What is a Lien in Washington?
In Washington, a lien gives a person (the creditor) the right to hold another person's asset to reclaim a loan or satisfy obligations. Liens offer insurance, allowing a property to be seized by an individual or entity through legal means to fulfill debts. This usually means the asset or property owner may not sell or transfer ownership before meeting payment requirements. Liens are public records that offer information on the status of a property. They are usually maintained alongside other Washington court records and provided to interested and eligible persons on request.
There are two significant lien categories: general or specific. A lien is general when it does not bind to any single property. This ensures that the lienor recovers the loan with any of the debtor's property if a default occurs. A lien is specific when it is attached to a particular property. In this case, the lienor will only reclaim the loan from the specific property mentioned in the contract. An example is a mechanics' lien.
Are Liens Public in Washington?
Yes, liens are public in the state of Washington. All lien information is recorded with the county-level auditor and publicly available for interested members of the public to view.
Types of Lien in Washington
In Washington State, creditors can attach liens to an individual's personal and real property to collect a debt. This includes animals, crops, vehicles, vessels, land, orchards, hotels, farm equipment, timber, utilities, and homes.
Several kinds of liens can be placed on a debtor's property, including a judgment lien, property tax lien, mortgage lien, mechanics lien, and child support lien. Each lien is unique to the debt and creditor. As a result, one can usually tell what type of debt caused a lien. For instance, a lien resulting from unpaid taxes, attached by the Washington State Department of Revenue, is a tax lien. Meanwhile, a lien caused by unpaid damages in a collection or tort lawsuit is a judgment lien, and so on.
Liens are generally categorized as involuntary or voluntary and specific or general. What differentiates a voluntary and involuntary lien is whether the debtor gave their consent at the time of attachment or not. On the other hand, a specific or general lien refers to the number of properties affected by the lien.
In many instances, a voluntary lien will also be a specific lien, and an involuntary lien, a general lien. The reason is that people will not willingly put up all of their properties as collateral for a loan or debt. One typical example of a voluntary yet specific lien is one created because of a home or car loan. Meanwhile, an example of an involuntary and general lien is a judgment lien.
How Do I Check for Liens in Washington?
An individual can research liens filed in Washington by visiting the recording department of the county auditor's office. Each department maintains the public records of its county, including records of liens. Interested individuals can use public computers at the relevant office to search and view liens. Requesters can also collect copies of documents after paying a fee. However, if the auditor's office/recording department staff assists with any search, a fee per hour will be charged to the requestor. All requests to examine or copy records must be made within regular business hours.
Alternatively, requestors can explore the option to submit a request by mail or phone. Requestors may retrieve mail addresses and phone numbers from the office's website. Some judicial districts like the Snohomish County Auditor's Office may provide a downloadable form for mail requests. All mail and phone requests will involve a fee, as the office will be sending copies of documents to the requester.
In addition, requestors may find an index of records containing essential information and scanned document images on the county auditor's website. The database may be accessible for free or with a subscription depending on the county. Also, uncertified and certified copies may be purchased directly. However, some recording departments may not provide this service.
Lastly, the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) database maintained by the Department of Licensing (DOL) provides the public with a means to find UCC liens filed in the state and purchase copies of those records. Alternatively, individuals can fill and mail an Information Request Form to the agency to search for liens and obtain copies. The applicable charges can be found on the DOL's fees and payment options page.
Free Lien Search in Washington
When searching for liens in Washington, whether online or in-person, at the auditor's office, the researcher does not need to pay to examine the record. Payment only becomes necessary when the individual wants to receive copies of documents or asks the staff to search for them.
A free lien search conducted on a county auditor's website or the DOL's UCC database may yield the following results:
- Full names of the debtor/s and creditor/s
- Recording date and time
- File/document number
- Lapse date
- Document image
- Number of pages in the document
What is a Property Lien in Washington?
A property lien is an interest placed on a property to ensure that a creditor recovers debt owed by the property's owner. In Washington, property liens are enforceable under Title 60 RCW of the Washington Code. There are different types of property liens. They include mortgage liens, tax liens, mechanics' liens, and judgment liens.
How Do You Know if a Property Has a Lien in Washington?
