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Difference Between a Construction Lien and Judgment Lien

Now that contractors and suppliers are required to file preliminary notices in the State Construction Registry to have construction/mechanics lien rights, I am frequently asked by contractors who do service work or other work directly for owners, whether they should file a preliminary notice for every job.  Since many of these jobs are of relatively small value, the administrative costs of filing a preliminary notice for each job can be significant.  Therefore, one of the recommendations I make is to use the judgment lien process rather than the construction lien process. 

A judgment is different from a construction lien in that you don’t have a judgment lien until you get a court to enter a judgment against an individual.  Additionally, a judgment lien can be filed in any county in the state and can apply to all the property which a person owns in any county where the judgment lien is filed.  In contrast, the construction lien applies only to the specific piece of property where the work is done and cannot be used in any other counties.  Additionally, as indicated, to have a construction lien right you have to file a preliminary notice in the State Construction Registry. 

Therefore, in circumstances where you are working directly for the property owner a judgment lien can often be a simpler and better tool than the construction lien.  In circumstances where your work is less than $10,000.00 you can get a judgment lien by filing a claim in small claims court and proceeding against the owner there.  Once you have a judgment against the owner, then you obtain a certified copy of the judgment, attach it to a judgment information statement and record it in the county where the owner has the property.  If you know or have reason to believe that the owner has property in other counties, then you can record the lien in those counties to get liens against that property as well. 

One thing to keep in mind is that when you get the judgment, it’s important that the name on the judgment be the same name as the owner of the property.  If property is in the name of a corporation and you sue an individual, then you would be able to get a lien against property owned by that individual but not their corporation. 

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