Mechanics’ Liens, 1845-1996

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Mechanics’ Liens
DATES: 1845-1996 with gaps
VOLUME: 11 volumes and 10 cubic feet

Mech Lien jpg for webpage
1874 Smock & Buchanon unpaid invoice to Mary Harker

Mechanics’ liens relate to specifications for the different structures and individuals involved in default of payment claims, location of property, information concerning lawsuits filed in Circuit Court, and names of builders, owners, plaintiffs, mortgages, and deceased owners. The liens are recorded in the county clerk’s office and consist of:

  • Mechanics’ Liens, loose papers, 1845-1924
  • Mechanics’ Liens, docket books, 1853-1930, six volumes
  • Mechanics’ Liens, General Index, 1853-1921, one volume
  • Mechanics’ Liens, Index, Corporations A-Z, 1854-1928, three volumes
  • Mechanics’ Notice Index, 1979-1986, four volumes
  • Construction Liens Index, 1994-1996, one volume
  • Construction Liens, 1994-1996, five volumes
Through laws enacted by the New Jersey State General Assembly, tradesmen involved in the building profession (laborers, carpenters, electricians, masons, etc.) and individuals or companies supplying the materials used in construction have been provided the right to recover unpaid charges for their services and materials under the mechanics’ lien laws. The mechanics’ lien serves as a legal notice, filed by the laborer or supplier, to the owner or builder of a structure that the “mechanic” intends to file a legal suit against them for non-payment of services performed.

The lien not only serves as a notice to the owner/builder of future legal proceedings to collect the debt but also warns prospective buyers of the home or property of pending legal action.

Laborers and suppliers in the 1700s and early 1800s had little legal recourse in securing payment for their work or materials supplied. Liens or mechanics’ liens were non-existent during this period since any lien placed on an individual’s home or property went against the common law.

Under common law, the unpaid mechanics and suppliers were merely creditors of the contractor and, as such, filed their claims in the Court of Common Pleas. The claim was filed with the clerk of the Common Pleas court and processed through the court as debt or trespass cases. Identifying lien claim type cases in the 1700s and early 1800s Common Pleas records is difficult since the records do not identify them as such.

In 1820, through the efforts of entrepreneur and ex-Assemblyman Edward Sharp of Camden, the New Jersey Legislature passed the first law designed to protect those in the building profession and to provide extended legal recourse beyond the common law. Sharp led the crusade, not only for the benefit of mechanics and suppliers, but also to further his own plans to develop his empire along the Delaware River. Whatever his interests may have been, the Act of 1820, entitled, “An act securing to Mechanics and others, payment for their labour and materials in erecting any house or other building within the limits therein mentioned,” did provide financial security for mechanics and materialmen. The Act did not provide for attachment of the lien on the lot or property where the structure was erected but did allow writs of scire facias (a judicial summons founded on some matter of record and requiring the debtor to show cause why the action should not be taken). If the defendant failed to appear in court according to the scire facias writ, the court could proceed in its judgment and issue an execution for the sale of the structure to recover the outstanding debt. The act stressed that a lien could not be placed on the land, only on the structure.

Although the Act of 1820 only applied to Gloucester County, it set a precedent for future laws and, eventually, the mechanics’ liens. From 1820 to 1846, additional laws pertaining to lien claims were enacted, but they pertained only to individual counties other than Monmouth County throughout the state. It was not until 1853, through “An Act to secure to mechanics and others, payment for their labor and materials in erecting any building,” approved March 11, 1853, that the law was extended to “every building erected or built within this state.”

The 1853 Act established more detailed filing procedures and, for the first time, stated that the lien was to be attached to the structure and “on the land whereon it stands,” in order to satisfy all debts. Lien claims were to be filed in the office of the clerk of the county within one year after the labor was performed or the material supplied. The claim included a description of the building, lot, and the name of the owner and/or builder. The dollar amount for labor performed or a detailed account of supplied materials was specified.

The law also instructed the County Clerk, at the expense of the county, to maintain a Lien Docket book, in which was entered the name of the owner; the name of the builder or person responsible for payment; a description of building and land; and the amount claimed and by whom. The Clerk also was required to provide an index by owner’s name. The clerk received twelve cents for each claim filed and six cents for each search for a lien claim.

