Real Estate Terms

Lien Definition

A lien gives someone else a right to something you own. Liens are something not often talked about, although they should be. Liens can make your life a huge mess! Or, in some instances, be a lifesaver. In short, a lien is a form of security.

What is a Lien?

Definition: A lien is a form of security interest granted over an item to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation. A lien serves to guarantee an underlying obligation. Usually, that obligation is the repayment of a loan. If that obligation is not met, the creditor may be able to seize the asset that is the subject of the lien.

Example: The most common types of liens are those that are placed on vehicles or real estate. In the case of a vehicle, the individual purchases a vehicle and pays the seller using the funds from the bank, and grants the bank a lien on the vehicle. If payments or obligations aren’t met, the bank can repossess the car because they hold a lien on it.

What is a Real Estate Lien?

Real estate liens are financial claims against property. A mortgage is the most common form of real estate lien. This lien is filed by a lender in order to secure the lender’s long-term real estate loan. For example, if someone is not paying their mortgage, the lender can take the property back.

Voluntary Lien vs Involuntary Lien

Liens can be divided into two categories: voluntary and involuntary liens. Then after that divided into two more categories: Specific and general.

Voluntary liens are created by a contract between the creditor and the debtor. The most common type is a mortgage, which is essentially a bank loan that is secured by the property itself. Banks give home buyers money in exchange for a promise to pay it back, normally with additional interest and costs.

The bank, of course, retains ultimate legal ownership of the property until the loan is paid off. At some point, you, as the homeowner, agreed to the terms of the mortgage, and you (theoretically) have a plan for when you will pay it off and gain ownership of the property outright.

Involuntary liens are a tad bit different. Involuntary liens aren’t created by the homeowner. It is a claim imposed against a property without the consent of its owner. Involuntary liens are usually placed by government revenue authorities for unpaid duties or taxes.

The next division of liens is by specific or general. The concept is pretty simple. A specific lien attaches to only one property. A general lien attaches to a number of properties.

How to Remove a Lien

Sadly removing a lien can be complex and time-consuming. Obviously, the first option is to pay it off. If that is not an option, individuals can try and settle and meet in the middle with the costs. If individuals believe the lien is false or fraudulent legal actions may be required to resolve the issue.

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