What is a Lien in Georgia?
In Georgia, a lien is a declaration filed against a debtor's real or personal property to collect debt. It is a legal tool used by creditors to ensure that individuals or businesses pay what they owe. Typically, for a lien to be enforceable in Georgia, the creditor must record it in a Georgia Court with the office of the clerk of Superior Court. After recording a lien, the creditor can sell or seize a collateral asset (liened property) to retrieve payment.
There are several types of liens in the state. However, most liens can be categorized as involuntary or voluntary (by the debtor's consent), and at the same time, specific or general.
Are Liens Public in Georgia?
Yes, according to the Georgia Code, liens are public records in the state of Georgia. Hence, interested members of the public may obtain liens from the county recorder's office or the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court where the lien was filed.
The availability of lien records makes it easier for potential creditors to assess an individual's financial situation before offering credit or other services. It also helps homeowners by providing them with more detailed information about any claims that have been placed against their property.
Types of Lien in Georgia
In Georgia, liens can be classified as voluntary or involuntary. Where a voluntary lien is concerned, the property owner does not need to consent; the lien attaches to the debtor's property following a court order. In contrast, a voluntary lien is one to which a debtor or lienee agrees. Typically, voluntary liens come about through contracts such as car financing or mortgages. By agreeing to the terms of a mortgage or financing, a lienee agrees that the property, is collateral for the loan and may be liened if the lienee fails to make payments when due. A lender or creditor may repossess a financed vehicle or foreclose on a house when mortgage payments are overdue.
There are also general and specific liens. General liens attach to all a debtor's property. This means that a creditor or lienor may seize, control, or sell any non-exempt property to recover their debt. On the other hand, specific liens only attach to one property, and the lienor may only seize or sell the liened property to recover their debt.
A judgment lien is an example of an involuntary and general lien. It typically attaches to all a debtor's non-exempt property and is statutory because it only requires a court order to attach to a debtor's property.
How Do I Check for Liens in Georgia?
Pursuant to Georgia state laws, liens are public information. Therefore, interested parties may find information about liens by requesting the information from the appropriate government agency. Interested parties may also check for liens by contacting the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where the property of interest is located, Alternatively, requesting parties may visit or contact the Records and Deeds office in the county where the property exists to conduct independent searches. On average, requestors will be charged an access fee of $5 for a four-hour search.
Some counties and local government agencies offer remote options for lien searches and public records requests. Parties interested in checking for liens may use the available channels to obtain the required information.
Free Lien Search in Georgia
Persons interested in free lien searches in Georgia may submit records requests to the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the lien was recorded, which is typically the county where the property is located. Some counties offer remote access to lien information through third-party websites such as those operated by associations of court clerks. To conduct a successful search, interested parties must have details such as:
- The instrument or lien type
- The county where the lien was recorded
- The name of the party written on the lien
Interested parties may also search property records at no cost online using the Department of Revenue's search portal. The Motor Vehicle Division of the department also has a search instrument for liens against vehicles.
What is a Property Lien in Georgia?
A property lien in Georgia refers to a security interest on a debtor's property. Usually, this claim is established because of a financial or contractual obligation. The lien allows the creditor to hold the debtor's real or personal assets until the debt is paid off. A creditor also has the right to sell or seize these assets if the debtor can no longer satisfy debt owed or becomes insolvent. A property lien can be placed on a property with or without the debtor's consent.
How Do You Know if a Property Has a Lien in Georgia?
A property owner is likely to know if there is a lien against their property since debtors usually receive notice following the creditors petition. For example, if the real property is mortgaged, the property owner would be aware since the owner agreed to the terms of the mortgage. However, there are instances where property owners are unaware of liens attached to their property until they try to sell, refinance, or pass on the property.
Sometimes, there are cases of fraudulent or invalid claims filed against a property. Hence, property owners need to keep abreast of information concerning their property. Prospective buyers and parties interested in finding information about a property may visit the government agency responsible for maintaining such records.
There are various types of liens, each maintained by different government agencies. For example, tax liens are generated by the Georgia Department of Revenue while child support liens are managed by the Child Support Services Division. Requestors who are unsure which government agency to contact may query the County Recorder or the Clerk of Court in the judicial district where the lien was filed.
Some counties provide online indexes where requesting parties may search for up-to-date information about title deeds and lien indexes. Where there are no online indexes or databases, requesting parties can visit the relevant government agency in person to obtain the required information.
