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Ask the Law Librarian – Real Estate Liens

Q: I loaned a friend some money last year. He lost his job, and now he’s not paying me back. I want to put a lien on his house, because he owes me a lot of money. How can I do that?
– Rich W.

A: There are numerous types of liens available under California law. Some may be placed on the property with the property owner’s consent, such as a mortgage. Most other types are placed without consent. There are too many types of involuntary liens to list here, but a few common examples are mechanics’ liens placed by contractor who has not been paid for materials or work done on a property; tax liens placed by the government for nonpayment of taxes; judgment liens placed by a judgment creditor when they win a lawsuit.

If your friend will agree to you placing a lien on his property, you may be able to do so using a Promissory Note and Deed of Trust. You can find information about that process, as well as samples of both documents, on the Law Library’s website.

If your friend will not voluntarily have a lien placed on his property, you will need to file a lawsuit against him for breach of contract. California law does not provide for an automatic lien in situations such as yours. If you are owed less than $10,000 (or are willing to accept only $10,000), you can file your case in the small claims court, where you will find your case is resolved quickly and inexpensively. Information about small claims court is available from both the California Courts self-help website and the Sacramento County Superior Court’s website. We also have an excellent book, Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California from Nolo Press that provides instructions and sample forms.

If you are owed more than $10,000, you will need to bring your case in the superior court, rather than small claims court. Information about starting a civil case is available from California Courts self-help website, as well as the Law Library’s website. We also have an excellent book, Win Your Lawsuit from Nolo Press that provides instructions and sample forms.

If you are successful in winning your lawsuit, the court will issue a judgment in the amount owed. You can use this judgment to obtain an “abstract of judgment” from the court. This is the document that will be recorded with the county to create the lien on the property. More information about this process, along with samples and step-by-step instructions for completing the forms, is available from the Law Library’s website.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian


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