What is a Lien in Alabama?
A lien in Alabama is a legal right to property. It is issued to secure a repayment or performance of an obligation. Property, in this case, may mean land, house, equipment, or vehicles.
Liens can be either general or specific and voluntary or involuntary. A lien is "general" when it attaches to more than one property and is "specific" when it affects only one. On the other hand, a lien is voluntary if established by a property owner's agreement to secure a loan or other financial assistance. Voluntary liens can be applied to an individual's home, vehicle, home appliance, boat, business loan, and more. However, it is involuntary if the lien was placed without the owner's consent. Involuntary liens typically arise due to a federal or state law and can be attached without filing an action in court. Hence, they are also known as statutory liens.
A mortgage lien is a typical example of a voluntary and specific lien. It is created by a property owner's action to buy or refinance a property, and it attaches only to that particular property. Meanwhile, a judgment lien is an example of an involuntary and general lien. When a judgment lien is recorded in any Alabama county, it affects all property that the lienee owns or will own in that county. Recorded liens may be maintained by Alabama courts or the county clerk in the judicial district where the lien was filed. The Alabama Code on liens outlines the state's provisions on liens and related matters.
Are Liens Public in Alabama?
According to the Alabama Public Records Act, liens are public records and can be accessed by interested members of the public. Liens can be found along with property records at the county courthouse where the lien was filed, through the county assessor’s office or online through a private search service.
Types of Lien in Alabama
Alabama law equips creditors (individuals, financial institutions, groups) with a means to secure the repayment of debts by allowing them to attach liens to debtors' assets and properties.
Creditors can place different types of liens on a debtor's property, including vacant lands, homes, child support, settlement awards, business assets, antiques, jewelry, and valuable art. Once a lien is anchored to a property or other lienable item, the party who filed ("perfected") the lien becomes the lienholder or lienor, and the property owner becomes the lienee.
Examples of liens include:
Judgment liens: These liens are created from lawsuits. An individual or business will place a judgment lien on another's real or personal property to collect a monetary award won in court.
Tax liens: Established by federal, state, or local tax authorities, tax liens are attached to one's property because of delinquent taxes.
Mortgage liens; These liens are created when someone borrows money to refinance or buy real estate. As is typical with mortgage liens, the property pledged as collateral can be repossessed, in whole or part, if the borrower fails to repay the loan or stops making payments.
Mechanics liens: A mechanics lien surfaces from a property owner's failure to pay for work done on their property. Under Alabama's Mechanics Lien Statute, owed contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and laborers can attach two types of mechanics liens to a person's property:
- An unpaid balance lien: This lien is attached to recover the unpaid balance of a construction project.
- A full-price lien: This lien entitles the lienor to the entire amount stated in a construction contract.
How Do I Check for Liens in Alabama?
Liens can be placed against real or personal property in Alabama. To add a lien to real property, the creditor will file the necessary documentation in the probate judge's office of the county where the debtor's property lies or may lie in the future. For tax liens, the lien can also be filed in the taxpayer's county of residence.
If the creditor wants to establish a security interest in someone's personal property because of a transaction (also called a UCC lien), the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Division of the Alabama Secretary of State should receive the filing. The only exception is if the UCC lien pertains to real estate - for example, timber, crops, minerals. Then, the lien will be recorded in the county's probate office, where the property is located.
Finding out the lien and the liened property's location is essential in determining the right office to request lien records. Subsequently, the interested party can go to that office during regular business hours to inspect the records or obtain copies.
The probate offices and the Secretary of State also provide tools on their websites to enable remote lien searches.
Free Lien Search in Alabama
In Alabama, the public can search for liens without paying a fee to the offices that maintain such records. When payment is required, it is often to duplicate a record at the government office or view, purchase, or print document images online.
To conduct free lien searches on the internet, an individual can visit the specific probate office's website to check for a land records search tool. The Jefferson County, Baldwin County, Mobile County, and Montgomery County probate offices, among others, offer this service. The researcher can also use the Secretary of State's UCC Records Search tool if applicable.
What is a Property Lien in Alabama?
A property lien is a right a creditor has to a debtor's property pending the payment of debts. Property liens interfere with the right to a property title. Hence, the owner cannot claim full rights to the title deed unless the lien is removed.
The creditor files a claim against the owing party in the relevant civil court division, depending on the monetary value of the debt. When the judge orders the payment of such debt, they may attach a judgment lien to the verdict to enforce payment. The creditor registers the court judgment with the county's probate court office where the debtor has or may have property. This lien remains on the title of the property for ten years. Property, in this case, refers to ownership items, such as real estate or personal property of value ( antiques of value, jewelry). However, exemptions can protect a debtor from complete property loss to a lien upon sale. One of them is the homestead exemption. The homestead exemption provides that the property's fixed value is non-accessible to the creditor if it is the primary residence. Other liens on the same property will also restrict the overall value accessible to creditors. If there is an ongoing foreclosure or a bankruptcy proceeding with a stay on creditor actions, activating a lien on property may be difficult or of no effect. Property liens are the most common concerning debt payments among individual parties in the state. Other liens include mechanic liens, tax liens, and construction/mechanic's liens.
