DON’T LET YOUR MECHANIC’S LIEN RIGHTS LAPSE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Because of the current crisis, the state has closed the courts to all activities except essential functions. Almost the entire civil docket has been suspended. In order to mitigate those effects, the Governor’s Executive Order No. 7G (the “Executive Order”) suspends “all time requirements, statutes of limitation or other limitations or deadlines relating to service of process, court proceedings or court filings” including “all time limitations in Chapters 959, 959a, 960 and 961 of the General Statutes.” The problem is that a mechanic’s lien is recorded on the land records (not in court) and mechanic’s liens are discussed in Chapter 847 of the General Statutes, instead of the chapters specifically mentioned above. Thus, regardless of whether the omission was intentional, mechanic’s liens are not expressly covered by the Executive Order.

Because land records are maintained by Connecticut’s municipalities, the Executive Order does not extend the deadline to record a mechanic’s lien. However, the problem with recording mechanic’s liens during the pandemic is that most City and Town Clerk’s offices are not open to the public. Each City and Town is handling the situation differently. Some are accepting submissions online. Others have a drobox outside City Hall or Town Hall.

Remedial Work Does Not Extend the Deadline to Commence an Action on a Payment Bond

As most contractors are aware, if they are not paid for their labor, materials, and/or services, they can strengthen their position prior to filing a lawsuit by filing a mechanic’s lien, or by making a claim against the project’s bond claim. Of course, both options are not generally available. Typically, the choice is based upon whether the project is private or public. On private projects, a contractor (or supplier) is allowed to gain a security interest in the property by filing a mechanic’s lien. On public projects, federal and local governments passed laws requiring the general contractor on public projects to post “payment bonds,” which guarantee the payment of those who supply labor, materials, and/or services to the property. In other words, because governments were not willing to let public lands be subject to foreclosure, on public projects, statutorily required payment bonds were created to take the place of mechanic’s liens. Of course, private owners may require general contractors to post payment bonds on private projects as well, but this post only addresses the statutory payment bonds required on public projects.

The law that requires payment bonds on federal projects is known as the Miller Act. The various state laws that require payment bonds on state projects are often referred to as “Little Miller Acts.” The requirements are the Miller Act and the various Little Miller Acts are generally similar.

Different Treatment for Different Mechanic’s Lien Deadlines

The Connecticut courts have often been schizophrenic in their interpretation of Connecticut mechanic’s lien law.  On one hand, the courts refer to mechanic’s liens as a right created by statute and, therefore, must be strictly interpreted.  On the other, the courts refer to mechanic’s liens as remedial in nature and, therefore, should be liberally construed.  Based upon some recent decisions, it appears that that deadline to record and serve the mechanic’s lien is being strictly interpreted but the deadline to foreclose the lien is being liberally construed.

For a mechanic’s lien to be valid, it must be recorded within 90 days of the last day worked.  The mechanic’s lien, however, will expire if not foreclosed within one year of its recording.  Recently, the courts examined whether: 1.) the 30 day time limit for service was included within the 90 days for recording; and 2.) if the 30 days a marshal has to serve papers extended the one year deadline to foreclose.  Based upon the language of the statutes, the decisions came out the exact opposite as you might expect.

Conn. Gen. Stat. §49-34 states that the lien must be recorded within 90 days after the last date worked and served upon the owner within 30 days of recorded the certificate.