It is well known that public property is not lienable in most states, including Washington. However, it has been generally assumed that under Washington’s mechanic’s lien statute (RCW 60.04), improvements constructed on public property are lienable. In Estate of Haselwood v. Bremerton Ice Arena, Inc., No. 80411-7 (June 25, 2009) the Supreme Court of Washington, by a 7-2 majority, issued a decision holding that a subcontractor’s lien attached to an ice arena built on property owned by the City of Bremerton. However, the court noted that, pursuant to RCW 60.04.051, the attachment of a lien to improvements on public land is limited “to the interest of the person who requests the labor or materials, or that person’s agent.” In this case, under the terms of a concession agreement between the city and Bremerton Ice Arena, Inc., the latter party owned the arena for the duration of the concession agreement, while the city retained ownership of the underlying land. Therefore, in determining whether an improvement on public property in Washington is lienable, it is important to inquire into the precise nature of the interest owned by the person that commissions the construction work. The Haselwood Court also held that Washington’s lien priority statute applies to liens over such improvements on public land, such that a mechanic’s lien has priority over a deed of trust where work or professional services commenced or materials were provided prior to the date the deed of trust was recorded. The majority, concurring and dissenting opinions can be read here.
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