Picture this: you've just completed some construction work on a customer's home. You think you did a great job but for some reason, the customer isn't paying your bill. Luckily, there's a procedure in place that can help you to get what you're owed. It's called a mechanic's lien, and it's fairly easy to file in Texas, as long as you keep track of dates.
Send a pre-lien notice as a warning shot, then file an Affidavit of Lien with the county clerk and serve it on the homeowner within five days.
Filing a Mechanic's Lien in Texas
Anyone who provides labor, services or materials to improve a home is entitled to be paid for the work performed. This includes contractors, carpenters, architects, roofers, plumbers and other tradespeople. In Texas, if the customer does not pay what you've agreed for the job, you can file a lien against his home. This type of lien is called a mechanic's lien. Watch out though, as you must have a written contract with a residential homeowner before you can file a lien. In addition, the work must be "substantially complete." If you haven't done all the work you said you'd do, or there's no written contract, then you're probably out of luck.
File a Preliminary Notice
Putting a lien on property in Texas starts with sending a preliminary notice. This warning shot lets the property owner know that you haven't been paid for the work you've performed. The specific notice you need to send depends on who actually hired you: the homeowner or the general contractor – template forms for each notice are readily available online. If the project is a residential project, you must send the notice by the 15th day of the third month after completing the work. So, if you completed the work in March and have not received payment, your three-month notice is due by June 15th.
File an Affidavit of Lien
By Texas lien law, if the homeowner doesn't pay up after receiving the notice, the next step is to file an Affidavit to Lien with the clerk of the county where the property is located. This is not yet a lien – it's a sworn statement claiming your entitlement to a lien. Texas Community Building in association with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid have published an information booklet containing templates of all the forms you need, or you can look online for a template. The affidavit contains information describing the work you've performed, your employer, the amount your claiming, the property and the homeowner. You'll need to attach a copy of your contract and have the affidavit notarized before filing it and paying the filing fee.
Serve Within Five Days
Texas property code 53 says you must serve the mechanic's lien affidavit on the property owner within five days of filing. Ideally, you'll hand the affidavit to the homeowner, but Texas allows you to send it certified mail with return receipt requested. If you are a subcontractor, you'll also need to serve the affidavit on the general contractor within the same five-day window. The lien is "live" as soon as you've served the affidavit. It acts as a cloud on the title, essentially blocking the property owner from selling her home until the lien is paid.
Follow Up Action
Hopefully, the property owner will pay your invoice rather than risk having a lien against her home. If this is the case, you won't have to do anything other than release the lien once you're paid what you're owed. Sometimes, though, you'll have to enforce the lien by foreclosing the property through the legal system. In Texas, you have just one year to file a foreclosure lawsuit against a residential property, otherwise the lien will fall away.