How Do You Know if a Property Has a Lien in Alabama?
Before a lien is established in Alabama, the owner may receive a written notice of an intent to lien from the creditor. (This does not apply if the owner willingly agrees to the lien.) For example, a construction worker who wants to establish a mechanics lien to recover an unpaid commission must notify the property owner beforehand if they do not have a direct contract with the owner.
However, notification is not always a legal requirement. Therefore, property owners and other curious third parties can carry out property or land records searches to ascertain if a lien exists on a property of interest in Alabama.
Searches can be performed through the probate courts (or land records offices) or the Office of the Secretary of State. The interested party can also hire an attorney or title company to conduct title searches to find liens recorded against real property.
Property Lien Search by Address in Alabama
A property lien search in Alabama can be done at the Probate Office in the county where the property is located. Some County Probate Offices in Alabama have online tools where a requester can check liens on a property by providing the property’s address. For instance, a Montgomery County resident can use the Property Records Search tool on the Probate Court Office website to find liens on a property. Here is how to conduct a property lien search by address using this online tool:
- Click on the “I Agree - Begin Probate Records Search” link at the bottom of the Property Records Search page
- Click on the “Look up Land Records” tab
- Create an account with an email/login and password details
- Select “Address” from the Search Type dropdown
- Input the property address in the required field
Alternatively, a requester can visit the Montgomery County Probate Court Office to check for liens on a property by providing the property address. The Montgomery County Probate Court Office is located at:
Montgomery County Probate Court
Courthouse Annex III
101 S. Lawrence Street
Montgomery, AL 36104
Phone: (334) 832-1237, (334) 832-1236
Free Property Lien Search by Address
A free property lien search in Alabama can be conducted at County Probate Offices. Some Probate Offices have online tools that a requester can use to find liens on a property by conducting a search by address. For instance, a record seeker can check liens on a property at Chilton County Probate Office via the online tool on their website. After clicking on the search link, click “Look up Land Records” and select “Address” from the Search Type dropdown. Then proceed to conduct a free property lien search by address.
What is a Tax Lien in Alabama?
A tax lien is a consequence of defaulting in property tax payments to the government. The purpose of a tax lien is to enforce payments by the property owner. Taxes are required by the federal government and the county authorities. When a property tax is due and the property owner fails to pay, the authorities issue a tax lien certificate. This certificate constitutes a lien on the property. Tax liens usually take precedence over other creditor liens on the property.
The Alabama Department of Revenue keeps a record of tax-delinquent properties in each County. When a property gets listed here, the owners risk losing the title deed's rights to investors and buyers unless they update payments. The authorities issue a property tax sale certificate to interested buyers for less than three years for the tax-delinquent property. For cases over three years, the authorities issue a tax deed to the prospective buyer. These processes often lead to title transfer by legal action. Another way to get the taxes paid is to auction the property to the public. The owner has three years to initiate the redemption of their property or face total forfeiture to the property title. Other taxes such as income, excise, and sales do not apply to liens.
Tax Lien Lookup in Alabama
Anyone can request to inspect or obtain a copy of a tax lien in Alabama because they are considered public records. County Tax Collector Offices are the repositories of tax liens in Alabama. As such, an inquirer can conduct a tax lien lookup at the Tax Collector's office in the county where the property is located. For instance, the Madison County Collector's office has an Online Tax Record Search tool where record seekers can find tax lien records of real and personal properties in the county. To use this tool, requesters must conduct a search by name, company, PIN, parcel, account, or address. Alternatively, individuals can opt to make in-person requests at the Office between Monday and Friday (8:30 am to 4:45 pm) at:
Madison County Service Center
1918 Memorial Parkway
NW Huntsville, AL 35801
Phone: (256) 532-3370
What is a Mortgage Lien in Alabama?
A mortgage lien is a voluntary lien initiated by the property owner to secure a loan or credit. Mortgage liens represent collateral security to credit agencies, such as banks. If the borrower fails to pay back, the creditor assumes ownership of the property. Usually, the property choice for a mortgage lien is decided by the value equivalent to borrowed money.
What is a Mechanics Lien in Alabama?
A mechanic lien is a legal record that gives the holder rights to file for unpaid compensation. Building contractors and other construction workers find it useful to ensure the completion of their payments by clients. When an owed party files a mechanic lien on a property, it becomes visible in public property records. It could impede actions by the owner to attract investors or buyers. Mechanic liens also exist at sub-levels of contractors and suppliers of materials or services. Mechanic lien filings usually follow a procedure that may be specific to county rules and regulations.
What is a UCC Lien?
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) embodies laws that pertain to commercial interactions across the states of the US, including Alabama. A UCC lien is an advantage of a lender in establishing a lien priority in the event of a failure in repayment or bankruptcy. The validity of a UCC lien is five years. A UCC lien may be on property, equipment, or assets. The amount of credit owed usually dictates the coverage of the lien in terms of value. If multiple creditors are financing the same project, the first to file gets the highest priority. Upon the completion of payment, the borrower must move to notify the Secretary of State for termination. The forms for the procedure are available at the state level.
