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How to research California property liens


How to research California property liens becomes essential when purchasing real property.

That’s because when looking to purchase California real estate one thing that can interfere with your purchase is a lien.

A while back we published a post about understanding “Clouding Title” explaining other problems with real property. Here  


Definition of a Lien


A lien defined as a hold on the sale of real property until the satisfaction of an existing debt. For instance, a mortgage creates a security interest on a home prevent its sale until the mortgage paid fully.

Learn about the difference between voluntary and involuntary liens in California. Here

We also published a post explaining the different types of deeds and ways to take the title in California you might find informative. Here  


California Property Lien Laws


California enacted several lien laws affecting real estate.

A summary of the most important California and federal liens provided below.


California Mechanic’s Lien Law


Contractors working on real properties in California protect themselves by filing a lien in the public records of a real property. Known as a “mechanic’s lien” anyone contributing to the improvement of the property gets the right to file a lien if not paid.

The rationale behind this lien protects individuals whose labor, materials and expertise enhanced the property’s value.

The following individuals may file this lien to protect their rights for payment of services:

  • Contractors;
  • Subcontractors;
  • Material suppliers;
  • Laborers;
  • Design professionals;
  • Equipment lessors; and
  • Other professionals working on real property.


California Mechanic’s Lien Procedures        


California requires the filing of a mechanic’s lien with the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office so the public can view it.

The State of California Department of Consumer Affairs publishes a good explanation of mechanic’s liens and their requirements to become valid. Here 

A national construction industry organization published a step-by-step guide for recording mechanic’s liens in California you can read. Here


How to Verify if the Property Owner Satisfied the Mechanic’s Lien


Discovering a mechanic’s lien with a property you wish to buy requires you to contact the seller to ask about the lien. Some sellers may claim the lien satisfied and not to worry about it.

However, you need to verify if the lien was really satisfied. This requires further research of the property’s public records.

If the lien becomes satisfied the property owner files a “Notice of Completion” or “Notice of Cessation” in the public records.

If not, consider the mechanic’s lien as unsatisfied.

Learn more about how to resolve a mechanic’s lien in California. Here


Lis Pendens in California


When anyone files a lawsuit affecting the ownership of real property or to get a court order requiring payment of any lien, he or she files a “Lis Pendens” with the County Recorder.

A Lis Pendens is Latin for “Pending Legal Action”. It’s an official notice of a pending lawsuit affecting the real property.


Court Judgment Lien


Civil court judgments requiring the payment of money to the plaintiff allows for the recording of a “Judgment Lien” on all real properties of the defendants.

It differs from a Lis Pendens because the court judgment exists overriding any notice of a pending lawsuit.

The court may issue a Writ of Execution against the real properties. It directs local authorities to seize the properties to sell or auction to pay the defendant’s debt. 


Mortgage Lien


Banks and financial institutions lend money to buy or refinance real property secured by a mortgage. The mortgage recorded with the County Recorder becomes a lien on the property.

When the real property sells the mortgage gets paid off before the closing and transfer of title to the new owner.


California Property Tax Lien


Property taxes in California require prompt payment. The tax lien remains in place on the property until fully paid.

A property tax lien becomes a higher priority lien over other ones like a mortgage. It gets paid first ahead of the other liens.


IRS Liens


When a taxpayer fails to pay federal taxes the IRS slaps a lien on all real property owned by the taxpayer.

Like other liens explained above, the IRS tax lien needs to become paid off when the property sells. If not fully paid, the new property owner takes on the debt as it attaches to the property no matter who buys it later.


Child Support Liens


Unpaid child support leads to liens placed on all real properties owned by the debtor.

The ex-spouse receiving child support or alimony for a property owner may put a lien on the property until fully paid.


California Family Law Real Property Lien


California allows a spouse to file a lien against her or his community property share to pay a lawyer’s fee in a marital divorce.    


How Your Seller Removes California Real Property Liens


After discovering one or more liens on the seller’s real property you may want to request the seller to remove the liens.

This law firm’s article explains the steps sellers need to take to remove property liens. Here


How to Research California Property Liens


How to Contact California Clerk-Recorder Offices


The California State Association of County Clerks maintains a website.

Every California county clerk’s office location and contact information appears on this web page. Here This allows you to contact the ones you wish to conduct real property research for directions and office hours.


How to Conduct Online Real Property Searches in San Diego and Los Angeles


San Diego County allows real property official records searches by:

  • Grantor or Grantee name;
  • Document type;
  • Document numbers
  • Book/Page;
  • Date;
  • APN; and
  • Map number.


San Diego County also provides online access to their Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk records including real properties.

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk website maintains an online “real estate records. Here However, you must first visit LexisNexis a private company. Here

Then, all online requests go through VitalChek another private company. Here  Note: this company charges additional fees.

Los Angeles County real estate records dating back to 1850 available and only complete documents (not by individual page) sold to the public.




How to research California property liens to avoid buying real property with liens. Knowing what a lien is along with the types of liens in California become essential.

The types of real property liens in California include:

  • Mechanic’s lien;
  • Lis Pendens;
  • Court Judgment;
  • Mortgage lien;
  • California Tax lien;
  • IRS liens;
  • Child Support liens; and
  • California Family Law Real Property lien.

Once you discover a lien on a property you wish to buy you need to contact the seller to remove it. Then, you need to verify that the seller removed it.

To help you do your own real property searches we provided:

  • How to contact California Clerk-Recorder Offices; and
  • How to conduct online real property searches for San Diego and Los Angeles.


Want to Save Lots of Time with California Real Property Searches?


Hire a professional and experienced Escrow Company to conduct all your real property searches.

Open Escrow Now knows how to conduct California real property searches. Save time at a low cost using experienced real property searchers.

Contact Us to learn more about how we save you time with all your escrow closing needs.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



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