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Debt Collection

How do you put a lien on someone's house when they owe you money?


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December 09, 2015 11:53AM

A creditor must sue in civil court, obtain a judgment and then request a judgment lien that can be recorded in the land records. A judgment can be rendered for different types of debts such as default on a promissory note, credit card debt, personal injury award, wrongful death, etc. Once a judgment lien is recorded in the land records the property cannot be sold or mortgaged until the lien is paid off. Interest begins to accrue as soon as the favorable judgment is issued.

Mechanic's liens are in a different category than other types of liens. They are intended to protect contractors. A mechanic's lien can be recorded by anyone who supplied labor or materials to make improvements to a property, including plans and designs. These are exclusively a product of state legislation and vary from state to state. Most require that the lien be the result of work performed by a licensed contractor or a licensed business which normally supplies building materials to construction sites and that the amount of the lien not exceed the normal and routine value of the work performed or materials provided.

However, to have an enforceable lien, it usually must be "perfected" in compliance with with the statutory requirements for maintaining and enforcing the lien. These requirements, which contain time limits, can include the following:

  • Providing the required preliminary notice to the property owner disclosing the entitlement to the lien (some states).
  • Filing notices of commencement of work (some states).
  • Filing notices in the required public records offices of the intention to file a lien if unpaid (some states).
  • Filing the notice or claim of lien in the required public records offices within a specified period of time after the materials have been supplied or the work completed (all states). The law varies from state-to-state on both the triggering event and the timing of this. Some states require the filing within a period measured from the time when the claimant completes its work, while others specify the event as being after all work on the project has been completed. The filing time periods after the triggering event vary, with 4-6 months being common.
  • Filing a lawsuit to foreclose the lien within a specified time period.
  • Those states that do not require a civil court judgment generally include significant penalties for falsely attaching mechanics liens to property.

For any substantial amount owed you should contact an attorney who can review your situation and explain your options in your state.

You should not file a lien or begin any legal action against a person without first contacting an attorney. If you make an error in preparing and/or filing the lien documents, the lien may be voided and you may be held liable for the other party's attorney fees. Incorrectly prepared lawsuits can have the same result. If you do not have a lot of money for an attorney, look in your phone book for the attorneys (usually "sole practitioners" who do not have an ad) who offer free consultations. You cannot afford not to talk to an attorney.