An individual can know if a property has a lien in Washington by checking the property's title. This will reveal who legally owns the property and what claims or liens cloud the title. Interested persons may conduct a property title search via the county recorder's office or hire a local title company.
When the party interested in finding the lien is also the debtor, the individual may have received notice of an intent to file the lien, a warning letter, or a call from the creditor. Regardless, property owners are still encouraged to search the recorder's public records to uncover liens because notice is not always mandatory.
Property Lien Search by Address in Washington
Members of the public can carry out a property lien search in Washington through the recording department of the county auditor's office. This office must be located where the real estate lies. However, the county recorder's offices in Washington do not offer property lien searches by address. Those interested in a property lien search by address may use third-party options, such as a third-party aggregate website.
Free Property Lien Search by Address
The county recorder's offices in Washington grant free online and physical access to lien information. For example, the King County Recorder's Office provides an online land records search tool, which the public can use to find liens on property in the county. However, as earlier stated, the county recorders in Washington only offer free property lien searches by name (i.e., the name of a property owner). Anyone who requires a property lien search by address may need to use third-party options.
What is a Tax Lien in Washington?
A tax lien is a statutory lien levied on a person's property for failure to pay government taxes. However, the process is slightly different in Washington as Washington is not a tax lien state but a tax deed state. The difference is that while a tax lien is just a legal claim preventing the property owner from selling, a tax deed is a transfer of property to a new owner by selling the lien at an auction.
According to Washington Code RCW 84. if a property owner defaults in paying taxes for up to 3 years, the county treasurer will start foreclosure proceedings on the property. The tax deed is then put up for sale and sold to the highest bidder, who owes the state the tax's remaining balance. The new owner pays what is owed plus interest to the state. The current owner also has to pay the bid's balance, if any, to the property's former owner to complete the total transfer of ownership.
Tax Lien Lookup in Washington
Individuals can perform a tax lien lookup on the websites of county recording departments. For example, the Pierce County Auditor's Recorded Documents website. Interested persons can also visit the county recorder's offices to look up tax liens filed against county residents or properties.
What is a Mortgage Lien in Washington?
A Washington mortgage lien is established when a person obtains a home with a loan. If the debtor defaults on payment, the lender can take the property as repayment. As the mortgagee willingly agrees to the lien to secure the loan, it is a voluntary lien. A mortgage lien is different from an involuntary property lien because it is not enforced upon the lienee.
What is a Mechanics Lien in Washington?
In Washington, mechanics' liens leverage the property's value as payment for provided labor or services. According to Washington's mechanics' laws, an artisan can file a mechanics' lien if the services rendered for the construction of any property qualifies as an improvement on the property, whether it is the supply of materials, rendition of labor services, or use of equipment. The artisan must prove that there was an improvement on the said property.
A mechanics' lien must be filed within 90 days of delivery or satisfactory job completion. This lien is specific and, as such, can only be filed against the particular property that was improved.
What is a UCC Lien?
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) are commonly agreed laws and regulations used in the United States of America to govern business practices. The UCC includes only the sales of commodities, bonds, and other similar negotiable instruments. UCC liens are placed on business assets. For example, if a party lends money under the UCC, the lender can claim the borrower's business assets to recover what is owed in situations when an enterprise fails.
In Washington, UCC liens are filed with the Secretary of State's Office using a UCC form. Typically, UCC liens expire in 5 years. However, the lender can petition to extend the lien. Once debts are paid off before the expiry of the five years, the lienee can inform the lender to terminate the lien.
How to Conduct a UCC Lien Search
To conduct a UCC lien search in Washington, members of the public can access the Washington State Department of Licensing's (DOL) UCC Search tool. One can find UCC lien information with this tool by entering a debtor's name or the UCC filing number where indicated.
Those requiring physical copies of a UCC lien document can request them online, in person, or by mail from the DOL office. Copy requests require a processing fee.
What is a Judgment Lien?
Washington judgment liens give creditors the right to take ownership of a debtor's real property following a contract default. Many judgment liens are non-consensual liens arising from prior litigation, which found a debtor liable for a breach of expressly stated or implied contractual terms. When the property is in the same Washington district where the judgment is entered, a judgment lien on the debtor's property is immediately established. However, if the debtor's asset is in another district, the borrower must file a judgment lien with the county clerk where the asset is located. According to state law, a judgment lien cannot be attached to personal property, only real estate, and it remains on the real property for ten years.
