Does My Mechanic’s Lien Entitle Me to Money?

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The answer is:  yes, but possibly not for a while.

A mechanic’s lien is a cloud on the title of real property relative to work done on said property.  It says to the world:  “Don’t buy this property unless someone plans to satisfy the lien upon sale!”  A mechanic’s lien is “inchoate“, meaning, cannot be used to compel the sale of property.  Thus, the mechanic’s lien claimant is at the mercy of when the owner of encumbered property decides to sell it.

A mechanic’s lien  automatically clouds (or serves as an “encumbrance” to) title without the needs for a trial by judge or jury.  Once the mechanic’s lien is recorded, the whole world can see that title to property has been clouded.

However, if you are seeking money from a responsible party by a certain date, meaning, you seek to enforce a judgment against that persons’ assets, a mechanic’s lien will not achieve all of your objectives.  A mechanic’s lien should not be confused with a claim for money damages for a money judgment against a person or company.  Unlike a money judgment, discussed below, a mechanic’s lien cannot be used to garnish another party’s assets.   

A Suit for Money Damages

A law suit for money damages can result in a judgment that can be utilized to execute on a party’s assets and even force the sale of his property, immediately.  However, a lawsuit for money has no “teeth” until it results in a judgment, which may take several months, often 1.5 years.

Steps to Get a Monday Judgment

First, to get a judgment for money damages, a party must file a lawsuit apart from a mechanic’s lien. There is no automatic right to a judgment, however.  A party must gather evidence and go to court (either before a judge or jury) to get a judgment in most instances.  A judgment, once obtained, can be utilized to collect against the Defendant’s assets in the form of garnishment of bank accounts and other property. 

Why Take a Lien At All – If It Cannot Be Used to Force the Sale of Property?

The answer is:  timing.  A mechanic’s lien is an immediate encumbrance of real property.  A lawsuit for money damages, however, means nothing until it reaches the verdict and judgment stage, which savvy defense counsel can push back for at year or two, playing “rope a dope” by wearing you out and raising “questions of fact” that prevent judgment by default from being entered against them.  

Do not assume that you can get a quick “default judgment” by filing a lawsuit in court against companies or individuals.  Few case are “clear cut.”  Not until a judgment is entered can the plaintiff seeking money from the defendant lawfully garnish or otherwise take control of the defendant’s assets or property.

Can You File a Lien and Sue (Separately) for Money, at the Same Time?

The answer is:  Yes.  These would involve separate action, but they can occur at the same time.  It is often a good idea to initiate both actions at the same time to force the opposing party to defend on multiple fronts.

The Bottom Line

In sum, a mechanic’s lien is certainly not a money judgment that can compel a party (the owner, contractor, owner, sub, or supplier, etc.) to pay or face execution against his assets.  A mechanic’s lien cannot be used to execute on personal assets.  For that, the party seeking payment for services must file a law suit seeking money against individuals on the civil docket.  

Contact our Pittsburgh mechanic’s lien lawyers for more information.


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