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Judgment & Lien Searches

Before buying personal property, such as a home or vehicle, it is essential to check for any liens and judgments against the property, ensuring that it is cleared for purchase. A judgment lien is a type of nonconsensual lien created when someone wins a lawsuit and records the judgment against your property, is filed with the Florida Department of State, and could impact your ability to sell your property.

Contact the experienced team at Key Title & Escrow today to schedule a judgement and lien search consultation to learn more about our title and escrow services in Florida.

Judgment & Lien Searches In Florida

Florida judgment and lien searches are used to determine if there are any unsatisfied judgments against an individual or group. A Florida property lien search and tax lien search can help you search for the status of assets and other important information found below.
  • Whether a property is encumbered
  • Whether assets are available
  • Whether there are claims against the property
Judgment and lien searches protect the buyer and seller by informing them if the subject property belongs to someone else.

What Kind Of Property Is Subject To A Judgment Lien Under Florida Law?

A Florida judgment lien can be attached to real estate, such as a house, condo, or land, along with personal property, such as jewelry, art, antiques, and other valuables.

How Long Does A Judgment Lien Last In Florida?

A real estate judgment lien in Florida will remain attached to the debtor's property for 10 years, but for personal property, a judgment lien only lasts five years. A creditor's ability to collect under a judgment lien is affected by several factors, including a fixed value that won't be touchable if it is a primary residence, called a homestead exemption.

How Does A Florida Judgment Lien Work?

During a civil court judgment, the court may order one party to give payment to the other. If the party owing the money doesn't pay, the party awarded money can file a Florida judgment lien certificate with the Department of State, which becomes an officially recognized lien. A lien on real property allows the sheriff's department to seize and sell the debtor's property. Sheriffs can seize personal property, including movable things such as art, antiques, cars, boats, furniture, horses, jewelry, and other valuables, along with real property, such as houses, condos, buildings, land, or similar holdings. Though, there are some exemptions as to what can be seized, including the following.
  • One motor vehicle worth $1,000 or less
  • One additional personal property item worth $1,000 or less
  • An individual's primary home or homestead
To qualify for homestead exemption, the debtor must be a permanent Florida resident, and the property must be their primary residence. The Florida Constitution grants unlimited homestead protection against judgment creditors to any Florida resident regardless of how long they have been a Florida resident. Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution also limits protected homesteads to a half-acre in a municipality or 160 acres outside of a municipality.

Judgment Liens & Real Estate Transactions

If a judgment lien is filed into the public record that can affect a Florida homestead exemption, a notice of homestead could be filed in the county where the subject property is located. Before a property can be purchased, any judgment listed on the property will need to be satisfied.

Before the intended sale date, it is important to take the necessary steps to clear any recorded liens on your property. Depending on how high the recorded judgment lien is, a title insurance underwriter may be able to accept an owner's affidavit that declares the property to be your constitutional homestead and protects from judgment lien creditors. If the value is too high, an underwriter might not be able to accept an affidavit.

Avoid A Judgment Lien On Real Property

If an owner's affidavit isn't possible, there are two strategies for arranging a problem-free sale of homestead property in the presence of judicial liens.

Florida Homestead Protection

The first strategy must be implemented several months before any proposed closing event and ideally before any attempt to attach a judicial lien to the property. Under Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution, a homestead is exempt from forced sale and provides that no judgment or execution shall be a lien.

Once a judgment on the matter is received and a certified copy of a judgment has been filed in public records, the party entitled to the homestead exemption may file a notice of homestead in the public records where the property is located. This notice informs filers of judgment liens that the property is exempt and will be conveyed or mortgaged. The lienholders will have 45 days to either argue the homestead status or foreclose a judgment lien on the property. If the lienholders fail to do this, then any buyer or seller can take the property free of any judgments.

Avoiding Judicial Leins During Bankruptcy

The second strategy involves removing a judicial lien during a bankruptcy proceeding. When a homestead residence has a judgment placed on it, a Florida resident debtor is entitled to motion the bankruptcy court for an order removing a judicial lien from the property. If a bankruptcy proceeding has already occurred in the past, do not assume that the bankruptcy attorney has taken steps to block liens in consideration of the possibility that you might one day sell the home.

Unfortunately, attempting to reopen a closed bankruptcy case to file a lien avoidance motion can involve additional court and attorney fees. If a creditor has already incurred costs related to beginning a foreclosure on the home, it may not be possible to reopen the case. Using this strategy to deal with liens immediately before a sale could be problematic because of the time required to complete the proceeding and obtain the judgment, along with a mandatory waiting period before any liens are officially removed.
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