Kent B. Scott | Babcock Scott & Babcock | March 30, 2018
The Utah Mechanic’s Liens Act needed some clarification on when exactly a mechanic’s lien goes into effect. That clarification came in February 2015 from the Court of Appeals of Utah. In the case Pentalon Construction, Inc. v. Rymark Properties, LLC the court ruled that “nearly completed excavation constitutes ‘commencement’ under the Act because the excavation was sufficient ‘to put a prudent lender on notice that lienable work was under way.”
What this means for contractors is that to make sure a mechanic’s lien has priority over other liens or mortgages, they need to file their lien with the recorders office and construction needs to be underway on the jobsite to a point where a “reasonable observer” can tell that a mechanic’s lien is sure to be in effect.
The court found that there are easy ways for a jobsite to pass the “work started” test. For example having large piles of dirt from excavation activities helps people know that a construction project is under way. Heavy machinery operating on the jobsite also demonstrates the beginning of a construction project. Adding in construction materials to the excavated portions of the jobsite, and a nearly completed foundation are the final examples from the court that place observers on notice that work has started.
Contractors need to know that two previous rulings regarding preparatory work for a jobsite is still in effect. The ruling in Ketchum, Konkel, Barrett, Nickel & Austin v. Heritage Mountain Development Co. states that architectural work and other site preparation such as surveying, staking, and soil sampling does not always put the “reasonable observer” on notice that work has started on a jobsite.
Similarly, “wetlands delineations, groundwater monitoring, geotechnical testing, and irrigation work” does not place a reasonable observer on notice because the work should demonstrate “impending or ongoing work.”
The important thing to remember is that the more obvious it is to a reasonable observer that construction has started on a jobsite, the more likely that a filed mechanic’s lien has taken effect. A jobsite’s almost completed foundation, large piles of dirt accompanied by heavy machinery, and construction materials onsite provides more than adequate notice of a mechanic’s lien that is in effect.
 Pentalon Const., Inc. v. Rymark Properties, LLC, 344 P.3d 180, 186, 2015 UT App 29, ¶ 19 (Utah App., 2015).
 Ketchum, Konkel, Barrett, Nickel & Austin v. Heritage Mountain Development Co., 784 P.2d 1217, 1228 (Utah App., 1989).
 EDSA/Cloward, LLC v. Klibanoff, 192 P.3d 296, 300, 2008 UT App 284, ¶ 10 (Utah App., 2008).