It is Not Always Clear Cut Which Services May Be the Basis of a Mechanic’s Lien

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-33 provides that those furnishing labor, materials or services for the improvement of real property are entitled to claim a lien on said premises.  “Prior to the statute’s amendment by the legislature in 1974, our cases construing the language of § 49–33 required, as a condition of lienability, that the work done be incorporated in or utilized in the building (or the appurtenance ) to be constructed, raised, removed or repaired.”  Santa Fuel, Inc. v. Varga, 77 Conn.App. 474, 482, 823 A.2d 1249, 1255 (Conn.App., 2003).  In 1974, the legislature amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-33; however, “the 1974 amendment was not intended to expand the scope of [our mechanic’s lien laws] to include persons whose services do not enhance the property in some physical manner or lay the groundwork for the physical enhancement of the property.”  Nickel Mine Brook Associates v. Joseph E. Sakal, P.C., 217 Conn. 361, 363-364, 585 A.2d 1210, 1212 (Conn.,1991).  For that reason, numerous services pertaining to land cannot be the basis for a mechanic’s lien such as pipe removal, temporary electrical work, trash removal, cleaning services, and lawn mowing.  See Landscape Management Services, Inc. v. Farmington Plaza Associates, L.P., 1996 WL 560573 (Conn.Super.), 1 (Conn.Super.,1996).

Notwithstanding the foregoing, in Santa Fuel, Inc. v. Varga, 77 Conn. App. 474, the Appellate Court upheld a decision that denied a request to discharge a mechanic’s lien filed for services associated with the removal of a fuel oil storage tank.  Given the prior caselaw, the decision to uphold a mechanic’s lien for the removal of a fuel oil storage tank may seem a little surprising.  On its face, the removal of a fuel oil tank would seem to be substantial similar to the services described above that have been held to be incapable of supporting a mechanic’s lien because they do not physically enhance the property.  However, the Court in Santa Fuel, Inc. noted that: 1.) the property could not have been used without the hearing fuel the tank supplied; 2.) the removal of the tank was required to allow the sale of the property; 3.) the work required to remove the tank required services by licensed individuals.

The lesson of Santa Fuel, Inc. may be that a decision to discharge or uphold a mechanic’s lien may have more to do with its presentation or surrounding circumstances, than the work being performed.  The removal of a fuel tank is no more an improvement to real property than the removal of a pipe.  Similarly, temporary electrical work must also be performed by licensed individuals.  However, defendant in Santa Fuel, Inc. successfully argued that the tank’s original function provided significant value to the property.  Thus, the pipe removal case cited above may have come out differently if the property owner argued that pipe had at one time provided value to the property by virtue of the service it performed.  In addition, if the temporary electrical work was necessary to facilitate a sale of the property, then that lien may have been upheld as well.

If you have performed services that are not traditionally supportive of a mechanic’s lien but are interested in obtaining a mechanic’s lien to secure the amounts you are due, please give me a call discuss.

Scott Orenstein
(203) 640-8825

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