Unfortunately, it happens to almost every contractor at one point or another during his or her career — a Tennessee homeowner who contracts work fails to pay the contractor once the project is complete. When this happens, the contractor may wonder if he or she has a legal option for recovery. Fortunately, the answer is yes, and that option comes in the form of a contractor’s lien.

According to FindLaw, a contractor’s lien — otherwise known as a construction lien or mechanic’s lien — is a type of claim contractors, subcontractors and suppliers can use when they do not receive payment for work performed or materials supplied. In some states, engineers, architects and surveyors may also use this type of lien to recover payment for services rendered on a home. When a contractor files a claim, he or she does so against the homeowner’s house, or against the property on which he or she performed the work. The lien essentially prevents the homeowner from selling the home until the contractor receives payment.

FindLaw also explains what a contractor must do to benefit from a mechanic’s lien. For the state to consider the claim valid, the contractor, subcontractor or supplier must inform the homeowner of the intended work within 20 to 30 days of the contribution. If, after performing the work or supplying the materials, the homeowner fails to pay, the contractor must file a claim in the county in which the property is located. Once he or she files a lien, he or she generally has two to six months to either work toward a solution with the property owner or to file a lawsuit.

If a contractor or subcontractor fails to file a lawsuit on time, the lien will likely become invalid. Once the lien becomes invalid, the subcontractor loses his or her right to payment.