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Basics of Mechanics Liens in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia

We have recently discussed the need for construction industry players to know the basics of liens and bonds. We have also examined one case example of what can go wrong in mechanic’s lien matters by examining the failed Granby Tower project in Norfolk. Expanding on this thread, we will now turn to laying out some of the basics in our local jurisdictions for filing mechanic's liens. Thanks in particular to Juanita Ferguson, another construction litigator in our firm, whose upcoming newsletter article on liens and bonds formed the framework of this post.


  1. Who can file? All persons performing labor or providing materials for a construction project
  2. What is filed? A Memorandum of Mechanic’s Lien must be recorded in the land records where the property is located. With the exception of parties in privity with the owner, claimants need to transmit a notice to the owner and file that notice as well. Finally, the claimant must subsequently file a “Bill to Enforce” which is a lawsuit enforcing the mechanic’s lien
  3. When is it filed? No later than 90 days after the last day of the month that work was last performed or materials were provided, and in no event no later than 90 days after completion of work on the project. The Bill to Enforce must be filed within six months of recordation of the Memorandum of Lien.


  1. Who can file? All persons performing labor or materials for a construction project
  2. What is filed? Subcontractors must file a Notice of Intent to Lien in the Clerk’s office of the Circuit Court where the property is located. The first notice required for a general contractor is the Petition to Establish Mechanic’s Lien. Subcontractors are also required to file a Petition in order to enforce the lien.
  3. When is it filed? A general contractor must file a Petition within 180 days of completion of the work or delivery of materials. A subcontractor must file a Notice within 120 days after performing work or providing materials.

District of Columbia

  1. Who can file? Any person having a contract with the owner or the general contractor (note the difference here compared to Maryland and Virginia)
  2. What is filed? A Notice of Mechanic’s Lien is filed at the office of the Recorder of Deeds in Washington, DC. In addition to filing, subcontractors must serve the Notice on the owner of the property. In order for any contractor to enforce the lien, a Complaint must be filed.
  3. When is it filed? The Notice must be filed within 90 days after the project is completed or terminated, whichever is earlier.

Needless to say, while this is a handy guide on deadlines, there are plenty of issues, questions and nuances embedded in these several declarative sentences.  Mechanic's lien practice is highly technical and an area of law fraught with danger.  I would suggest this is definitely a subject matter where clients are well advised to stay away from at home remedies unless they are willing to risk their entire claims.

Image:  From the Luna Commons, part of the David Rumsey Map Collection

  • Timothy R. Hughes

    Timothy Hughes is the managing shareholder of Bean, Kinney & Korman. In that role, Tim is charged with managing the strategy, talent, and finances of the firm.

    Tim’s practice started in litigation and alternative dispute ...