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The Ever-Changing Definition of “Substantially Complete” Under Pennsylvania’s Mechanic’s Lien Law

By now most contractors are (or should be) aware of the deadline imposed by Pennsylvania law for filing a Mechanic’s Lien.  For those of you who are not – a contractor or subcontractor must file the lien within six months after it has “substantially” completed work on the project.  While six months is a fairly easy date to mark on your calendar, what is not so easy is determining what the law means by “substantially complete.”

First, it is important to note that a contractor or subcontractor’s clock for filing a Mechanic’s Lien begins to run as soon as that contractor or subcontractor’s work is substantially complete (not when the project itself is substantially complete).  Second, the clock does not necessarily start running on the last day the contractor or subcontractor works on the project, particularly if that last day is merely to complete punch list items and/or perform inspections.  Determining the date that a contractor or subcontractor substantially completed work on a project requires a careful look at the contract and the actual work performed.

Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule regarding substantial completion, as the issue is resolved on a case-by-case basis.  Therefore, contractors and subcontractors must be ever mindful of the work being performed and where they are in the process, to ensure that the appropriate deadline is marked.  At the end of the day, it is better to set a conservative deadline and discuss with your counsel whether it is correct, than to miss the deadline altogether.

If you have any questions about mechanic’s liens or other litigation-related matters, please contact me at