Lienor’s Liability for Willful Exaggeration of Mechanic’s Lien

Pursuant to Lien Law § 39, if a court should find that a lienor has willfully exaggerated the amount claimed in a lien as stated in the notice of lien, the lienor’s lien shall be declared void and no recovery can be had thereon. The purpose of Lien Law § 39 is to punish a lienor who has willfully exaggerated a lien as opposed to honest differences in contract interpretation. Howdy Jones Const. Co., Inc. v. Parklaw Realty, Inc., 76 A.D.2d 1018 (3rd Dep’t 1980). Further, Lien Law § 39 is intended to protect owners and contractors against fictitious, groundless and fraudulent liens. E-J Elec. Installation Co. v. Miller & Raved, Inc., 51 A.D.2d 264 (1st Dep’t 1976).

A determination that a willful exaggeration has taken place requires proof that the lienor deliberately and intentionally exaggerated the lien amount. Barden & Robeson Corp. v. Czyz, 245 A.D.2d 599 (3rd Dep’t 1997). The burden is upon the property owner to show that the amount sent forth in the lien was willfully exaggerated. Schenectady Homes Corp. v. Greenside Painting Corp., 37 N.Y.S.2d 53 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1942). However, in the absence of any evidence that the lienor intentionally and deliberately exaggerated the amount for which the lien is claimed, trial courts will properly refuse to void the lien upon such grounds. Howdy Jones Const., 76 A.D.2d 1018. Furthermore, inaccuracies in the amount of the lien claimed, if no exaggeration is intended, does not void the lien. Clemente Const. Corp. v. P.T. Cox Contracting Co., 16 N.Y.S.2d 483 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1939).

The remedies afforded to lienees pursuant to Lien Law § 39-a are available only when the lienor seeks to enforce his lien. Finger v. Roth Bros Regal Restaurant Supply Corp., 150 N.Y.S.2d 522 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1956). The damages that owners and contractors are entitled to recover include any premium for a bond given to obtain a discharge of the lien or the interest on any money deposited to obtain a discharge of the lien, reasonable attorney’s fees and an amount equal to the difference in the amount claimed to be due and the amount actually due. Lien Law § 39-a.

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