How Can I Remove a Contractor’s Lien?

Contractor or “mechanics liens” are legal actions taken by contractors, sub-contractors or materials suppliers who believe they were not paid for goods or services they provided to you. A lien is a type of security interest in your home.  Having a lien on your home makes it harder refinance or sell because the lien must be paid first.

Here are some typical situations that might trigger mechanics liens:

  • A kitchen remodeler fails to collect a final payment from a homeowner after the job is completed. She files a lien to force you to pay the final amount, with additional interest.
  • A plumber fails to pay a tile installer he hired (a sub-contractor) and the sub-contractor seeks compensation directly from you instead of the plumber. You believe the tile installer should have been paid by the plumber. The tile installer files a lien on your home .
  • A landscaping company delivers a truck full of landscaping rocks two weeks late. To keep your project on track you sourced materials elsewhere. The original supplier files a lien against you anyway, for both the rocks you no longer need plus a delivery fee.

Get Your Lien Story Straight

Every lien has a story and there are always two sides.. Perhaps the kitchen remodel was done shoddily and you withheld final payment until some errors were corrected. Maybe that plumber never mentioned (or stated in the contract) that tile work was not included in their bid and would mean additional charges from a sub-contractor.  Maybe you tried to cancel the first rock order, but the message was not relayed to a dispatcher. In any case, take steps to resolve the lien as soon as possible before facts get muddled.

Steps to Removing a Lien

  1. Carefully review the contractor’s lien claim and determine if it is valid. Within 60-90 days after work has stopped, the contractor can record the lien at the county recorder’s office. After serving you with a copy of the recorded lien, the contractor then has 90 days to foreclose on the lien which is also called “perfecting the lien.”  This means the contractor has 90 days to file a lawsuit about his or her lien.
  2. Contact the contractor directly and try to negotiate a settlement, which might mean making a compromise payment for the work completed, setting up a payment schedule, modifying the lien claim, or fully releasing the lien. Sometimes trying to work it out is best for all parties, even if it requires professional mediation which would require hiring legal assistance.If an agreement is reached and the lien is removed, be sure to get full documentation for your records. This can only be done by submitting a Mechanics Lien Release form with the county recorder’s office where the lien was originally recorded.
  3. Seek legal advice from a qualified real estate attorney to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and procedures to remove a contractor’s lien. If you are facing multiple liens, you might want to move this tip to the top of the list. Resolution of a single lien does not automatically resolve additional liens.
  4. File a lawsuit challenging the validity of the lien and seek a court order to remove it. Seek an experienced real estate attorney who will work hard to resolve your lien problems quickly and fairly.

Know Your Rights. Protect Yourself.



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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

Real Estate Attorney
1458 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Mary Catherine Wiederhold
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