Sixteen Liens to Check for When Researching Titles to Real Property

The following is a listing and brief description of the 16 most common liens encumbering the title to real property:

1. Real property tax lien: Real property tax liens are placed against properties by local taxing authorities—city and county tax collectors—when property owners fail to pay their property taxes.

2. Federal tax lien: Federal tax liens are statutory liens that the IRS places against the titles of real property belonging to taxpayers who fail to pay their federal income tax.

3. Federal judgment lien: Federal judgment liens are liens placed against the titles of real property belonging to debtors who are in default on federally guaranteed loans, such as SBA and student guaranteed loans.

4. Mechanic's lien: Mechanic's liens are statutory liens that allow mechanics, contractors, materialmen, architects, surveyors, and engineers who have furnished work or materials for the improvement of real property to file a lien against the debtor's real property being worked on.

5. Judgment lien: Judgment liens result from lawsuits awarding monetary damages. Once recorded, a lien is placed against both the real and personal property of the debtor until the judgment is paid.

6. Mortgage and deed of trust lien: A mortgage or deed of trust lien is a voluntary lien created when real property is pledged as security for the repayment of a debt.

7. State inheritance tax lien: Most states have an inheritance tax, which is levied against the estates of deceased persons. The amount of inheritance tax owed becomes a lien against the estate.

8. Corporate franchise tax lien: States having a corporate franchise tax will tax corporations for the right to do business within the state. When corporations fail to pay their franchise tax, the state files a lien against any real property within the state belonging to the corporation.

9. Bail bond lien: A lien is created when real property is pledged as a bail bond in order to allow a person arrested on criminal charges to be released on bail pending trial.

10. Code enforcement lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by local code enforcement boards when a property owner has been fined for failing to correct code enforcement citations and doesn't pay the fine.

11. Municipal lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by local governments when a property owner fails to pay for municipal services such as water, sewage, and trash removal.

12. Welfare lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by state and federal government agencies when a property owner collects welfare payments that he or she is not legally entitled to.

13. Public defender lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by federal, state, and local governments when a property owner fails to pay for a court-appointed public defender.

14. Marital support lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by federal and state governments when a property owner fails to pay court-ordered marital support payments.

15. Child support lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by state governments when a property owner fails to make court-ordered child support payments.

16. Homeowners' association lien: A lien is placed against a property's title by a homeowners' association when a member fails to pay his or her homeowners' dues as per the deed to the property.

For whatever reason, some county recorders are slow to index or place recorded documents into the official public records. This can result in a recorded and valid lien not showing up during a lien search of the public records. I suggest that you ask the manager at your county or public recorder's office what the time lag is between when a document is recorded and when it is actually indexed in your county's official public records.

Because of the gap in time between when a document is recorded and when it is actually indexed or placed in the official public record, make certain that you check the lis pendens—lawsuits pending—index at the clerk of the circuit and county court or recorder's office for notices of any pending lawsuits that may be filed against the title to the property. The names of the plaintiffs and defendants in the lis pendens index are arranged in alphabetical order.

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