How to Check for Mechanic's Liens

By Victoria McGrath
Check for mechanic's liens before you buy.

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A mechanic's lien can be placed on private and real property by a contractor, sub-contractor or supplier who has not been paid. The lien is registered with the county recorder's office as an unpaid debt. The individual or company who places the lien on the property is entitled to payment. A lien filed with the county recorder's office provides notice to prospective buyers that the title is not clear. Once payment is made to the court or debt collector the hold can be lifted.

Verify with the owners of the property that they hold a clear title. Ask to see a copy of the title. Copy down the names of all parties on the title and a complete and accurate description of the property.

Contact the local property assessors through the city or county government office. Ask for the name of the property owners to the particular property. Access the tax records for the property through the agencies website.

Locate the county recorders office address and telephone number. You may be able to conduct a free search of public records online. You can go in during set business hours to search the records in person or hire a title company to search for you.

Conduct a title search of the property at the county recorders office. Follow the chain of title from the date the current owner acquired the property to the current date. The chain of title should include all legal parties names and transactions to date.

Search by the owner's names based on a grantor or grantee index. In an urban area a tract index may also be available that is based on the property address or location. Look for the property record by street address and city.

Check both the name index and the tract index using common misspellings of the owners names and the street name. The property title or mechanic's lien may be filed incorrectly. A new owner may be liable if the common error was easy to detect.

Search county court case files by the owners names and property address. A civil case can be filed in any county court that has proper jurisdiction over the property holder. The property holder will be listed as the defendant. You can also search under the contractors name, as plaintiff. A judgment against the property owner can indicate that a mechanic's lien has previously been filed.

Confirm with the superior court that a timely lien foreclosure action has been filed. This lien foreclosure action must be filed with the court within 90 days of the mechanic's lien being filed at the county recorder's office. The lien is invalid if the contractor, sub-contractor or supplier fails to file a lien foreclosure action on time. The property owner can petition the court to remove an invalid lien.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Victoria McGrath has been writing law-related articles since 2004. She specializes in intellectual property, copyright and trademark law. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Arizona, College of Law. McGrath pursued both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Los Angeles, in film and television production. Her work has been published in the Daily Bruin and La Gente Newsmagazine.

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