You may already know about mechanic’s liens, especially if you have read our post “The Art of the Lien” A mechanic’s lien is an interest that a mechanic retains in property, like a vehicle, until they are paid for the work they have done. The reasoning is that the mechanic has added value to the vehicle by fixing or maintaining it, and it wouldn’t be fair to let the owner sell the vehicle and benefit from the value the mechanic has added without paying the mechanic for their work. A mechanic’s lien also allows the mechanic to retain possession of the property, even though it doesn’t belong to them, until their bill is paid.
But did you know that there are other liens, created by statute, that apply to other types of work? These are called Artisan’s Liens. An artisan’s lien attaches immediately to all kinds of things when they are worked on by a skilled worker. The lien generally allows the craftsperson to retain possession of the item they worked on until their invoice is paid, or, if physical possession is impossible to retain, it may allow them to put their lien on record on the title. Artisan’s liens may attach to watches, jewelry, bookshelves, furniture, artwork, clothing, machines, aircraft, even entire homes.
Artisan liens are created by state statute, so it is important that you check the law of your state and consult an attorney. The statutes apply specifically to different types of work on different types of things. For example, there may be a lien statute for jewelry repair that does not require you to file anything with the county and allows you to sell the jewelry to pay the costs of your services after giving notice and waiting a set amount of time. On the other hand, the lien statute may require you to file a notice of your lien with your county clerk and recorder or to file a judicial foreclosure complaint with the court to recover your invoice. Often, the statutes even allow you to recover for costs such as storage, attorney fees, interest, and costs associated with the sale or collection of your bill.
If you are a craftsman, repairman, or other artist, it is always preferable just to be paid for your work as agreed, but if you find you have difficulty collecting from your customers, you may have an additional tool in the form of an artisan’s lien. There are frequently time limits for asserting your lien written into the statute, so if you are having trouble collecting, don’t wait to pursue your artisan’s lien. You may have to file a short statement with your county within some number of days after your work is complete.
Conversely, if you are leaving valuable property with a skilled worker for repair, maintenance, or improvement, it may make sense to enter into a contract to prevent the attachment of an artisan’s lien to the extent possible should a payment dispute arise. A liquidated damages clause or a guarantee that, regardless of a dispute over payment, the property will be returned to you may protect your interest in valuable assets.
Artisan’s liens may be a little-known tool or a hidden trap. Let us know if we can help with an artisan lien issue for you or your business!