Washington’s lien laws, like those of other states, set forth pre-claim notice requirements that, if not satisfied, may result in the forfeiture of lien rights. The applicable statute, RCW 60.04.031, presents an interesting array of “if-then” scenarios in which the notice requirements are imposed. Generally, unless falling under one of three exempted categories, RCW 60.04.031 mandates that “every person furnishing professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property shall give the owner or reputed owner notice in writing of the right to claim a lien.”

RCW 60.04.031(5) provides that a separate pre-claim notice may be filed by those “providing professional services where no improvement as defined in RCW 60.04.011(5)(a) or (b)[1] has been commenced” and in such instances where the professional services “are not visible from an inspection of the real property.” In essence, the statute allows providers of “professional services” (as defined in RCW 60.04.011(13)[2]) to preserve lien rights on projects where no work on the project has commenced and where the professional services are not visible from a property inspection. Professional service providers can—and should—record a pre-claim notice in the property records of the county where the project is located. This will protect them against the subordination of the lien claim to any subsequent mortgagee or the invalidity of the lien claim as to subsequent purchasers of value (to the extent such mortgagee or purchaser (i) acted in good faith, (ii) acquired an interest in the property for valuable consideration and before the commencement of the “improvement,” and (iii) did not have notice of the professional services provided). 

Construing the statute, the Washington Court of Appeals, in Zervas Group Architects, P.S. v. Bay View Tower LLC, 161 Wn.App. 322, 254 P.3d 895 (2011), found that, insofar as the lender (who claimed that its deeds of trust had priority over the architect’s lien) had actual knowledge of the professional services, the professional service provider was not required to file its pre-lien notice, and therefore, the architect’s lien related back to the commencement of the services and maintained priority over the deed of trust. See 161 Wn.App. at 327-28. The court also held that the professional services pre-lien notice statute does not require that the lender have notice of the debt, but requires only that the lender have notice of the services. See id. at 328.    

As for the content of the notice, RCW 60.04.031(5) requires that the pre-claim notice of the professional service provider contain the provider’s name, address, and phone number, as well as the legal description of the property, the owner or reputed owner’s name, and the general nature of the professional services provided. The notice is required to be in substantially similar form to the statutory template. While the statute does not provide a deadline for filing the notice, it should be filed immediately upon commencement of services to avoid subordination of the lien claim to subsequent lenders and purchasers.

[1]     RCW 60.04.011(5) defines “improvement” as “(a) Constructing, altering, repairing, remodeling, demolishing, clearing, grading, or filling in, of, to, or upon any real property or street or road in front of or adjoining the same; (b) planting of trees, vines, shrubs, plants, hedges, or lawns, or providing other landscaping materials on any real property; and (c) providing professional services upon real property or in preparation for or in conjunction with the intended activities in (a) or (b) of this subsection.” 

[2]     Here, “professional services” is statutorily defined as “surveying, establishing or marking the boundaries of, preparing maps, plans, or specifications for, or inspecting, testing, or otherwise performing any other architectural or engineering services for the improvement of real property.”