How to perfect and enforce your Illinois Mechanics Lien Claim on private projects

April 17, 2015
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This is our third installment in our series on Illinois Mechanics Liens.  Now that we have looked at what a lien claim is, the parties entitled to file a lien claim and what is required to entitled to file a lien claim, we will now look at the steps that need to be taken in order to perfect and enforce a lien claim against a private project.

‘Perfecting’ your Illinois Mechanics Lien Claim

General Contractor’s Claim for Lien

Perfection is the process of converting a general lien right into an enforceable and valuable right in the real estate.  This is done by a written document called a claim for lien.  It is important that the contractor first obtain a title report or search public records to determine the legal description, the owner of record and whether any other parties have an interest in the property at issue.  Once you have reviewed the the title work, you must now draft the claim.

A General Contractor’s claim for mechanics lien must be contain:

  1. A brief statement of the contract and the work performed;
  2. Date the work was completed;
  3. The balance due after all payments and credits; and
  4. A sufficiently correct description of the property and a PIN if available
  5. Names of the owner(s) of record, the party the contractor contracted with, and any mortgagees or lenders

A claim for lien must be verified (i.e. signed in front of a notary) and be recorded within four (4) months of the last date of work or furnishing at the project. The lien claim is recorded in the office of the country recorder where the real estate lies.

Additionally if a general contractor is preparing a lien claim against an owner occupied residence, it must serve a recorded copy of the lien to the owner within 10 days of recording.

Once a general contractor records the lien claim it can be enforced.

Subcontractor Notices and Lien Claim

In order for a subcontractor to enforce its lien claim, it must also prepare the same mechanics lien claim as a general contractor but it also needs to identify all parties in the chain of contract between the subcontractor and the owner which includes the general contractor and any other subcontractors in between.

Section 24 Notice

In addition to recording a lien claim, subcontractors also have notice requirements that must be followed. A subcontractor is required to serve a Notice of Claim to the owner within 90 days if its last date of work or furnishing pursuant to Section 24 of the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act.

The Notice of Claim must

    1. Identify the contract;

    2. Identify the general contractor and upper tier subcontractors the work was done for;

    3. Describe the work done and when it was performed;

    4. Sufficiently describe the property; and

    5. State the total amount due and unpaid as of the date of the notice.

The requirements of the Subcontractor’s Notice of Claim are very similar to those of the claim for lien and can be the same document. The notice must be served via certified mail with return receipt requested or served personally.  If the notice is not timely served, the subcontractor will lose its lien rights.

There is an exception to the notice requirement.  A notice might not be required in instances when the General Contractor has tendered a sworn statement pursuant to Section 5 of the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act which identifies the subcontractor, its contract amount and balance due. The sworn statement can provide sufficient notice to the owner of the subcontractor’s claim.  However, it is often difficult to determine whether or not this has happened especially if the relationship between the general contractor and the subcontractor has deteriorated.  It is always best to serve the Notice of Claim within 90 days.

Once the notice is served and the lien claim is recorded, a subcontractor can proceed to enforce its lien claim.

Section 5 Notice

Subcontractors who work on single family owner occupied residences have yet another notice to send out pursuant to Section 5 of the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act.  Within 60 days of the subcontractor’s first date of furnishing, a subcontractor must send a notice to the property owner via certified mail, return receipt requested with a copy to the general contractor which contains:

    1. The name and address of the subcontractor or material supplier;

    2. The date he or she started to work or to deliver materials;

    3. The type of work done and to be done or the type of labor, services, material, fixtures, apparatus or machinery, forms or form work delivered and to be delivered;

    4. The name of the contractor requesting the work; and

    5. The following warning:
      • NOTICE TO OWNER:  The subcontractor providing this notice has performed work for or delivered material to your home improvement contractor. These services or materials are being used in the improvements to your residence and entitle the subcontractor to file a lien against your residence if the labor, services, material, fixtures, apparatus or machinery, forms or form work are not paid for by your home improvement contractor. A lien waiver will be provided to your contractor when the subcontractor is paid, and you are urged to request this waiver from your contractor when paying for your home improvements.

This notice needs to be served in order to protect the subcontractor’s lien rights even if there are no payment issues.

Enforcing your Illinois Mechanics Lien Claim

In order to enforce a claim for mechanics lien, both general contractors and subcontractors must file a lawsuit or complaint to foreclose their lien claim within two (2) years of the last date of work or furnishing. The lawsuit is filed in the county in which the real estate lies. It must include all parties in the chain of contract between you and the owner along with any other party that has an interest in the property such as a mortgagee/lender and even other mechanics lien claimants.

In the lawsuit, you will be asking the court to sell the property in order to pay the balance due in addition to interest and attorneys fees incurred as provided by the lien act.  The lawsuit can also contain other causes of action such as breach of contract against the owner or general contractor, fraud, actions for bounced or NSF checks, account stated, and any thing else related to the contract or project.

If the lawsuit is not filed within 2 years, the contractor will lose its lien rights. This period cannot be extended or renewed.

In some instances, the two year deadline can be accelerated pursuant to Section 34 of the Act. An owner or any other party with an interest in the property can issue a demand to the contractor to file suit within 30 days. If suit is not filed within that time, then the contractor’s lien is extinguished.

Bankruptcy – Automatic Stay and Mechanics Lien Claims

What happens if your customer, the general contractor, the owner or any other interested party file for bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy stays enforcement of a lien but not perfection.

Once a party files for bankruptcy protection, the automatic stay kicks in and the debtor is protected from any collection attempts by creditors. Creditors are prohibited from commencing or continuing any litigation against the debtor.  However the stay DOES NOT prohibit a party from asserting or perfecting its mechanics lien rights.  A contractor who is not paid must still serve its necessary notices and record its claim for lien within the time periods set forth above and in the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act.

The automatic stay does, however, prevent enforcement of the lien claim.  Even if the two year enforcement deadline is approaching, a contractor cannot file suit to enforce its lien claim. It first needs to file a motion in the bankruptcy court and seek modification of the automatic stay so that it can enforce its lien claim. The bankruptcy courts often allow this request as long as the contractor does not seek money damages from the bankrupt debtor and the real estate is not the only asset of the bankruptcy estate. Once the bankruptcy court grants the motion to modify or lift the automatic stay, the contractor can then proceed to file a lawsuit to enforce the lien.

Lien Deadline Summary

Here is a summary of the deadlines that general contractors and subcontractors need to follow in order perfect and enforce their lien rights against private projects. These are the most important dates to remember!

  • General contractors

    • Record the claim for lien with the county recorder within 4 months of the last date of furnishing.

    • Send copy of recorded lien to the owner if the work was done on a single family owner occupied residence.

    • File a lawsuit suit to enforce lien within 2 years of the last date of furnishing.

  • Subcontractors

    • Serve Notice of Claim within 90 days of the last date of furnishing.

    • Record the claim for lien with the county recorder within 4 months of the last date of furnishing.

    • Send notice to the owner within 60 days of first furnishing date if working on a single family owner occupied residence.

The deadlines must be followed exactly and the lien claim and notices must contain all of the necessary information described above in order to protect and perfect and enforce your lien rights.  Mistakes can be easily made and it is always best to consult any attorney if you suspect you are having payment issues and need to protect your rights.

In our next and final installment, we will briefly review perfection and enforcement of a lien and bond claim against public projects.

Mark B. Grzymala

[email protected]