Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Builders' Lien Definition:

A statutory charge against real property by those who have contributed material or manpower to its improvement.

Related Terms: Lien, Mechanic's Lien, Statutory Lien

Also known as construction lien or mechanic's lien.

In the late 1800s, when builders' liens were becoming in vogue, manual or skilled labourers were commonly known as mechanics. With the advent of the automobile, the term became closely associated with vehicle repair; Thus, the eventual preference for the term builders' lien.

Six Canadian jurisdictions entitle their legislation builders' lien; four call it by the historic name of mechanic lien, and Ontario, in its statute, uses the name construction lien.

Image of drywallerBuiler liens are a creature of statute; not known to the common law or equity, as was stated in Re Pine Valley by Justice Garson of British Columbia's Supreme Court:

"At common law, there were no builders’ liens.  It is the statute that creates the liens and the enforcement rights....

"The statute is an entire code established by legislation.  Every other lien claimant must file.

"Registration is a key component of the Builders Lien Act; otherwise parties cannot assert their status."

Thus, builders' liens are statutory liens and not judicial liens.

Mechanic liens, more recently builders' liens, were created by legislatures as statutory remedies to provide some measure of security to those who provided material or labour in the construction of real property and, once unpaid, found that the common law offered them only the expensive and lengthy contract and debt causes of action against the property they improved (historians will note that the advent of mechanic lien legislation occurred just as society was developing into an urban society, for which construction work was essential).

As described in the Builders Lien Practice Manual:

"A concrete supplier cannot chip out its concrete from a job site and return it to the mixer truck, and a (drywall) supplier cannot pull out board that has been cut, mudded, sanded and painted."

Builders liens have a long history in the civil law dating back to Roman law.

The first builders lien statute was that of Maryland in 1791, with Pennsylvania following suit in 1803.

The Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario enacted their legislation in 1873 and they are now a common feature of the statute books of North America.

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