Property Lien Search by Address in Georgia
Liens are categorized as public information in Georgia, making it easy to determine if one is attached to a property. One place to conduct a property lien search in Georgia is the Clerk of Superior Court's office (this office serves as the county recorder's office in Georgia). However, because the main criteria for researching liens in these offices is the property owner's name, it is not possible to conduct a property lien search by address in the recorder's offices. Individuals with only a property address can search the local assessor's records for the owner's name. Then, perform the property lien search at the recorder's office.
Free Property Lien Search by Address
Property lien searches through the county recorder's offices in Georgia are provided to the public for free. This means anyone can visit these offices or use available property search engines to inspect properties for liens without paying any money. While finding liens on a property by an address in a Georgia recorder's office is not possible, individuals can still perform a property lien search by address on third-party websites—but this often requires payment.
What is a Tax Lien in Georgia?
A tax lien in Georgia is a legal claim on a person's real or personal property for unpaid taxes. This type of lien can be placed by the federal or state government through an authorized agency. Tax liens pertain to all kinds of taxes, including sales and use, income, estate, motor fuel and road, and property taxes.
Federal tax liens are attached by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). According to the U.S. Treasury's annual report, the IRS filed 543,604 tax lien notices in 2019. Within the state, the Georgia Department of Revenue places tax liens (also called state tax executions) on delinquent taxpayers' properties. State tax executions are conducted per the Revenue and Taxation laws, O.C.G.A. 48-8-1 et seq.
Tax Lien Lookup in Georgia
Individuals can carry out a tax lien lookup in Georgia with the online search tool offered on the Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority (GSCCCA) website. However, anyone using the search tool must sign up for a free account. Individuals may also visit the superior clerk's office in the county where the property lies to conduct a tax lien lookup in Georgia.
What is a Mortgage Lien in Georgia?
A mortgage lien is a legal claim asserted on a debtor's home that permits a creditor to foreclose the property if the debtor defaults on repayment. This type of property lien is imposed when a party receives financing to purchase a home. A homeowner clears this lien by completing the payment of the property.
What is a Mechanics Lien in Georgia?
When a property owner does not pay a contractor, subcontractor, materialman, or design professional for a construction project, a mechanics' liens can be attached to the owner's property. With the authority conferred by this lien, an unpaid party can secure payment for services rendered by selling the debtor's property. In Georgia, lien claims must be filed with the Clerk of Superior Court within 90 days (three months) of completing a project to be enforceable (O.C.G.A. 44-14-361.1(2)). Also, any lien action must commence within 1 year (365 days) of recording the lien (O.C.G.A. 44-14-361.1(3)). Lien claimants must adhere to procedures outlined in O.C.G.A. 44-14-360 through 44-14-369 to execute a lien successfully in Georgia.
What is a U.C.C. Lien?
The Uniform Commercial Code refers to the laws applicable to commercial transactions in the United States. All U.S. states, including Georgia, adopt this code. Under the state's Uniform Commercial Code, a lender can submit a U.C.C. filing (or lien) when a debtor takes a commercial loan to ensure that the debtor repays the loan within agreed limits. With this filing, the creditor perfects the lien and establishes a legal right to the debtor's business asset(s) if a particular debt remains unpaid.
Unlike some U.S. States, U.C.C. filings are not processed by the Secretary of State's office in Georgia. Instead, filings must be made to the Clerk of Superior Court of a county, regardless of the asset's primary location.
How to Conduct a UCC Lien Search
A Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) lien indicates that a party took out a business loan and empowered a creditor to have a security interest in a specific business property. In Georgia, a creditor files a UCC-1 statement with the Secretary of State or the recorder's office where the collateral for the loan (the property) lies. Therefore, individuals can conduct a UCC lien search by contacting the Georgia Secretary of State or the superior clerk's office. An individual requires a borrower's legal name for a UCC lien search.
What is a Judgment Lien?
After winning a civil lawsuit, collecting a judgment may be difficult. This is because the plaintiff is fully responsible for collecting the awarded amount. In some cases, the defendant may simply refuse to pay or be insolvent. Georgia law authorizes the issuance of judgment liens, which allows a plaintiff (judgment creditor) to sell or seize a defendant's or judgment debtor's assets to satisfy debt obligations.
