Does a Judgment Create a Lien on Property?
Often, the end result of civil litigation is a judgment. A judgment is a court order stating that one party to the litigation owes the other party money. For example, if you have a landlord tenant dispute you might settle the dispute by filing a small claims lawsuit. At the hearing, the judge might award you a fixed amount of money if you prevail at the hearing. That order then becomes a judgment against the other party to the lawsuit. Obtaining a judgment, however, is only the first step in receiving your monetary award. The next step is to enforce the judgment. If you have never been through the enforcement process, you may be wondering “Does a judgment create a lien on property and, if so, how does that help me collect the money awarded to me by the court?”
Each state in the U.S. has their own laws relating to judgments and the enforcement of judgments. The steps you must take to enforcement a judgment as well as the methods of enforcement available will vary somewhat among the states. The basic concept and procedures, however, remains the same. Before you can force a judgment debtor to pay the judgment you must take certain steps as outlined by the individual state laws. In Pennsylvania, for example, a judgment can result in a lien being attached to real property; however, that does not occur automatically when the judgment is entered by the court.
Once a judgment has been awarded to a party in Pennsylvania, the next step is usually to conduct a “debtor’s examination.” A debtor’s examination entails summoning the judgment debtor back into court to question him/her under oath regarding assets and income. This is how the owner of a judgment often finds out that a judgment debtor owns real property in the first place. Once the existence of property is known, additional steps may be taken to create a lien against the property. After the lien has been attached to the property it may be possible to force the sale of the property in order to satisfy the judgment. In Pennsylvania, however, a specific dollar amount of equity in a debtor’s “homestead” is exempt, meaning a forced sheriff’s sale may not be possible if the only property owned by the debtor is a homestead. The lien will remain attached to the property for five years in Pennsylvania. If the debtor sells the property during that time the lien must be paid first out of the proceeds from the sale.
If you have obtained a judgment and now wish to enforce that judgment, contact an experienced Conshohocken, Pennsylvania real estate law attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. Contact the real estate law attorneys at Curley & Rothman, LLC by calling 610-834-8819 today to schedule your free consultation.