Partial Property Owner Liens

August 12, 2023

I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment referral expert (Judgment Broker). This article is based on my experience in California. Laws vary in each state, and nothing in any of my articles should ever be considered legal advice. This article is my opinion about property liens and judgment debtors.

One of the tools for judgment enforcement is to record a lien on a judgment debtor’s real estate properties. When the judgment debtor owns a property alone, you can record a lien at the county recorder or the department of state, and arrange for the county or state entity to mail a notice of the lien to the judgment debtor.

Sometimes you must mail the property lien notice yourself. If you mail the lien notice, it is usually a good idea to mail it by itself, because one must take care when communicating with debtors. If you know the laws, you can include other documents in the same envelope, but never threaten anyone. Also, do not put any hints that you are a debt collector on the outside of the envelope.

There is a bundle of FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) laws that regulate how one can communicate with debtors, or tell third-parties about the debt owed by debtors. When a county or government entity mails a lien notice to the debtor, FDCPA the laws do not apply. (Government entities can mail notices to whoever they want.)

What if the judgment debtor is a co-owner of a property, and the other owner(s) are not liable for your judgment? There are three issues to consider – notice, incentive, and research.

When the lien notice gets mailed out, it might be noticed by the other property owners. It is a long shot, however sometimes when the other property owners learn about the lien, they may encourage the judgment debtor to repay or settle the judgment to get the lien removed.

Once you record an abstract of judgment (or any other type of lien) in the recorder’s office, it becomes a matter of public record; so you can notice the other owners of the property by mailing them a copy of the recorded abstract. (The county or state will mail a copy to the judgment debtor, but not the other property owners.)

If you are filing/recorded the lien in person, get a certified copy for your records, make copies of that, and mail a copy to the co-owners. Communicating with a third-party about a debtor’s debt falls under the FDCPA, however mailing them a public notice does not. Whether you include a cover letter (I would) or return address is up to you. You might get lucky and a co-owner might pressure the judgment debtor to pay you, so that title to their property is not clouded.

Abstracts of judgment are public notices available to anyone for inspection. They are usually (often slowly) picked up as public records by credit reporting agencies and title companies, who employ people and systems, to include them on people’s credit and title reports. These entities do not worry about receiving and distributing this data in the context of their work. Because liens are public records, anyone can access their information without worrying about the FDCPA. Liens, bankruptcy records, and criminal convictions are all public records.

If you are at the recorder’s office, do a search of the debtor’s name on the grantor/grantee index. If they have other properties, write down the addresses along with the tax ID numbers, known as Assessor Parcel Numbers (APNs). Then, go to the County Treasurer/Tax Collectors office (usually in the same government building as the Recorder’s office), and run the APNs on their publicly available computer terminals.

State law usually prohibits the disclosure of the property owner’s name and address over the Internet, however anyone can access this information at the terminal in the Tax Collectors office. There are also some specialized real estate databases one can subscribe to, that provides this information on the web, however they are expensive.

Search each of the APNs, and you will see whose name is on the bi-annual tax bill and where it gets mailed. This will often show the best address to mail lien notices to, and often you will find debtor home addresses.

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