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Construction Industry Mechanic’s Liens in the DMV

Posted February 27, 2023 at 12:25 PM

When contractors, subcontractors and suppliers do not receive payment on a construction project, they often turn to a special legal device – filing a lien against the property itself in Land Records. Commonly known as a “mechanic’s lien,” every jurisdiction has its own rules and procedures for asserting a lien.  Here is a comparison of the lien rules in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia:

 District of ColumbiaMarylandVirginia
Threshold for amount of workNo minimumImprovement must reach 15% of building value$150 or more
Notice requirement by general contractorWithin 90 days after the earlier of the completion or termination of the projectNoneWithin 90 days of last day of month in which work was performed
Notice requirement by subcontractorSame as aboveWithin 120 days from date of work completion or materials deliveredSame as above
Right to record lien before judgment enteredYes, file notice of intent to lien in DC Recorder of DeedsNoYes, file memorandum of lien in county Land Records
Documentation required for filing lien noticeNotice form, copy of contractor’s current license, certificate of good standingN/AMemorandum form sworn under oath
Service of lien notice on ownerPersonal service or posting on premisesN/ACertified or registered mail, return receipt
Time for petition to enforce lienWithin 180 days after notice of intent is recordedWithin 180 days from date work finished or materials deliveredWithin later of: six months of filing memorandum of lien or 60 days of completion/termination of work

As noted in the table, Maryland does not permit a lien to be recorded in Land Records prior to a hearing in circuit court. This is a significant difference with the other jurisdictions. Instead, the contractor must file a petition to establish a lien with supporting documentation and request a show cause hearing. After service of the court papers, the owner has 15 days to file a response with documentation. If the court determines there is “probable cause” for a lien, an interlocutory lien will be entered until a full trial on the merits. By statute, the trial must be scheduled within six months of the interlocutory order.

There are many nuances (read “pitfalls”) to pursuing a mechanic’s lien. Contractors, subcontractors and suppliers are best served by hiring an attorney to initiate the lien process. Michael Campbell has been representing contractors and subcontractors in the DMV for over 25 years.

Michael Campbell is a partner in the litigation group at Miller, Miller & Canby and regularly represents property owners, contractors and subcontractors in Maryland, Virginia and the District.  Please feel free to contact Mr. Campbell at 301.762.5212 or send him an email for legal assistance.