Reminders & Practice Pointers Re: Mechanic’s Liens

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A. The Substantive Elements:

(1) The Basics: In general, a mechanic’s lien may be filed to secure payment to any person who furnishes material or labor upon any building or land for the improvement, alternation, or repair thereof under a contract with an owner, contractor, or subcontractor.

(2) “Material” is given a broad definition, and includes machinery, tools, fixtures, a variety of landscaping materials, and “the use of forms, accessories, and equipment.” I.C.A. § 572.1(2). Items not listed in the statute, such as lodging, mileage, and meals, are lienable if they are set forth in the terms of the contract.   Gasoline, diesel fuel, and petroleum are non-lienable items.

(3) “Furnishing” means “to deliver or supply for use in the making of the improvement.” 

(a) Where the claimant has contracted only to provide materials for the building or improvement, delivery to the premises will normally constitute furnishing the materials under the statute, and use of the materials is immaterial.   In contrast, where the contract calls for deliver and install materials, the materials are not furnished until they are incorporated into the building.

(4) “Improvement” generally means visible improvement to the building/land. Thus, while a claimant may be able to enforce a lien for preliminary labor/materials eventually used in construction, there is no right to a lien if the project is abandoned before any improvement becomes apparent.

(a) In Gollehon, Schemmer & Associates v. Fareway-Bettendorf Association, the Iowa Supreme Court held an architect who, among others things, surveyed land and marked the location of a sewer easement to assist in preparation of maps and plans, and who produced plans and specifications for the project, secured approval for the platting, and prepared specifications for subcontractor bidding, was not entitled to a mechanic’s lien on the property because the project was abandoned before any type of construction could begin.  

(5) Substantial, but not full, performance is required by the person furnishing labor or materials.

(a) “Substantial performance allows only the omissions or deviations from the contract that are inadvertent or unintentional, not the result of bad faith, do not impair the structure as a whole, are remedial without doing material damages to other portions of the building, and may be compensated for through deductions from the contract.”   

(b) Under circumstances where the mechanic’s lien claimant fails to complete the job through no fault of his own—for instance, when a subcontractor cannot complete the job when the contractor walks off the job site— the subcontractor is entitled to the reasonable value of the work done.

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