lien in PA

Every contractor and subcontractor in Pennsylvania should at least be aware of what exactly a Mechanics’ Lien is, as it is an important tool that can be used to ensure their payment after construction work has been completed.  Generally speaking, a Mechanics’ Lien is a security interest that is placed on the title to property for the benefit of those who have supplied labor or materials to improve that property, namely contractors and subcontractors, who have not been properly paid for their work.  Since property is difficult to sell if it has a Mechanics’ Lien attached and such a lien takes priority over all other liens, properly filing a Mechanics’ Lien in PA is a powerful method to compel a property owner to pay what is owed.

When considering the powerful effect a Mechanics’ Lien has, it is important to focus on the fact that it must be properly filed.  Not only does this mean that the proper legal documents need to be filed with the court within a designated timeframe, but other parties must be properly served with notice of the lien claim.  It goes without saying that Mechanics’ Liens are often prepared by experienced debt collection attorneys to ensure that rights are not violated and that the lien is properly entered.

Mechanics’ Lien in PA |49 P.S. §1101 et seq.

In addition to specifying what exactly each lien claim must contain, the limitations of each claim, and the exact legal procedure to follow, which we have detailed, the Pennsylvania Mechanics’ Lien law sets forth very specific notice and service procedures and timeframes in order for a lien to be properly perfected.  For example, to perfect a Lien, every claimant must serve written notice of the Lien filing upon the property owner within one (1) month after filing, giving the court term and number and date of filing of the claim. In addition, an affidavit of service of notice, or the appearance of service, shall be filed within twenty (20) days after service setting forth the date and manner of service. The law further provides that a failure to serve such notice or to file the affidavit or acceptance of service within the times specified shall be sufficient ground for striking off the claim.

It is well-settled under the law that strict compliance with the notice and service requirements is essential to effectuate a valid Mechanics’ Lien claim.  It is not uncommon for claims to be challenged, or even dismissed because contractors took it upon themselves to file a claim and did not adhere strictly with the specific requirements, specifically because they did not properly serve notice on the opposing party and file proper proof with the court.

Just last year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court heard an appeal regarding a Mechanics’ Lien that is a perfect illustration of how the simple notice requirement can be the focal point when challenging the validity of a Mechanics’ Lien claim.

Zimmerman Slate Roofing Specialists, LLC v. Michelle T. Seidner

In this case, Zimmerman filed a Mechanics’ Lien claim against Seidner on November 8, 2011 with respect to money owed for roofing services provided to Seidner at her Philadelphia home. Zimmerman claimed that he properly served Seidner with notice of the claim on November 17, 2011 and filed a “Certificate of Service” with the court on December 8, 2011 that attempted to explain how notice was given, but this document was riddled with technical mistakes.

On October 25, 2012, Seidner filed a motion to strike the Mechanics’ Lien, not only claiming that she was not properly served the notice under the law, but the technical mistakes of the proof Zimmerman filed with the court made the claim fatally deficient.  Specifically, Seidner argued that the Mechanics’ Lien statute requires that an “Affidavit of Service” be filed (not a Certificate of Service, which does not include a clause warning the signor that the statements are made under oath) and pointed out the Zimmerman’s Certificate of Service did not even have the correct court listed.  Realizing these errors, Zimmerman immediately filed an “Amended Affidavit of Service” which attempted to correct the potentially fatal flaws.

The trial court denied Seidner’s attempt to strike the Mechanics’ Lien and the Superior Court surprisingly agreed; taking great length and citing extensive case law in its explanation. The Court made clear that Seidner was properly served with the notice and relied heavily on the concept of “substantial compliance” with the law when analyzing Seidner’s technical defect argument.  The Court stated that, although the “Certificate of Service” was not perfect, it identified the proper parties, indicated the correct docket number, and detailed how service of the notice was completed and any technical defects were cured by the “Amended Affidavit of Service.”  The purpose of the rules was complied with, even though there were mistakes.

Mechanics’ Lien in PA | The Martin Law Firm

Cases such as Zimmerman provide attorneys with insight as to how potentially serious issues will be looked at by the courts.  It was surprising that the Superior Court allowed the Mechanics’ Lien to proceed, even though the rules were not perfectly adhered to.  These cases are relied on heavily by experienced debt collection attorneys when handling Mechanics’ Lien claims that were initially prepared or served incorrectly and the attorney is now attempting to remedy the situation to perfect the lien by submitting legal arguments to the court.

Whether you are a contractor or subcontractor looking to file a Mechanics’ Lien in PA, with the help of an experienced debt collections attorney, not only will your claim be properly and timely filed, but would provide you the best opportunity to collect on this debt.  Contact a debt collections attorney at The Martin Law Firm at 215-646-3980.  Visit our legal blog for more information regarding Mechanics’ Liens in PA.

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