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MA Supreme Court holding provides guidance on mechanic’s lien and notice

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2022 | Mechanic's Liens

A mechanic’s lien provides a valuable tool to help ensure contractors, builders, and businesses receive their due payment. There are rules that guide how to use these legal tools and a failure to abide by the rules can make it difficult for the contractor to enforce their lien.

But can outside factors impact these rules? That was a question in a recent case that made it all the way to the state’s supreme court.

Navigating these issues is not always easy, but businesses do not need to go it alone. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Alan M. Cohen & Associates LLC have experience helping contractors, builders, and other businesses pursue and enforce mechanic’s liens and can put that experience to work for you.

What are the rules?

In most cases, state law requires three steps to enforce a mechanic’s lien:

  • Notice of contract. The lien holder must file this in the registry of deeds in the county where the property is located. The deadline is the earliest of the following: sixty days after recording of notice of substantial completion, ninety days after filing or recording of notice of termination, or ninety days after the contractor last performed or furnished labor or materials (c. 254 Section 2). This is the act that the courts generally recognize to create the lien.
  • Statement of account. This is the next step and goes towards enforcement of the lien. It must include the amount due or to become due. The deadline for this step is the earliest of 90 days after filing the notice of substantial completion, 120 days after filing notice of termination, or 120 days after the last day performed or furnished labor or material (c. 254 Section 2).
  • Enforcement action. Within 90 days of recording the statement of account, the contractor should move forward with a civil action enforce the lien.

As noted, there are strict timelines for each action. A recent case questioned whether or not these steps, particularly the first two, would qualify for extensions to deadlines that were implemented as a result of the pandemic.

What changed?

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on how we do business. Construction projects had to slow down and the change in timelines made completion more difficult. Supply chain issues led to additional problems.

Construction projects were not the only things slowed down by the pandemic — even the court system had to change how it functioned. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, like many court systems throughout the country, issued a series of orders that ultimately led to deadline extensions for certain legal proceedings due to the pandemic. The purpose of these orders was to help ensure court operations were conducted safely and in line with public health restrictions during the pandemic.

In a recent case, a lien holder tried to argue that these extensions applied to mechanic’s liens that were working their way through the court system, but the court disagreed. They stated the orders had a narrow focus on court operations and did not apply to mechanic’s liens.

It is important to note that this piece focuses on one part of the case. There were other issues, such as the lien’s failure to correctly identify the parties to the lien.

How does this apply in these types of cases?

The court orders relating to the pandemic did not extend to the deadlines for lien filings at the registry of deeds, an entity belonging to a different branch of government. This provides an opportunity to point out the importance of legal counsel when looking to enforce a lien. What may seem like a broad rule may not impact your case.

A failure to follow the rules, as expected by the court, can mean you lose your ability to enforce the lien. We can put our almost 50 years of combined experience navigating these types of issues to work for you, to better ensure you receive your entitled payment. Please call 508-763-6604 or reach out using our online form to schedule an appointment.