There are many ways we can end up in soul crushing debt, especially in 2020. With all of the economic turmoil in our world today, the last thing we want to think about is losing our home. However, if you owe money to a creditor and can’t pay, you could end up facing a judgment lien.
Let’s look more deeply at what a lien is and what it can and can’t do to your home ownership.
What Does a Lien Mean?
A lien can be filed if you hire someone to do something and don’t pay. A construction company or even an unlicensed handyman can file a lien. You can also incur a judgment lien if you have not paid credit card debt or if you have a large bill that you owe to a healthcare entity or other service provider.
A creditor files a lien with the county clerk in the county that your house is located and they register the judgment with the land records office. The lien appears on your property records so that you cannot sell the property without paying your debt to the creditor. You can put your home up for sale, but you may have to pay any profits to the lienholder.
In Texas, there are limits on the amount of the lien that can be placed on your personal property and home: up to $50,000 of personal property for an individual and up to $100,000 for a family.
In Texas, a judgment lien stays on your property record for 10 years and can affect everything from your credit to your ability to profit on the sale of your home.
What if I Don’t Know if I Have a Property Lien?
If you just bought a home and are concerned that it has a lien that your title company missed, you can go online and search at the county clerk’s or the office of land titling. You’ll need the name of the property owner and address. You can also visit in person to find answers.
What is Exempt from a Lien?
Exempt property includes most of what you need to live:
- Household items, up to $30,000 for a single person and $60,000 for a family.
- Vehicles, one for each licensed driver in the house.
- Your homestead, up to 10 acres urban property (single or family) and up to 100 acres rural (single) and 200 acres (family)
Homestead Exemption Explained
Creditors can place judgment liens against your home, even if it qualifies for a homestead exemption. The homestead exemption prevents the court from seizing your property, but it can still place a lien.
If you want to sell your lien laden home and you do qualify for the homestead exemption, you have 6 months to use money that you receive during the sale of that home to buy a new primary residence that will qualify. (1)
Beware that a judgment lien can also be placed on a business or any other land or vacation property that you own. These types of property are not protected by the homestead exemption.
Can I Just Transfer My Home to Someone Else?
In Texas, there are laws against trying to escape a judgment. The legal term for transferring property so that you don’t have to pay a lawful debt is fraud. Getting away with real estate fraud would not be easy because of the careful records kept by the land records office when you change a deed’s ownership.
How Do I Release a Lien?
- Pay off your debt if you do in fact owe the debt.
- If the debt is not yours, sue the lien holder in court for their fraud against you. You likely will need legal help to dispute the matter.
- If the lien holder agrees to release you from the debt, you can obtain a release-of-lien form to file with the county clerk and land records.
- You can wait out the 10 years that the judgment lien will stay on your home.
- Get in touch with your title company. This could be a solution if the lien occurred before you bought the property. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, “Title insurance insures against financial loss caused by defects in title to real estate. Title insurance companies defend against lawsuits attacking the title, or in the case of a covered loss, reimburse the insured up to the policy limit.” (2)
Real Estate Law
Real estate laws in Texas protect landowners by providing proper guidelines for disputing matters related to liens and titles, but only if you put up a fight. Legal disputes over land, real property, and improvements on real property are common in Texas and many entities have the right to file a lien and “cloud” your title. Often, in these types of disputes, you will need to take the matter to court.
If you have a situation with an improper lien on your title and need legal help, find a knowledgeable real estate attorney to look intently at the dispute situation. Consult with an experienced attorney who can research your position and help you find the best path forward. Let them guide you through the process of protecting your legal rights as a property owner.
Houston based Jarrett Law Firm, PLLC is ready to help you if you believe you have an interest or right to a piece of property.
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