If you are going to spend time looking for liens on real estate you don’t want to just get the most basic obvious liens, you want to make sure you are getting every lien there is, including the hidden liens. There are many types of liens but here are the seven most common types of hidden liens.
UCC Filings – Also known as universal commercial code filings, these are normally not filed in the land records office but rather with the secretary of state. If you are looking in the county records you may not find UCCs that exist for the property. The secretary of state may have a filing that can encumber the personal property.
Mechanics liens – These are liens and encumbrances that occur when a contractor, builder, or an individual does work on a property, for example putting on a new roof, and if the property owner did not pay for the roof then the contractor has a lien by statute on the property even if there is nothing filed in land records. This is the law in many, but not all, states. Most counties have a very specific procedure for the contractor to be protected on their efforts in improving that piece of real estate.
Civil court records – A property owner could have a judgment against them personally that automatically attaches to their property by statute. If this were the case it would not be stated in the land records. You would need to look in the civil court records, small claims and superior court to find something like this.
Probate records – Probate records can put encumbrances on a property. If there are transfers of property by statute, in the case of death or divorce, then that can affect the property and have liens accrued to the property.
Delinquent taxes –If you check the tax assessor’s office you may find that there are past due taxes on a property. If someone were to buy a property now and the previous property owner did not pay their property taxes for the previous year the new owner would be responsible for paying those delinquent taxes which could potentially be thousands of dollars.
HOA underfunding – If you are buying a house in a homeowners association or a condo complex and that complex has obligations like fixing the pool or paving the streets and they have not accrued money in their budget over the years, that HOA underfunding becomes a defacto lien on the properties because whoever owns them is going to have to pay for it when it comes due.
Easements – If you look at a property’s mortgages and deeds you may not find that there are current easements that allow adjacent property owners to have access to your property or even financially benefit from it. Generally, easements are written and recorded with the local assessor’s office so you would need to look there for any existing easements.
Once a lien has attached to a property there are very specific methods to have that lien removed. One way is to have the lien holder actually sign a release of lien that has to be filed in the land records. Until it’s filed, it will still show up on the title search. Another way is by statute. There are certain types of liens that automatically become inactive after a certain period of time. This depends on the type of lien, the statutes of the county, and what the laws were when the lien was filed.
When looking for liens on a specific property, remember to check for UCC filings, mechanics liens, the civil court records for judgments, probate records, delinquent taxes, HOA underfunding, and easements.