Why can’t I lien my customer?

Seems like a logical assumption. You provided materials or services to your client and they have the ultimate responsibility to pay you. So why can’t you put a lien on them?

The answer is a little complex but I will do my best to clarify. The primary concept you will need to wrap your mind around is:

Mechanics Liens may only be placed on REAL PROPERTY


Now chances are that your agreement with your customer is that they pay you by cash, check, or some sort of transfer of money into your account. You cannot put a lien on money* so there is no mechanism for you to put a lien on your customer.

However, your customer does have an obligation to pay you. So when your customer decides not to pay you, the best option is to consider filing a “Breach of Contract” Lawsuit. or if the amount owed is within the limits allowed by the local “Small Claims” Courts, then consider filing a “Small Claims” action. This is surely a method available to you to secure your unpaid balance. However, these options may cost much more than the cost to place a mechanics lien on the REAL PROPERTY you helped to improve.

So, while a mechanics lien may not be used against your client. It can, and should be used, to secure the amount due to you from your client because the “FINAL BENEFICIARY” of the materials or services you provided is the Owner of the Real Property.

So the next most asked question is: Can I do both?

Can I lien the job and file a Breach of Contract Suit against my customer? Yes you can. BUT!

There is always a “but”. You may only collect once for the amount due to you. You cannot collect twice for the same balance due.

So we get down to asking: What is the wisest business decision?

My thinking is to file the mechanics lien. Why? because chances are that your customer is not paying you because they have not been paid for the work they performed on the same project in which they hired you. So if they were paid, the breach of contract suit becomes more strategic. But if they are still waiting to be paid, then the mechanics lien may be your most efficient method.

This subject can get a lot deeper depending on many different conditions which may exist. But to answer the question: Why can’t I lien my customer? this should provide you with a good understanding.

One last point. The mechanics lien can be a little tricky. It must be done properly to have any real impact. Make a small mistake and the time and money you invested in your mechanics lien may be easily squandered. Unless you are experienced in the preparation of mechanics liens, we recommend you consider using CRM Lien Services as your professional resource for this process.

(* you cannot lien the money your customer owes you. However, in some cases it is possible to put a lien on the money which is being used to fund the project – see Stop Notice or Lien on Funds)