Subtle but Substantive Differences: Mechanics’ Liens in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia – Pre-Lien Requirements

Mechanics’ liens are important tools to ensure payment for general contractors and subcontractors for construction projects. However, because mechanics’ liens are a statutory creation, the requirements to obtain a mechanics’ lien vary by jurisdiction.  In Maryland, Virginia, or Washington D.C., general contractors and subcontractors must understand the different requirements, which include different pre-lien requirements, different methods to filing a mechanic’s lien, and different ways to enforce the mechanic’s lien. The two pre-lien requirements a contractor must consider related to timing and notice.  Here, the construction and real estate attorneys at Bowie & Jensen provide a breakdown of the different timing and notice requirements for Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. that must be met in order to obtain a mechanics’ lien for each jurisdiction.

Timing of a Mechanic’s Lien

A contractor waives its right to a mechanics’ lien by failing to meet the stringent time requirements set forth by the specific jurisdiction.  To complicate matters, each jurisdiction handles the timing requirements for mechanics’ liens differently. In Maryland, a contractor or subcontractor must bring a mechanic’s lien claim within 180 days from the last day they performed work or supplied materials on the project. The 180 days does not include warranty work. In Virginia, a contractor or subcontractor must file a memorandum of lien at any time after work has commenced or materials were furnished, but no later than 90 days from the last day of the month in which labor or materials was last provided, and no later than 90 days from the time the building was completed or work terminated.  A contractor is only entitled to a mechanics’ lien for the prior 150 days’ work and must be kept this in mind when preparing to file for a lien. In the District of Columbia, a notice of lien must be filed within land records within 90 days after the earlier of the completion or termination of the project.  

Notice Requirements for a Mechanic’s Lien

In Maryland, subcontractors, including lower-tiered subcontractors must provide a notice of intent to lien a property within 120 days from the last day they performed work or supplied materials on the project. The Notice of Lien in Maryland must be served on the owner of the property that is subject to the mechanic’s lien. In Virginia, subcontractors are not required to provide notice, but should provide notice in writing to the owner because, unlike Maryland, if an owner can prove that it paid for the project in full, then the subcontractor cannot obtain a mechanics’ lien.  Known as the “Defense of Payment” an owner’s liability may not exceed the amount for which it is indebted to the general contractor at the time the memorandum of lien is filed. In D.C., an owner that has paid a contractor all amounts due may claim a “Defense of Payment”; however, if the owner is on notice of a subcontractor’s mechanics’ lien, that payment may be deemed to be made in bad faith.

Contact the Qualified Attorneys at Bowie & Jensen for Help

Timing and notice requirements must be strictly adhered to in order to successfully obtain a mechanics’ lien in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington D.C.  In a subsequent article, we will discuss the methods in which mechanics’ liens are filed in these three jurisdictions. For more information on mechanics’ liens in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington D.C., contact Michael W. Siri at 410-583-2400 or  Mr. Siri is a partner in the litigation department of Bowie & Jensen, LLC and is licensed to practice in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.