This blog is part of an ongoing series discussing the Pennsylvania Mechanics’ Lien Law. For more information on Mechanics’ Liens in Pennsylvania, click here.
Often times, clients who own property will forward for attorney review pro se Mechanics’ Lien Claims filed by a contractor claiming non-payment by the owner or a prime contractor presented in a commonly seen, pre-printed form with fields in which the contractor scribbles in certain information about the claim. Many contractors use these forms and circulate them in the industry to friends and associates in order to save on legal costs and fees.
While these forms can affect a Mechanics’ Lien Claim that will disrupt a sale or re-finance of the property, they are wholly inadequate to make a proper Lien Claim for most circumstances, they invite the contractor with little or no substantive knowledge if Lien law to file Lien Claims that are not properly founded in law or fact, or that lead the contractor to file a Claim without all of the statutory elements for the kind of Claim, and which is therefore easy for the Owner to strike off. At best, a Claim will be stricken off, but the pro se contractor could also be flirting with a legal disaster.
Some contractors will suggest that a contractor that performs work of any kind should always file a Mechanics’ Lien Claim if payment is delayed, and counsel that the contractor should leave it to the Owner’s attorney to move to strike off a claim for work if it is not properly lien-able, out-of-time, or otherwise barred by fact or law. What these contractors may not realize is that Mechanics’ Lien Claims not based upon a sound, good-faith basis in both fact and law can expose the filing contractor to sanctions, award of attorney’s fees and costs of defense, and in certain cases, a separate action for abuse of civil proceedings and defamation of title. In those cases where a Mechanics’ Lien Claim is found to be improper or unfounded and, before being stricken off causes a project delay, financing to be rescinded or a project to fail, a contractor could likely expose his business and his personal assets to liability exponentially greater than the amount of the amounts claimed due in such a follow-on suit by the Owner.
Contractors must beware that Mechanics’ Lien Claims are a hyper-technical species of legal remedy which Courts are likely to scrutinize for adherence to a very specific and very confusing set of requirements for filing, service, and perfecting. Legal advice and free legal forms found on the street can often be much more costly than the cost of seeking out competent legal advice.