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A lien is a claim to property for the payment of a debt, typically one connected to the property. It is the right to retain the lawful possession of the property of another until the owner fulfills a legal duty to the person holding the property, such as the payment of lawful charges for work done on the property. The right of lien generally arises by operation of law, but in some cases it is created by express contract. There are two kinds of liens; particular and general. When a person claims a right to retain property, due to money or labor invested in that property, it is a particular lien. Liens may arise by express contract; from implied contract, as from general or particular usage of trade; or by legal relation between the parties, such as created with common carriers and inn keepers. In certain circumstances, the lien holder may foreclose on the property if the debt is not paid in full.
To create a valid lien, it is essential that the party claiming a lien should have the absolute property or ownership of the thing or, at least, a right to vest it; that the party claiming the lien should have an actual or constructive, possession, with the assent of the party against whom the claim is made; that the lien should arise upon an agreement, express or implied and not be for a limited or specific purpose that contradicts the express terms or the clear, intent of the contract. In certain circumstances, the lien holder may foreclose on the property if the debt is not paid in full. Liens can generally be removed by the payment of the amount owed. This payment can occur at any time up to and including the stage at which the closing documents for the sale of the property are signed.
There are several types of liens, all of which could cloud the title and prevent the seller from conveying marketable title to the buyer. A judgment lien is created when a court grants a creditor an interest in the debtor's property, based upon a court judgment. A judgment lien can be filed if an actual judgment in a lawsuit is obtained from a court. Such cases include failure to pay a debt, including credit cards, bank loans, or deficiency judgments on repossessed vehicles. In some circumstances, judgments can be enforced by sale of property until the amount due is satisfied. A plaintiff who obtains a monetary judgment is termed a "judgment creditor." The defendant becomes a "judgment debtor." secure payment of the claim to the injured party. After the judgment creditor places a lien upon the attached property, the next step in the collection process is to conduct a sale of the attached property to satisfy the judgment debt. Laws regarding judgment liens vary by jurisdiction, so local laws should be consulted for specific requirements.
Liens that arise in construction situations include construction liens, contractor liens, mechanic liens, attorney liens, architect liens and other liens applicable in your state. Contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and laborers can place liens against property for the value of work or materials installed on that property. The filing requirements and statutes of limitation for these liens vary according to the law of each state. In some states, contractors and subcontractors must notify the property owner prior to filing a lien, but in other states such liens can be filed without any notification to the owner. Lien claimants who are contractors or subcontractors are protected under this legal doctrine because all their materials and labor are "buried" in the real estate, having become part of it. Unlike mortgage liens, however, the liens of these claimants cannot force a foreclosure.
An equitable lien is a legal fiction created by courts in certain circumstances in which justice may require the creation of a lien. Courts of equity have the power to create so-called equitable liens on property to correct some injustice. For example, a person who lived on the property and contributed a substantial amount to the improvement of the property may be able to, with the assistance of the court, obtain a lien on the property by suing for a constructive trust.
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