Mechanic’s liens in Massachusetts require specialized counsel and assistance for the legal procedures involved. Being a fairly complex matter of legal nature, what’s even more important is that you understand it fundamentally so you can wade your way through it without losing sight of the goal. The defendant will certainly try and confuse matters, as it is. Therefore, we have compiled important bits of information out of Massachusetts Legislature General Laws, chapter 254, which will help you understand mechanic’s liens thoroughly and in accordance with the law of the state of Massachusetts.
What is a Mechanic’s Lien?
A mechanic’s lien is a lien created as a statutory allowance strictly in relation to real estate improvement projects, with the objective to protect a service provider’s compensation for their services and/or materials they supplied. In the state of Massachusetts, mechanic’s liens are created and enforced by M.G.L. c.254.
As stated, the purpose of the mechanic’s lien is to ensure due payment against services rendered and materials delivered during real estate improvement projects as well as foreclosure sales. Nonetheless, the perfection and enforcement of a mechanic’s lien in Massachusetts require uncompromising compliance to procedures set up by legislature and the state courts, which is why virtually all such cases are handled by attorneys with years of experience of perfecting liens and pursuing them in courtrooms.
As an involuntary lien, it is one of the few encumbrances that does not require a court’s intervention or approval before it may be perfected for further pursuit. Therefore, a mechanic’s lien empowers professionals and service providers involved in redevelopment of real estate providing services and materials on credit.
Understanding Eligibility for a Mechanic’s Lien in Massachusetts
The state of Massachusetts deemed it right to include mechanic’s liens in its list as soon as the early 1800’s, though the procedures were thoroughly revised in the late 1990’s. This revision of definitions included those for parties eligible to apply for a mechanic’s lien in the state. According to the state of Massachusetts, the law provides eligibility rights in this regard to:
- Professionals – individuals and businesses –that took part in any stage of the real estate’s development/reconstruction, such as repairs, structuring, erection, removal of sections, or alterations in one or more buildings on the property;
- Professionals – individuals and businesses –who furnished the property with materials or equipment on a rental basis; and
- Professionals – individuals and businesses –who provided general contractor or construction management services on the project.
Furthermore, these definitions of eligible parties are taken rather broadly by the courts in the state. As such, any party that could qualify as provider of any specific and significant “improvement” on the real estate property during the development/reconstruction project. This means professionals and services of various types, such as utility contractors, electricians, carpenters, garden landscapers, etc. could deem it a plausible course to pursue payment of their dues with a mechanic’s lien if the owner of the property, or even the construction contractor in charge of the project, did not pay them as agreed in a written contract. A number of mechanic’s liens cases in Massachusetts since the thorough revisions in definitions of legislation in the late 1990s have been pursued in the state’s courts with a variety of professional service providers petitioning against project managers and property owners while the courts approving some and refusing others based on their interpretation of significant “improvement” to the property under consideration. A couple of these cases include:
- John Marini Management Company v. Joseph G. Butler, 70 Mass. App. Ct. 142, 873 N.E. 2d 1150 (2007), where a contractor sought liens as compensation for equipment lost or damaged during work on a construction site, but the court denied considering loss of said equipment as reasonable grounds for seeking a mechanic’s lien in Massachusetts.
- Mammoet USA, Inc. v. Energy Nuclear Generation Co. 16 Mass. L. Rep. 133; 2003 Mass. Super Lexis 1119 (2003), where the transportation service provider sought liens for delivering a transformer and hoisting it on its landing frame to the ENG property in Massachusetts, but the court denied the claim as it was clearly not significant “improvement to real property” in its own right.
We have listed these two cases in particular as possible examples of how so many subcontractors and contractors are misled to pursue a mechanic’s lien with little regard for the waste of resources pursuing a weak case.
There is one particular detail that you should always remember before thinking about pursuing a mechanic’s lien in the state of Massachusetts: As a professional service and/or materials provider, you have a contract in writing for the work rendered and/or supplies delivered for the development/reconstruction project.
This is mandatory to pursue mechanic’s liens in Massachusetts based on M.G.L. C.254. The court in Noreastco Door & Millwork, Inc. v. Vajradhatu of Massachusetts, Inc. 1999 Mass. App. Ct. Div. 239 (1999) expressly said a mechanic’s lien was “unenforceable” in the absence of a service contract in writing. According to the M.G.L. C. 254 Sec. 2A, such a contract in writing could be any document detailing the scope of services provided within the state courts’ parameters of an enforceable service contract.
