An involuntary lien is a claim made against property to which the property owner did not consent or agree. Due to some action or inaction by the property owner, a third party places a lien on the property to secure money owed to the third party by the property owner. Common types of involuntary liens include local, state, and federal government tax liens, and contractor’s or mechanic’s liens for improvements made on the real estate. In each of these types of involuntary liens, the property owner did not consent to having the lien placed on the property; however, the third party was able to place a lien on the property due to the property owner’s failure to pay tax bills, or pay for services or materials provided by a builder or contractor. An involuntary lien is the opposite of a voluntary lien, such as a mortgage lien; in the case of a voluntary lien, the property owner takes some affirmative action to have a lien placed on the property.
The filing requirements for involuntary liens, and the timeframes in which they may be filed, differ substantially according to state law. Typically, some sort of notice must be given to the property owner that the third party creditor intends to place an involuntary lien on the property. Assuming that the parties are unable to resolve their dispute, the third party then complies with state law in filing the involuntary lien on the property, usually by completing certain legal documents or forms and filing them with the appropriate governmental office in the jurisdiction where the property is located. Thereafter, the third party may take action to “perfect” the lien on the property, or make it a priority claim against the property, by giving notice to other potential or actual creditors and lienholders.
Probably the simplest way to have an involuntary lien released is to pay off the bill that is owed. For example, if a local government official places an involuntary tax lien on a property, the property owner generally can have the lien released, or removed, by paying off the delinquent tax bill that gave rise to the lien. Once the bill is satisfied, the local government is required by law to release the lien from the property, since it no longer has a valid legal claim against the property. In order to release the involuntary lien, the creditor (in this example, the local government official), generally must execute a certain legal document that formally releases the lien, and file the release with the appropriate government office.
If you need assistance in dealing with an involuntary lien placed on your property, you should consult an experienced real estate attorney. An attorney who customarily deals with involuntary liens can help you explore the different options that may be available to you in terms of disputing and/or getting an involuntary lien released.