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Liens: How Do They Work in Real Estate?

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Liens: How Do They Work in Real Estate? | Debexpert

A lien is a legal claim or right against someone else's property, providing security for a creditor who loans money to another party. Liens can be seen as a form of collateral, allowing the creditor to seize or sell the property if the borrower fails to make payments or fulfill their obligations. While some liens are common and expected, others can complicate the process of buying or selling property. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the different types of liens, how they function, and the steps to remove or obtain a lien.

Key takeaways:
Liens are legal claims or encumbrances on a property or asset that serve as security for the payment of a debt or obligation. They give creditors the right to seize or sell the property if the debt is not repaid or the obligation is not fulfilled.

Understanding Liens

A lien is essentially a claim that a creditor has on someone's property, serving as a guarantee of repayment for a debt. When individuals take out loans, such as car loans or mortgages, they often agree to a lien on the purchased asset. This lien ensures that the creditor has a legal interest in the property until the debt is fully repaid. If the borrower defaults on their payments, the creditor can exercise their rights and potentially repossess or sell the property to recover their investment.

Liens can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary liens are typically agreed upon by both parties, such as when a borrower secures a mortgage to purchase a home. Involuntary liens, on the other hand, can be imposed by creditors or government entities to protect their financial interests. These types of liens may arise from unpaid debts, court judgments, or failure to pay taxes.

Types of Liens

There are several common types of liens that individuals may encounter when dealing with property ownership. Understanding these liens is crucial for borrowers, homeowners, and anyone involved in buying or selling property. Let's explore some of the most prevalent types of liens:

  1. Bank Liens: When individuals take out loans from banks, such as car loans or personal loans, the bank may place a lien on the property being financed. This lien ensures that the bank has a legal claim on the asset until the debt is paid off.
  2. Judgment Liens: Judgment liens arise when a creditor takes legal action against a debtor and obtains a court judgment in their favor. The court may then grant a lien on the debtor's assets, including real estate, as a way to secure the repayment of the debt.
  3. Mechanic's Liens: Mechanic's liens are common in the construction industry. If a contractor or subcontractor is not paid for their services, they can file a lien against the property where the work was performed. This lien provides them with a legal right to seek payment by potentially selling the property.
  4. Real Estate Liens: Real estate liens encompass various types of liens that pertain to property ownership. Mortgage liens, for example, are placed on a property when a borrower obtains a mortgage loan. The lender holds the lien as security until the mortgage is fully paid. Tax liens can also be placed on properties by government entities when property taxes are not paid.

It is important to note that the priority of liens can vary depending on the specific circumstances and local laws. In general, the order of priority is determined by the date of recording the lien, with the first recorded lien generally having the highest priority.

How Liens Work

Liens, including structured settlement loans, can have significant implications for property owners and borrowers. When a lien, such as a structured settlement loan, is present on a property, it can impact the owner's ability to sell or refinance the property. The lien creates a legal stake for the creditor, giving them the right to claim the property if the debt is not repaid.

For example, if a homeowner decides to sell their property with an existing lien, they must obtain permission from the lienholder and use a portion of the proceeds to satisfy the debt. In some cases, the lienholder may choose to seize and sell the property themselves to recover the owed amount.

Liens can also impact individuals seeking financing. Lenders typically require a clear title to approve a loan. If a lien is present, it can complicate the loan approval process or require additional steps to address the lien before the loan can proceed.

Removing or Obtaining a Lien

Removing or obtaining a lien typically involves specific processes and actions. The steps may vary depending on the type of lien and the jurisdiction. Here are some general guidelines:

1. Paying off the Debt

The simplest and most straightforward way to remove a lien is by paying off the debt that caused the lien in the first place. Once the debt is fully satisfied, the lienholder should release the lien, acknowledging that the debt has been cleared. This requires communication and coordination with the lienholder to ensure that the necessary documentation is filed to remove the lien from the public records.

2. Negotiating with Creditors

In situations where paying off the debt is not immediately feasible, it may be possible to negotiate with the lienholder. This could involve reaching a settlement or establishing a repayment plan that satisfies the debt over time. By demonstrating a commitment to resolving the debt, it may be possible to reach an agreement that leads to the removal of the lien.

3. Challenging the Lien

If there are grounds to believe that the lien is incorrect or unjust, it may be necessary to challenge the lien. This typically involves providing evidence to support the claim that the lien is invalid or should be removed. Legal assistance may be required in such cases to navigate the necessary legal processes and present a strong case.

4. Filing for Bankruptcy

In some situations, individuals facing significant financial difficulties may opt to file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can provide relief and potentially lead to the discharge or restructuring of debts, including those associated with liens. The specifics of how liens are treated in bankruptcy cases can vary depending on the type of bankruptcy and the jurisdiction.

It is crucial to consult with legal professionals who specialize in lien-related matters to ensure the appropriate steps are taken based on individual circumstances and relevant laws.


Liens play a significant role in the world of finance and property ownership. They serve as a legal mechanism to secure debts and protect the interests of creditors. Understanding the different types of liens, how they function, and the steps to remove or obtain a lien is essential for borrowers, homeowners, and individuals involved in property transactions, including those looking to sell mortgage notes. By being informed about liens and options like selling mortgage notes, individuals can navigate financial decisions and property transactions with confidence. If you find yourself dealing with a lien or contemplating to sell a mortgage note, it is advisable to seek guidance from legal professionals who specialize in lien-related matters to ensure the best course of action for your specific situation.

Written by
Henry Arora
Head of Business Development

Experienced Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the Fintech/Customer services/Debt Collections industry. Skilled in Management, Debt Collections Sales, Leadership, Team Management, and Public Speaking. Strong operations professional graduated from Madhurai Kamraj University.

  • Fintech/Customer services Expert
  • Public Speaking
  • Debt collection Expert



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