Such a contract must also withstand the conditions of the Statute of Frauds, which demands a written memo discussing the three requisites of an enforceable contract:
A. The party paying for services/supplies must sign the contract;
B. The writing must declare the existence of a service/supplies contract; and
C. The writing must declare details of the service rendered and/or supplies delivered.
These three bits of information may be established in writing separately. The courts in Massachusetts would still consider them as an intact contract if they combined to provide all three components of information required to secure approval under the Statute of Frauds. See Waltham Truck Equipment Corp. v. Massachusetts Equipment Co. 7 Mass. App. Ct. 580, 582, 389 N.E. 2d 753 (1979).
How a PerfectedMechanic’s Lien is Built
Mechanic’s liens are fundamentally of two types in terms of the nature of professionals allowed to file a petition: M.G.L. C. 254 Sec. 2 is used by general contractors and M.G.L. C. 254 Sec. 4 is pursued by subcontractors.
While pursuing mechanic’s liens in Massachusetts in accordance with M.G.L. C. 254 Sec. 2 and Sec. 4, you must remember you will also need to supply the petition with a summary of sums owed to you, put it down as the penalty of perjury, and sign it. You must also ensure that the contract of services you intend to submit with your petition is dated not later than one of the three periods listed below:
A. 2 months (60 days) since a notice of completion of services was issued;
B. 3 months (90 days) since a notice of termination of services was issued; or
C. 3 months (90 days) since you last performed any work on the property under question.
Apart from referencing your contract in the lien petition, you must also have served the person or entity with which you contracted and if not the owner of the property itself, you must serve the owner with the notice of contract to make your lien work. Otherwise, your mechanic’s lien may be rejected in the court. See Ouellet v. Armstrong, 18 Mass L. Rep, 100 (2004).
In order to perfect your mechanic’s lien in Massachusetts, you – or your lawyer – must also provide your sworn statement of account dated not later than one of the three periods listed below, in accordance with Sec. 8 of M.G.L. C. 254:
A. 3 months (90 days) since a notice of completion of services was issued;
B. months (120 days) since a notice of termination of services was issued; or
C. months (120 days) since you last performed any work or delivered any supplies on the property under question.
Once you have prepared and recorded the statement of account, you are ready to file a civil action petition in the county with jurisdiction on the case within 3 months (90 days) of recording your statement of account in the appropriate county registry, in accordance with Sec. 5 and Sec. 11 of the M.G.L. C. 254.
How Mechanics’ Liens are Dissolved
So far, we have discussed how you can establish and perfect your mechanic’s liens in Massachusetts, but you must also be familiar with the process of dissolution for the lien. This is partly because the owner of the property or the contractor you entrusted with your services and/or supplies, may attempt to have the petition declared void and unenforceable.
Fortunately, Massachusetts courts have held that only defects in the petition documents and attachments in the complaint may cause a court to dissolve a mechanic’s lien (See Golden v. General Builders Supply, LLC. 441 Mass. 652, 656 (2004)), which means that as long as you’re your mechanic’s lien has been built expertly, following all requisites discussed earlier on this page, the owner or general contractor may have difficulty getting the case dismissed by the courts.
In case you want to dissolve the petition yourself, for any reason, you might prepare a notice of dissolution and submit it at the county registry where you earlier submitted your lien petition, in accordance with Sec. 10 of the M.G.L. C. 254.
If you are thinking whether you will later be allowed to submit a new civil action as a mechanic’s lien for the same defendant for compensation on the same project as before, the answer is yes in many circumstances. Massachusetts courts give you the allowance because it is understood you might want to dissolve your petition for an error or to modify the details.
Another possibility for dissolution of mechanic’s liens in Massachusetts may follow the way described in Sec. 12 of the M.G.L. C. 254. Under this provision of the law, your lien may be dissolved by way of using a bond. In fact, Sec. 12 of chapter 254 of the Massachusetts Legislature includes two types of bonds: a blanket bond and a target bond.
According to Sec. 12 of chapter 254, a blanket bond – often referred to as the rolling bond – works as an instrument to prevent liens stacking against a certain property. The contractor managing the project or the owner of the property are the two parties that often rely on the blanket bond to prevent multiple liens getting filed against services rendered on, and/or supplies delivered to, the property under consideration, although the bond may be filed by any other party as well.
As such, a rolling bond does not dissolve existing liens filed against a property but prevent new ones from getting accepted in the registry.
Similarly, section 14 of chapter 254 of the M.G.L. discusses the use of a target bond to dissolve an existing lien. If the owner of the property or the contractor who managed the project and did not pay your dues could not file a blanket bond in time, they will try and have a target bond accepted against your lien.
This is one more reason you must act swiftly and with professional help so that no time is wasted in getting things in order for your civil action.
To conclude, the mechanic’s lien in Massachusetts is purely a statutory provision and must be dealt with as such. You will need an expert on your side to assist you in building your lien petition fast and to the effect that you are paid your dues consequently.