Mechanic's liens in New York: How they work

If a contractor or subcontractor provided materials or labor for your home improvement project or remodel, they naturally expect to get paid.

You may have other feelings about the situation. Maybe their work wasn't up to your expectations. Maybe the wrong materials were used. Maybe they went well beyond the agreed-upon budget, and you feel like you are now being shaken down for the difference.

Unfortunately, if you don't end up finding a resolution that both you and the other party can handle, you may get hit with a mechanic's lien.

What's a mechanic's lien?

Typically, these are legal claims placed against an improved property by a contractor, subcontractor or supplier due to nonpayment.

Sometimes, they take homeowners totally by surprise because the actual conflict may be between a subcontractor and the general contractor. By the time the homeowner finds out about the dispute, the mechanic's lien is already in place. That can be particularly frustrating for homeowners because they have no control over their contractor's actions.

What can you do about a mechanic's lien?

If the other party's dispute is directly with you, you can try to negotiate the issue -- or you may be able to countersue if you believe that the lien is unfair because of issues with the work or materials.

If the lien holder's issue is with your general contractor, you may have to sue your contractor in order to try to resolve the issue. That may not help you, though, if the general contractor has gone broke and simply can't pay up.

What ultimately happens with the mechanic's lien?

Unless you can get a judge to order it removed, the lien will sit there until the house is sold. Then, it will be paid before you receive any proceeds from the house sale yourself. In many cases, a lien can actually prevent many buyers from even looking at a house -- which makes it wise to try to resolve the issue long before you decide to sell.

If a mechanic's lien is making your life complicated, it may be time to get some experienced legal advice on real estate transactions to learn more about your options.