Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are Completion Dates Required on Mechanics Liens?

Illinois' Mechanics Lien Act dates back at least to 1903. It's amazing that an issue as fundamental as what exactly needs to appear on the face of the lien remains unresolved. There is currently a split between the 1st and 2nd districts regarding whether the contract completion date needs to appear on the face of the lien.

The 1st District requires completion dates in mechanics liens. In Merchants Environmental Industries, Inc. v. SLT Realty Ltd. Partnership, 314 Ill.App.3d 848 (1st Dist. 2000) the court noted that a mechanics lien is not enforceable unless it is recorded within 4 months of completion of the work. The court went on to say that "while section 7 itself does not expressly require inclusion of the completion date in the lien claim, nevertheless that requirement must be inferred."

The court asserted that the primary purpose for requiring the lien claim to be filed within a specified time is so third persons dealing with the property may have notice of the existence, nature and character of the lien as well as the times when the material was furnished and labor performed, and thus be enabled to learn from the claim itself whether it was such as can be enforced. Without a completion date, the court noted, a person examining the lien claim would not know whether the four-month filing requirement had been met.

The 2nd District, on the other hand, does not require completion dates. The court recently issued its opinion in National City Mortgage v. Bergman, 02-09-0934, October 20, 2010. In that case, the court held that the Mechanics Lien Act must be strictly construed. In strictly construing the statute the court found nothing in section 7 requiring a claimant to state the date of the completion of the contract. The plain language of section 7 instructs the lien claimant only to: (1) file the claim within four months after the completion of the work; (2) verify the lien by affidavit of the claimant or an agent or employee; (3) include a brief statement of the contract; (4) set forth the balance due; and (5) provide a sufficiently correct description of the lot or lots.

The safe practice is to include the completion date. I have to assume that everyone who reads this blog already does that. I should note that the contractors in the Merchants and Bergman cases both filed their liens without the aid of an attorney.  So, if any of my clients are still reading at this point, let this be a lesson to you.  Call me the next time you need a lien prepared. 

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