Once the claimant (laborer or supplier) had followed the lien claim filing procedures in the Clerk’s office, the claimant brought the case to the Circuit Court, which issued a summons against the builder and/or owner through a writ of scire facias. As in previous laws, if the defendant (owner/builder) failed to appear in court, the court could render a judgment against the defendant and order the sale of building and/or property through an execution to satisfy the debt.

The Clerk noted all lien discharges in the lien dockets when payment had been received against the claim. If the person filing the claim had failed to enter the suit in the Circuit Court within the required time limit, the Clerk also entered the discharge notation.

Mechanics’ liens continue to be filed in the Office of the County Clerk and are recorded in mechanics’ liens books, but the courts hearing these cases have changed over the years. Under the Constitution of 1945, from 1948 to 1983, lien claim suits were heard in the County Court, Civil Division. Under the 1983 court reorganization, suits brought against owners and builders are entered in the Superior Court, Civil Division.

The Mechanics’ Liens loose papers date from 1845 through 1924. Although the first state-wide law went into effect in 1853, the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office lien claim records begin in 1845. There is no explanation as to why 95 lien claims were filed and recorded in the Clerk’s Office for the period 1845 to 1852. These early lien claims provide a unique source of information since they pre-date most documents in the Building Contract record series.

A lien claim is issued for the purpose of securing payment to the supplier for materials supplied and for the laborer for services performed, from the builder and owner who have not yet paid for them. The claims were filed in the County Clerk’s Office and recorded in the lien claim docket books.

This series contains information on the specifications for the different structures involved in the claims and the individuals involved in the dispute, namely, the plaintiff, builder, and owner. Most of the documents, especially those through the 1880’s, are in handwritten form, while the remaining documents are typed.

This series gives useful insight into the structures built (houses, hotels, docks, sheds, etc.), the materials and or services furnished, and the costs for each. Many of the claims give township, street addresses, lot numbers, or a detailed description of the location of the structure. In a few rare cases, hand-drawn maps of the area are attached.

Information on additions made to the structures and the specifications for these additions can also be found in some of the claims. In a few cases, sketches of the structure and its specifications are included.

In most cases, filing of the lien claim was followed by a lawsuit in the Circuit Court. The court proceedings, from the arraignment of the defendant to the final judgment, can be found in Circuit Court loose documents and minute books. These cases are easily identified by the notation “In Case, on Lien Claim.”

Lien claims can be used as a supplement to the Building Contract series and will provide an additional source for dating structures throughout the county. The Road Return series and the tax series also provide information for dating structures.

The Lien Claim series also provides limited genealogical information by giving the names of the builders, owners, plaintiffs, mortgages, and, in some cases, the heirs of deceased owners. Almost all of the documents after 1911 are Discharge of Liens. Some were matched to existing records filed earlier, but others consist of only the discharge.

According to the Act of 1853, County Clerks were instructed to record lien claims in a docket book specifically set aside for that purpose. In addition to the mechanics’ liens loose papers, the Archives holds six mechanics’ liens docket volumes covering the years 1853 to 1930.

Indexes, at the beginning of each book, are organized by name of claimant (person filing claim). Included in the volumes is the following information: name of claimant and defendant (building/owner); a detailed description of the structure and location of the property; and the dollar amount of the claim. In some cases, a notation is made of the date the summons to the defendant was issued.

The docket books provide an alternate source of information in the absence of missing loose papers and for all liens after 1924, the last date for which the loose papers are available.

This series is open to researchers.
An Access database is available for loose records. Volumes are available upon request in the reading room.
The Mechanics’ Liens loose papers are arranged chronologically by year and alphabetically within year by owner’s last name and stored in twenty manuscript boxes. Indexes to volumes are alphabetical; volumes are chronological.
Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan NJ 07726
Tel. (732) 308-3771
The Mechanics Liens loose papers were transferred to the Archives by Monmouth County Clerk Jane G. Clayton before 1995. In 2001 under Accession # 2001-03, four volumes of Construction Liens 1979-1996 were transferred to the Archives by Monmouth County Clerk M. Claire French.

In 2016 under Accession # 2016-09, six volumes of Construction Liens, 1994-1999 were transferred to the Archives by Monmouth County Clerk Christine Giordano Hanlon.

A finding aid was created by Troy Dayton and Mary Ann Kiernan in October 1995; updated May 2016 by George Joynson. An Access database of loose papers containing 1,381 records was created September 25, 1996. An additional 142 records were added to the database and the finding aid was updated in August 2018, by Mary Hussey.
For more information see the finding aids for Building Contracts, Road Returns and Deeds.