How to Place and Pursue a Property Lien

Property Lien

What Is a Property Lien?

A property lien is a public document stating you owe money to a creditor to ensure creditors receive payment for a sale or refinance. This happens because parties must first clear a property’s title before completing a sale or refinance. The seller must satisfy the lien before the title clears.

Several property liens exist:

  • Voluntary — Resulting from taking on loans
  • Mortgage — Resulting in payment failures and an eventual foreclosure
  • Property Tax — Resulting from owed property taxes
  • Child Support — Resulting from owed child support payments
  • Mechanical — Resulting from owed money to contractors
  • IRS — Resulting from owed back taxes

Liens give creditors strong legal rights, and they provide creditors the power to force a property sale to satisfy debts. The document acts as leverage, and it stays on record until it is paid, settled, correct and disputed.

How to Put a Lien on a Property

Suppose you want to place a lien on a property. You may have a tenant falling behind on her or his mortgage payments. The individual may take out loans and use the property as collateral and have yet to pay. Or, you complete extensive construction work and the other party dodges your invoices.

The point is, someone owes you money, and you feel you have no choice but to resort to legal measures. Here is what would happen:

1. Talk With the Other Person(s)

A property lien is a (sort of) nuclear option for debt collection. The result can get ugly, such as pursuing an eviction, if it goes to court. It could put someone, or a family, out of a home. This is something to think about, as it may weigh on your mind.

Consider other options such as setting up a payment plan or working with a mediator. Maybe the property owners fell on hard times and got behind on payments, but they may find opportunities to catch up. Use your best judgment.

2. Send a Notice

You have to alert the other party before placing a lien. Typical guidelines for doing so include delivering the notice before services rendered or payment due dates and submitting the property lien form to the county clerk or recorder’s office.

The person generally has a week or two to comply with the notice. After the date, and with the notice delivered, you may pursue a lien. This should happen before your state’s specific deadline, which is usually a month or two after the notice.

3. Filing a Property Lien

A property lien is a strong legal stance and a form of debt collection. Therefore, you need to follow guidelines and protocols to make it official.

Begin with the research:

  • Check your state’s/county’s lien formatting guidelines.
  • Gather information on the individual and the property.
  • Detail services/debts and a property overview.

You can access property lien templates online. You may have access to them through a property law attorney’s website, too. Either way, you have many options to draft this document without faults so it meets all requirements for the county/state.

When the document is ready:

  1. Deliver it to your county clerk or recorder.
  2. Pay the necessary fees.
  3. Delivery a notice to the property owner.

You have now completed the legal steps for filing a property lien.

Judgment Liens

A judgment lien follows much of the same process as a standard lien, including doing your research and submitting the correct document (with formatting). One major difference is that a judgment lien sticks to the title and gets satisfied during a sale. In some cases, it may also list assets the person has that may go to sale to pay the lien.

For example:

  1. You place a judgment lien on a property.
  2. The property gets sold at some point.
  3. The lien is paid first before funds distribute to the owner.

A property owner may pay the outstanding amount before the lien applies, too. Judgment liens are a little less confrontational compared to property liens.

Property Lien Disputes

People can turn erratic once a lien applies to their property. This opens up many possible disputes and questions you may have as the lienholder:

  • What if a property owner disputes your lien?
  • What if the property owner becomes vindictive?
  • What if they do not comply and refuse to communicate?

This is the moment where you may need to turn to a legal professional for guidance and insight.

When and Why Hire a Property Lawyer

Two situations often require a property lawyer’s involvement: You need help drafting and pursuing a property lien, or you need help to pursue a property with a lien.


One may want to bring on a property lawyer when pursuing a property lien. The legal advocate offers knowledge and guidance to ease the process. She or he may act as an intermediary to the process without taking it to court.

The attorney could help draft a property lien according to state/local laws. He or she may also accurately provide services or property details that you did not notice. Your legal advocate also makes the owner realize that you mean business.


Suppose you wish to buy a piece of property with a lien. Some states may require a real estate attorney’s presence. Yet, it is worth bringing one along, regardless, to ensure the deal is fair for all parties.

The attorney guides you through the entire process. This ensures you satisfy the lien before taking on the title. It also completes the remainder of the sale as you would through a typical real estate transaction.

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