What is a Federal Tax Lien
A federal tax lien is a government claim to property owned by an individual or establishment. Per 26 USC § 6321, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) places a federal tax lien on someone's property when they fail to pay their taxes. The lien secures the government's interest in the individual's real estate, personal property, and financial assets until the tax debt is paid.
Before attaching a tax lien, the IRS assesses the debt and notifies the taxpayer of the payment deadline, which is usually ten days. If the taxpayer fails to pay by the deadline, the IRS is legally authorized to perfect the lien (i.e., file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien in a recorder's office). This notice alerts other creditors that the government has a valid claim over the debtor's properties.
The best way to avoid problems arising from a federal tax lien is to settle the tax debt. If this happens, the IRS will issue a "discharge," which removes the lien from the debtor's assets.
What is a Lien Title?
A lien title is a lienholder's (creditor's) legal claim to a property or asset used as collateral for a loan. It secures a creditor's interest in the property until the borrower clears their debt. After debt satisfaction, the creditor transfers the title to the property owner, which clears the property title.
Where and How to Do a Title Search in Washington
Before a property transaction occurs, real estate buyers or investors often investigate the property's ownership history, any claim against the property (liens, mortgages, etc.), and unpaid property taxes (if any exist). This investigation, known as a title search, helps individuals or companies make informed decisions about real estate investments.
Individuals can conduct a title search in Washington by reviewing property records maintained by government agencies, such as the county recorder, treasurer, and assessor's offices. However, given how extensive a title search usually is, people can hire a title search company or real estate attorney to determine legal ownership or vested interest.
Voluntary Lien vs. Involuntary Lien in Washington?
In Washington, a voluntary lien is established when a property owner grants another party the right to claim the property to redeem debts. The property can be confiscated or sold if the owner refuses to make payments. Voluntary liens are often compulsory for someone trying to secure a loan. Without it, the lender will be taking too much risk, and nobody is willing to take such risks without collateral. A mortgage lien is a perfect example of a voluntary lien.
On the other hand, involuntary liens are placed on an asset without the owner's consent. An example is a judgment lien.
How Creditors Collect Payment Through a Lien
Creditors in Washington may collect their payment through a lien by various means. For one, the presence of a lien can compel any debtor to settle their outstanding financial obligation. More so, when the party wishes to sell, transfer, or refinance the liened property. In this way, creditors get what is owed to them.
Another way that creditors can collect payment through a lien is from the property's sale. If the debtor sells the property or the creditor forces its sale, the latter can recover the debt from the sale proceeds. However, it is worth noting that if there are several liens on the property, something called lien priority comes into play after the sale. Lien priority means that whoever recorded their lien first or whoever the law gives the first position will collect payment before others.
How Do I Get a Lien Removed in Washington?
An individual or business who wants to remove a lien recorded in Washington can either pay the debt, challenge the lien in court, or wait for the statute of limitations to expire.
Paying the lienholder is by far the fastest of the three methods. This is because after the lienholder receives payment, the party will file a release of lien with the county auditor, thereby clearing the property's title.
The next, challenging the lien, is recommended for people who believe — and can prove — that the lien itself is illegal or the process used to perfect the lien is improper. The superior or district court will not remove a lien for anyone unless for these reasons.
Lastly, liens can expire when their statute of limitations lapse. However, to discourage people from dodging their debts, the same laws that specify such limits also permit renewals in most cases. Hence, if a debtor fails to pay, it is quite likely that a well-motivated creditor will renew the lien to allow more time for collection.
How Long Does a Lien Stay on Your Property in Washington?
As a general rule, a lien will remain on a Washington property until the underlying financial obligation is met or the statute of limitations passes. Voluntary liens fit the first category, as such liens will usually not be released until the creditor collects payment or repossesses the property. However, involuntary liens are governed by statute. Hence, the law often establishes deadlines for them. For instance, in Washington, judgment liens last for ten years, mechanics liens for eight months, and tax liens for ten years.
How to Avoid a Lien in Washington
The best approach to avoid a lien in Washington is to pay creditors as agreed and settle debts as they arise. That way, it will be difficult for a creditor to find a legitimate reason to encumber one's property.