Napa County CaliforniaJOHN TUTEUR
NAPA COUNTY ASSESSOR-RECORDER/COUNTY CLERK

PROPERTY OWNER TIPS

UNDERSTANDING LIENS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

    The primary function of the County Recorder is put documents affecting people and their property on "record" so that the public in general and persons interested in that individual or property can determine whether there are other persons or agencies who have a claim on that individual or property. One common form of claim is a lien which accounted for over twelve per cent of the 35,660 documents recorded in 1997 in Napa County. The word lien relates back to the Latin verb ligare which means to tie or bind and entered the English language from the medieval French noun meaning a band or tie. Thus placing a lien against someone or their property is a way of "binding" that property to show an obligation owed by that person or property owner to the person who holds the lien.

    The most common form of lien is a tax lien recorded by a government agency to indicate an outstanding tax obligation. Such liens can be for unpaid income or payroll taxes or for unpaid personal property taxes on a boat or business. The other common form of lien is a mechanic's lien which is recorded by a supplier or contractor to show that they have delivered materials or services to a property for which they have not been paid. These liens are placed on the public record to alert anyone who is planning to do business with the person or buy or lease the property that they may become subject to an outstanding obligation if they proceed.

    Once a lien is recorded, as is true with any recorded document, it remains "of record" for as long as the recording index exists. When a lien is satisfied, i.e. the taxes or debt is paid; a release of lien is recorded which has the effect of notifying the public that the person or property is now free of that obligation. Unfortunately, credit reporting agencies often have a hard time matching up the release with the original lien and the credit of the person against whom the lien was recorded may suffer long after the obligation was released.

    The easiest way to avoid having a lien recorded against you or your property is to pay your taxes timely and your obligations when due. The second easiest way to avoid a lien is to pay attention to any correspondence you get from government agencies about possible tax obligations or to preliminary notices from contractors or suppliers. If you have a dispute with the agency or the firm, try to resolve it before a lien is recorded, not after. Sometimes liens are recorded in error in which case the person against whom the lien was recorded should request that the release of lien state that the lien was in error. You can either research liens yourself by visiting the Recorder's office at 900 Coombs St (entrance from the alley by the Second St parking garage) or, if property is involved, obtaining a preliminary report as part of the escrow process with a title company.

Should you have any questions please contact Napa County Assessor-Recorder John Tuteur
at 707.253.4459 or by e-mail jtuteur@co.napa.ca.us

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