Thursday, March 14, 2013
Not too long ago someone gave me a stack of very old law books and I'm gradually working my way through them. Sometimes the content is worthy of a blog post which is the case today with a thin volume from 1898 called "The Law of Mechanics' Liens Upon Real Estate in Massachusetts" by Henry T. Lummus "of the Essex Bar." The book analyzes a recent (in 1898) amendment of a mechanics' lien statute first enacted in Massachusetts in 1819. Liens of this type were not recognized at Common Law so they are completely creations of the legislature. In 1898, a Mechanics' Lien was available "to any person to whom a debt is due for labor or materials furnished and used on a building or structure." The labor must have been performed with the consent of the owner and the lien attaches to the property when the labor was performed or the materials were furnished. "The lien shall be dissolved unless the person seeking the lien within 30 days of the completion of the work files in the Registry of Deeds for the district in which the property is located a just and true account of the amount due." The book suggests that under the law that existed before 1898, interpretation of the statute was hyper-technical and much litigation arose out of the accuracy of the amounts stated or the date upon which the work had been completed. This new amendment was intended to make this statute more practical; to prevent otherwise meritorious claims from being knocked out due to a technical defect. Besides filing the account within 30 days of the completion of the work, the person or entity seeking the lien was also required to commence a suit seeking enforcement of the lien within 90 days of the cessation of labor by the person seeking the lien. Unless such a suit was timely filed, the lien would dissolve automatically. These days, contractors or tradesmen come to the registry several times each week seeking a mechanics' lien. Because of the complexity of the current statute (i.e., its dictates on the content and timing of the various pleadings, we direct them to the upstairs Law Library to read Massachusetts General Laws chapter 254 which lays out all the steps and deadlines.