How to Conduct a UCC Lien Search
UCC liens are typically public records. As such, anyone can request to view or obtain copies of UCC lien records in Alabama. The Alabama Secretary of State Office has a Government Records Inquiry System where an inquirer can conduct a UCC lien search. The System allows requesters to search for UCC lien records using various options like:
- Advanced search (with images)
- Simple Search (with no images) including a search by debtor name, filing number, month and year, or date
An advanced search comes at a cost, but a simple search is free. Search results typically reveal the following information:
- UCC filing information like filing type, total pages, original filing date/time, status, and expiration date
- Finance statement including filing date/time, pages filed, debtor, and secured party information
- Termination details like filing date/time and pages filed
What is a Judgment Lien?
A judgment lien is a court-ordered right a debtor has over a debtor's property. Usually, the creditor sues the owing party to the court of jurisdiction (small claims or civil disputes division). If the plaintiff wins the case, they record the judgment against the judgment defendant's property. Essentially, a judgment lien is a statement of debt to the public about an individual. Judgment liens last up to ten years and are renewable. They are applicable in real estate, personal property, and vehicles.
What is a Federal Tax Lien
A federal tax lien is a charge or encumbrance on a person’s property due to unpaid property taxes. Typically, federal tax liens are placed on properties by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when people fail or refuse to pay tax debts (IRC § 6321). The best way to avoid federal tax liens is to pay tax debts in full. When a taxpayer makes a full property tax payment, the IRS will release the lien within 30 days.
What is a Lien Title?
A lien title is usually placed on a property when the full cost of the property has not been paid. Generally, when people title their properties, the County Probate Offices or Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division in Alabama will forward the titles to the lienholders. Lienholders will release lien titles from properties when the debts on them have been paid in full. A person with an existing lien on a property and who wants to transfer the property to someone else must first contact the lienholder. The lienholder must agree to the transfer and provide the property title. In a situation where the buyer wants to assume the loan and was not on the original contract, the lienholder would have to satisfy the existing lien and record a new lienee.
Where and How to Do a Title Search in Alabama
A real property title search in Alabama can be done at County Probate Offices. For instance, a requester can conduct a title search online at Morgan County Probate Office. However, the requester must obtain a username and password by completing the required form and sending it by mail, email or fax to the Office at:
Alternatively, requesters can visit the Morgan County Probate Office in person to retrieve real property title information. In-person requests can be made at:
Morgan County Probate Office
302 Lee Street, NE
Decatur, AL 35601
A motor vehicle title search can be conducted at the Alabama Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division. The Division has a Records Request Portal where requesters can access motor vehicle title records. Requesters must provide information like requesting entity type, record request type, requestor, vehicle details, and supporting documentation to be able to use the portal.
Voluntary Lien vs Involuntary Lien in Alabama?
A voluntary lien is a lien which the debtor initiates, usually to secure credit or loans. Examples are mortgage liens on homes and vehicles or other valuable assets. Involuntary liens are impositions from credit authorities to force payment of debts. Examples are tax liens, property liens, or judgment liens.
How Creditors Collect Payment Through a Lien
A lien enables a creditor to assert a legal hold over a debtor's property - such that the debtor cannot easily sell, transfer, or refinance the property without first satisfying the debt or other financial obligation.
With a lien, creditors can also force the sale of a debtor's property to collect what is owed to them. However, because several liens can be attached to a debtor's property, the first lien to be recorded takes priority over others upon a property's sale unless otherwise indicated by law. Alabama law allows certain liens to surpass others, regardless of their recording dates.
For example, a mechanics lien has priority over all other liens created after the commencement of a construction project (Ala. Code § 35-11-211). However, tax liens are superior to all other liens (Ala. Code § 40-1-3).
How Do I Get a Lien Removed in Alabama?
The fastest way to remove a lien in Alabama is to pay what is owed (plus interest, penalties, and costs) or negotiate a partial payment with the creditor. Doing so will allow the creditor to release the lien.
Alternatively, the debtor can ask the court to remove the lien. However, the court will only grant the lienee's petition if the lien is invalid or illegal. For example, if the lien was established through fraud, coercion, or bad faith.
Furthermore, if the lien is involuntary or statutory, the debtor can opt to wait out the statute of limitations. However, this last option is not entirely reliable since state law allows lienholders to extend their liens.
How Long Does a Lien Stay on Your Property in Alabama?
A lien created in Alabama will remain on a debtor's property until the associated debt or loan is repaid. However, when the lien is involuntary or statutory, state law establishes specific periods within which the lien is legally enforceable.For instance, Alabama's judgment and state tax liens last for ten years. UCC liens are valid for five years. Meanwhile, mechanics' liens are enforceable for six months, beginning from the date when the total amount was due.
How to Avoid a Lien in Alabama
In reality, it is pretty easy to get into debt - even though no one actively tries to do so - and by amassing debt, a person attracts a lien on their real or personal property. As such, a property owner who wants to avoid a lien in Alabama must avoid debt and find ways to pay off existing ones.