Seeing that my last couple of questions answered on Avvo concerned mechanics liens, I felt it was probably appropriate to provide some general information regarding the topic of construction liens. Generally, if you are a contractor, subcontractor, material supplier or professional service provider (e.g. surveyor, architect, or engineer) who provides materials or performs labor or other services on real property in Washington State, then you will want to familiarize yourself with your potential right to claim a lien in the event you are not paid. Liens can provide tremendous leverage for payment if filed properly.
Conversely, if you are a residential homeowner in a dispute with a contractor, who has claimed a lien against your property, you will want to know about Washington's lien laws to help protect your interest and avoid any cloud against the title to your home. As a homeowner, you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you have paid the general contractor, but they haven't paid a subcontractor, and your home is liened. Hence, you might end up paying twice for the work.
Generally speaking, construction liens are a form of security interest held against real property. In Washington, construction liens or mechanics' liens are governed by RCW 60.04 et seq. The right to claim a lien is not taken lightly and is guided by statutory rules, forms, notices, and short statutes of limitations before a lien may be properly attached to real property. For instance, contractors are generally required to provide the owner with a Notice to Owner - declaring their right to lien (RCW 60.04.031) as well as a potential Notice to Customer or Disclosure Statement - providing information regarding information on the contractor's registration and surety bond (RCW 18.27.114). Another requirement for the lien claimant is that the claim of lien is properly recorded within 90-days of its last day of work or supplying materials. (RCW 60.04.091). From the time the lien is recorded, the lien claimant has eight (8) months to bring forth a cause of action to foreclose on its lien. (RCW 60.04.141).
These are just some general examples of notices, requirements, and short statutory limitations regarding construction liens. If you are considering filing a construction lien you should consult with an attorney, as the laws are constantly changing and the information can be overwhelming. If a contractor fails to comply with statutory requirements, the lien may be declared invalid or even frivolous and this could result in dismissal of the lien claim and an award of attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party. Same goes for a homeowner faced with a lien filed against their property, you will want to consult with an attorney before trying to have the lien removed yourself.
Even in the event you do not qualify or missed an opportunity to claim a lien, you may still have a right to sue for breach of contract against any amount that might be due and owing to you. A right to claim a lien is simply an additional remedy potentially available to you to secure payment. In any event, you should consider consulting and hiring an experienced attorney to assist you in these matters.
WA Contractor's Liens: RCW 60.04
WA Registration of Contractors Act: RCW 18.27
WA Dept. of Labor and Industries: Contractor Search