It's no fun waiting around for an evasive general contractor or a homeowner with money problems to pay up when you've finished your work. Filing a mechanic's lien may be just the ticket. A lien creates an encumbrance, or monetary claim, on the property where the work was performed, and it must be satisfied before the owner can provide a clear title. A mechanic's lien, which is a public document, can prevent the owner from selling the property or getting a loan. There are, however, a few hoops to jump through. At the start of a job, a contractor typically has a certain amount of time to tell the owner in writing he is working on the property. If all bills are paid, that's end of it. But if payments aren't made in a timely way, the contractor may choose to file a mechanic's lien. This option is available in every state, but details of the process vary. Many contractors apparently are reluctant to take advantage of the option for fear of ruining a business relationship--but they shouldn't be. "If you look the other way, and you just hope for the best, that’s not a very good way to run a business, and chances are that you’re probably going to get burned," one lawyer said. "In six months or a year down the road, when you’re out tens of thousands of dollars or more on that project, you probably won’t be saying what a good person that guy was."

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