California Mechanics Liens: The Nutshell Version

The internet is full of long explanations regarding mechanics liens.  From Wikipedia to,  Once of the best explanations we’ve found (outside our own FAQs about California mechanics liens) is from the Sacramento County Public Law Library website.   Mechanics liens and their requirements are all laid out in an easy to understand format there.  If you don’t want to take the time to go to their site, you can take a look below at what they have to say about mechanics liens, preliminary notices, stop notices, and removing a lien or stop notice.

A Mechanics’ Lien is an effective remedy for contractors, subcontractors, and others involved in the construction or improvement of real estate to resolve payment problems. If a service or materials provider records a Mechanics’ Lien against the real estate being improved, the owner can not easily sell or refinance the property without first paying off the debt secured by the lien. A Mechanics’ Lien motivates the owner to make sure the contractors get paid, and is a prerequisite to filing a foreclosure action on the property.  

Preliminary Notices
Claimants who do not have a direct contractual relationship with the owner (e.g., subcontractors) must provide a Preliminary Notice within 20 days of furnishing labor or materials to the job. This ensures that the owner is aware of a potential claimant, so that appropriate steps can be taken to confirm that the contractor is paid. Preliminary Notices must be provided to the owner, general contractor, and lender.
Mechanics’ Liens
Mechanics’ Liens are available to almost anyone who contributes labor, services, or materials to a real estate improvement project. A Mechanics’ Lien is used to exact payment out of the real estate itself by placing a lien on the property, making it difficult for the owner to sell or refinance the property, and if necessary, allowing the lien holder to go to court to have the property sold at auction. As of January 2011, a Notice of Mechanics Lien and a Proof of Service of Affidavit is now required.
Stop Notices
A Stop Notice attaches to the owner’s undisbursed construction funds, rather than to the property itself, as is the case in a Mechanics’ Lien. A Stop Notice compels the owner or lender to hold the remaining construction funds so that claimants can recover for work already completed. Stop notices are not available to claimants with a direct contractual relationship with the owner.
Removing a Lien or Stop Notice
Once a Mechanics’ Lien has been recorded, the claimant must file a court action to enforce the lien within 90 days. If no court action is filed by that time, the lien is no longer valid. However, many title companies don’t recognize this fact, and require that the lien be removed before you can pass clear title to a buyer. The easiest way to clear this lien is to ask the lienholder to file a Release of Lien. If they will not, you can petition the court to release the property from the Mechanics’ Lien.
* adapted from Preparing and Recording Your California Mechanic’s Lien on Private Works of Improvement, James A. Steele; and Contractor’s and Homeowners’ Guide to Mechanics’ Liens Stephen R. Elias.
For more information on California Mechanics Liens, take a look at the following books and websites, including our own:
Contractors’ and Homeowners’ Guide To Mechanics’ Liens
KFC 229.Z9 E43
This book covers the topic of Mechanics’ Liens from the perspective of both the homeowner and contractor, including forms and instructions.

Handling Mechanics’ Liens and Related Remedies (Private Works) KFC 229 .H86
This CEB Action Guide describes the rights and remedies, including Mechanics’ Liens, stop notices, and bonds of the principal parties involved in a private work of improvement.

Preparing And Recording Your California Mechanics’ Lien: On Private Works Of Improvement
KFC 229. Z9 S74
This title assists contractors in preparing their Mechanics’ Liens and bonded stop notices on private works of improvement located within the state of California and includes completed sample forms.

California Mechanics’ Lien Law and Construction Industry Practice
KFC229 .M31
California Mechanics’ Lien Law provides in-depth treatment of the basic law and procedure relating to works of improvement, from the standpoint of the contractor.

California Mechanics’ Liens and Related Construction Remedies
KFC229 .C3
This CEB practice guide simplifies the procedural maze of Mechanics’ Liens, stop notices, and bond remedies.


LienItNow provides comprehensive California Lien Law Statutes and answers to frequently asked questions on California mechanics liens.
Click to view LienItNow’s California lien filing process.
American Subcontractors Association of California
The American Subcontractors Association of California provides information on California Lien Laws.
California Architects BoardThe California Architects Board is one of numerous boards, bureaus, commissions, and committees within the Department of Consumer Affairs responsible for consumer protection and the regulation of licensed professionals. This guide produced by the California Architects provides general information on Mechanics’ Liens.  
Contractors State License BoardThe Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board provides a detailed guide to assist in understanding Mechanics’ Liens.
Nolo Press Read this legal guide to learn how to protect yourself from Mechanics’ Liens if your contractor fails to pay subcontractors or suppliers.