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How to File a Mechanics Lien in Wisconsin. If You are a General Contractor.

In most states, a general contractor is not required to serve a pre-lien notice as a condition to filing a mechanic’s lien. Not so in Wisconsin. Under applicable Wisconsin mechanic’s lien statutes, the general contractors are required to serve a notice called: “Notice to Owner of Lien Rights by Prime Contractor.”  Here are the details.

We first must define who is a general contractor under Wisconsin mechanic’s lien law. This applies to all contractors who have a direct contract, whether verbal or in writing, with the owner. It is not your license status, but will you have your contract with which determines. Obviously this would apply to a typical general contractor. But it would also apply to a subcontractor who has such a direct contract with the owner, for example a roofing subcontractor.

                            How to Serve:  Under applicable Virginia mechanic’s liens statutes, there is an unusual provision as the service.  Two copies of the notice must be served on the owner.  It is a mystery why an additional copy needs to be served, but that is how the legislature views the matter.  The easiest method  is to include the notice in your contract so it is “served” upon the owner at the time you sign and deliver the contract.  If you fail to do so or you have a verbal contract, you must serve the notice within 10 days after first furnishing labor and materials to the project.

New legislation in 2006 has now defined how to serve pre-lien notices and the mechanic’s in Virginia itself.  Service can be made by any of the following means:  personal service (handing a copy) either by yourself or through a process server (too expensive and a bit too dramatic–not recommenced); certified mail—the recommended manner; registered mail; or overnight delivery if the person signs for it (UPS, Fed X, etc.)

 Previously, notices had to be served by registered and not certified mail. This made little sense because registered mail is reserved for packages or envelopes that contain valuables—having nothing to do with a common variety notice.  Now I can be done as in other states, mainly by certified mail.

 The notice need not be notarized.

                             Late Notice: If the prime contractor gives the notice late, you still may be able to file a Wisconsin mechanic’s lien.  However, you must 1) pay all the obligations to your subcontractors and suppliers within 6 months of the time they last performed services, and 2) this assumes the time for subs to provide their Subcontractors Identification Notices has lapsed and no lien claimant has given such notice (and therefore no lien rights).  If all this applies, you can still record your mechanic’s lien in Wisconsin as described in Wisconsin mechanic’s lien statutes Section 779.02 (2)(c). As you can see, this is a stiff requirement and a definite penalty for serving late.  In most states, you can still receive your mechanic’s lien for services performed a short time before service and everything in the future.  Not so in Wisconsin. 

                               When answering the question of how to file a Wisconsin mechanic’s lien, bear in mind these strict statutory requirements.