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. Simple logic would indicate that the certificate could be served upon the owner up to 120 days after the last day worked if the recording was done on the 90th day but that is not how the courts interpreted the statute. Section 49-34 also states that the service shall be done in accordance with §49-35. As a result, the court said that, “[r]ead together, 49-34 and 49-35 require the lienor to serve a copy of the certificate upon each owner of the property within 90 days after he ceased performing services or furnishing materials.” Steeltech Bldg. Prods. v. Viola, 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1221 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 15, 2000). Thus, despite the reasonable assumption that §49-34 provides an “additional” 30 days to serve the mechanic’s lien after recording – which can be done up to 90 days after the last day worked – it appears that service upon the owner must also be made within 90 days of the last day worked for the lien to be valid.
Conversely, §49-39 plainly states that a foreclosure action must be commenced within one year of the recording for the mechanic’s lien to remain valid but that is not how the Connecticut Supreme Court interpreted that statute. In Connecticut, an action is “commenced” when the defendant is served. By virtue of §49-39, you would expect that any lien foreclosure not in the hands of the owner within 365 days of the recording of the mechanic’s lien would invalidate the underlying lien but that would be incorrect.
Section 52-593a states that service is timely if it is made within 30 days of the marshal’s receipt of the papers. Based upon the court’s interpretation of §49-34 and §49-35, the court should have found that §52-593a does not apply to a mechanic’s lien and held a lien not served until 372 days after its recording was no longer valid but the lien was upheld. The Connecticut Supreme Court determined that delivering the papers to the marshal for service (and not the actual service itself) within the one year deadline was sufficient to sustain the lien.
In light of the foregoing, it is wise to consult an attorney when dealing with statutory deadlines for mechanic’s liens. If you should have any questions, please give me a call.