A Georgia judgment lien, referred to as a Writ of Fieri Facias (FIFA), remains enforceable for 7 years from the day it was recorded upon the General Execution Docket (O.C.G.A. 9-12-60). However, it is possible to renew this judgment for another 7 years before it expires.
The Writ of Fi Fa can be attached to real or personal properties. To do so, a creditor must record the court's judgment with the Clerk of Superior Court. Recordings must take place in the county where the property is located or may be located in the future. This action also authorizes a county's sheriff to seize or sell a debtor's asset on behalf of the creditor to satisfy a judgment.
What is a Federal Tax Lien
According to IRC § 6321, a federal tax lien is a legal claim the government has against an individual's property when the person refuses or neglects to pay their taxes. This tax lien becomes operational when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies a taxpayer of the tax debt and the individual fails to pay by the due date. The federal tax lien attaches to all properties the debtor owns, including real estate, financial assets, and personal property.
What is a Lien Title?
A lien title is the title of a car that has a lien attached to it. It results when an individual takes a loan to finance a car purchase. The lien remains attached to the title until the loan is fully repaid. The lien title shows that the owner does not own the car outrightly. A complete title transfer only occurs when the loan is settled.
Where and How to Do a Title Search in Georgia
A title search is a search of public records to ascertain the rightful owner of a property and ensure a property has a clear chain of title. The investigation also reveals mortgages, judgments, unpaid property taxes, and any liens attached to the property because of pending financial obligations.
In Georgia, individuals can conduct title searches through government offices that maintain property records. This includes the superior clerk and assessor's offices. These offices provide both offline and online means of performing title searches in Georgia. Alternatively, one may hire a title search company or real estate attorney to look into a property's title.
Voluntary Lien vs Involuntary Lien in Georgia
Though there are different types of liens, they can generally be classified as voluntary or involuntary liens. A lien is voluntary when the debtor agrees to place a lien to an owned asset or property as security for repayment of a loan or debt. A common reason why a debtor may agree to a voluntary lien is to buy real estate.
An involuntary lien is placed on a property against the owner's will to force payment of a debt. In both cases, the debtor's property can be seized or sold by the creditor to obtain payment. Examples of involuntary liens include mechanics, tax, and judgment liens.
How Creditors Collect Payment Through a Lien
Creditors may seize, foreclose, or take possession of a debtor's property to satisfy a lien. The creditor must first obtain a Writ of Fieri Facias from the clerk of court, which allows a sheriff to seize the debtor's personal property to satisfy a judgment or lien. Typically, creditors do not have a right to the property itself; but they have a right to proceeds from any refinancing or sale of the property.
Alternatively, creditors may file a Summons of Garnishment against a debtor's bank account to get access to a percentage of their income.
How Do I Get a Lien Removed in Georgia?
Debtors or lienors who wish to remove liens from their property must either satisfy or challenge the lien. The lienee can satisfy a lien by paying the amount owed in full. If the debtor or lienee cannot pay the full amount, the person may be able to negotiate with the lender to pay a reduced amount or to pay in installments. Once the debtor satisfies the lien, the lienholder must complete a Release of Lien or Security Interest and mail it to the debtor or property owner. The debtor may then file the release with the County Recorder.
Alternatively, a lienee may dispute a lien by challenging its validity or legality in court. If the lienee proves that the lien is invalid or illegal, the court may discharge or remove the lien from the debtor's property.
How Long Does a Lien Stay on Your Property in Georgia?
Different statutes of limitations and expiry dates apply to liens in Georgia, depending on the type. Judgment liens are typically valid for up to seven (7) years while mechanics liens are valid for 12 months from the due date of the claim. It is possible to re-record a judgment lien within seven (7) years so that it can become enforceable again. Persons who fail or choose not to re-record judgment liens within seven (7) years will no longer be able to enforce or re-record the lien three (3) years after the expiration of the seven (7) year period.
State tax liens stay on the debtor's property until the outstanding amount is paid. There are no expiry dates for state tax liens in Georgia.
How to Avoid a Lien in Georgia
Filing for bankruptcy can help expunge certain types of liens, especially those attached to household items. It is also possible to avoid judgment liens. Lien avoidance helps a debtor retain control of their property. However, the property must impair an exemption under bankruptcy laws. To avoid a lien, interested parties must file a Motion to Avoid a Lien in court.