Can I File a Lien on a Home for Repairs I Made Before a Sale Was Closed?
The answer will depend on the ownership of the home at the time the damage occurred and the terms of the contracts involved. If the house had not yet been transferred to you, then the owner may claim you were unauthorized to make repairs. However, it may be possible to recover compensation under a theory of unjust enrichment.
The doctrine of unjust enrichment is based upon the principle that one should not be permitted unjustly to enrich himself at the expense of another but should be required to make restitution of or for property received, retained or appropriated. The general rule is that a payment of money under a mistake of fact may be recovered provided that such payment will not prejudice the payee. It is considered unjust enrichment to permit a recipient to retain money paid because of a mistake, unless the circumstances are such that it would be inequitable to require its return. This applies even if the mistake is one on one side (unilateral) and a consequence of the payors negligence, or that the payee acted in good faith. "A person who has conferred a benefit on another by mistake is not precluded from maintaining an action for restitution by the fact that the mistake was due to his lack of care." (Restatement of Restitution § 59.) Equity, which is based on notions of fairness, often allows a person who pays money to another under the mistaken belief a valid contract exists to recover that money when the contract is subsequently canceled for fraud or mistake and the rights of innocent parties have not intervened. (Restatement of Restitution §§ 17, 28.)
If you are not the owner and you win a judgment which remains unpaid, then you may request judgment lien on the home.
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. 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." If the judgment remains unpaid, the judgment debtor may request that the court place a lien on the judgment debtor's property, such as bank accounts or real property owned, to 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.
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.
A judgment lien is not valid against property the judgnent debtor has no ownership interest in. A wrongful lien may be voided by the filing party filing a release of lien with the county recorder's office where the lien was filed. If the filing party refuses to voluntarily release the lien, they might be reminded they could be liable for costs and attorney fees if a court order to release the lien needs to be petitioned for.