Liens in the United States

Legal Materials

A lien is a legal claim against a debtor’s property intended to secure payment of a debt. If the debtor doesn’t pay, the creditor gets the property.

In many cases the creditor will file a record of the lien with the relevant court or county clerk. This puts other potential creditors on notice and establishes the filer’s priority to get the property if the creditor doesn’t pay up in time.

Common types of liens include tax liens (if the taxpayer hasn’t paid up), mechanics’ liens (if a worker hasn’t been paid for making or fixing property), UCC filings (for property secured under the Uniform Commercial Code) and lis pendens (indicating that the property is the subject of litigation).

Lien Laws: In the U.S. there are some Federal lien laws, most notably for tax liens (see “Tax Liens”), but others Federal liens are related to environmental laws, ERISA, etc. These are generally statutory and found in the United States Code (see “United States Code”).

Most other U.S. liens are governed by state law. You can usually find a detailed review of a state’s lien laws in the “Liens” entry of the state’s legal encyclopedia.

Also, there are many state-specific lien law treatises. You can find them by looking in the “Property” section for the relevant state in Searching the Law: The States by Francis R. Doyle (last published in 2003) or by searching the online catalogs of law schools located in the state. To find links to law school catalogs, see “Libraries” in this legal Encyclopedia. For more ways to find state-specific treatises, see “Legal Treatises.”

Finally, lien laws are covered in some subject-specific treatises. For example, the A State-By-State Guide to Construction & Design Law: Current Statutes and Practiceincludes each state’s laws governing mechanics’ liens, materialmen liens and other construction-related liens.

Locating Liens: You can find many liens by searching online databases, as discussed below. You can find other liens only by checking with the relevant court or county clerk. Sometimes you can call in. Otherwise, you either have to go to the clerk’s office and do the search yourself or hire a search service to go for you (see “Document Retrieval Services.”)

In some states, you have to contact the relevant motor vehicle administration to find liens on motor vehicles.

Online Lien Searches:Some jurisdictions have their own systems, such as Maryland’s Judiciary Case Search, which has a “Judgments and Liens” section. There may be separate databases for UCC filings (e.g., Maryland’s UCC Record Search) and liens on motor vehicles.

There are also lien searches available through commercial vendors such as Accurint,, Lexis and/or CTAdvantage, as well as many stand-alone services ( Check to make sure your jurisdiction is included in the database and current before you search.

Lexis offers databases for searching tax liens, UCC filings and judicial judgments for most states. The Lexis Motor Vehicle Registration databases includes the name of any known lienholder for the vehicle in question.

The subscription-based CTAdvantage has a database of UCC filings. In addition, you can get images of the filing online.

Tax Liens: More specific information on searching for tax liens and UCC filings is available in the “Tax Liens” and “Uniform Commercial Code” entries on this legal Encyclopedia.

Liens (Priority)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of liens. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Priority is provided. Finally, the subject of Secured Transactions in relation with liens is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.

Liens (Warehouse Receipts)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of liens. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Warehouse Receipts is provided. Finally, the subject of Documents of Title in relation with liens is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.


In Legislation

Liens in the U.S. Code: Title 26, Subtitle F, Chapter 64, Subchapter C, Part II

The current, permanent, in-force federal laws regulating liens are compiled in the United States Code under Title 26, Subtitle F, Chapter 64, Subchapter C, Part II. It constitutes “prima facie” evidence of statutes relating to Tax Administration (including liens) of the United States. The reader can further narrow his/her legal research of the general topic (in this case, Tax Procedure and Tax Collection of the US Code, including liens) by chapter and subchapter.


See Also

Legal Treatises
Real Estate
Tax Liens
Uniform Commercial Code
United States Code

Further Reading

Liens: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Liens. This part provides references, in relation to Liens, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Liens by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Liens and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Liens or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Liens and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Liens. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Liens should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Liens when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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