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Florida Lien Search

A Florida lien search uncovers legal encumbrances or claims against property in the Sunshine State. The search is often undertaken as part of a person's due diligence investigation before a real or personal property transaction. Such inquiries are conducted through various government and independent sources, and they not only disclose the reason for a lien on the property but also identify the person, agency, or business that holds the lien (the lienor).

Florida liens are maintained and disseminated by Circuit Court Clerks (alongside related Florida civil court records) as well as the State DMV and Secretary’s Office.

What is a Lien in Florida

Florida Statute (FS) 727.103 defines a "lien" as a charge against or interest in a property to recover a debt or satisfy an obligation. This legal instrument secures the rights of people or entities to whom a property owner is indebted. 

Under Florida law, creditors possess the statutory authority to place a lien on a debtor's personal or real property. Excluding liens for which the state imposes a statute of limitations, such claims may remain on the property until the inherent obligation is satisfied. Even bankruptcy may not completely dispel all liens attached to a property.

A lien in Florida may significantly preclude a property owner from using their property in financial transactions. As such, selling, refinancing, or borrowing against the property may become more challenging. Further, a creditor can initiate foreclosure proceedings in court to compel a payout.

Types of Liens in Florida

Property in Florida can be subject to different kinds of liens. The underlying debt typically informs the type of lien attached. For example, unpaid property taxes to a city or county can necessitate the creation of a property tax lien, and an outstanding judgement debt can lead to filing a judgement lien. Meanwhile, income or business taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service can result in a federal tax lien, and past-due child support payments can cause a child support lien to be placed on the defaulting parent's property.

Liens are also broadly classified according to their attachment method (such as whether a debtor's approval is needed) and scope (whether a lien affects all or only specific property).

  • General Liens in Florida

When a lien attaches to all property that a person owns or will acquire, including personal property, real estate, or business assets, it is called a "general lien." Any property subject to a general lien may be sold to settle an outstanding debt. Examples of general liens in Florida are judgement and IRS tax liens.

  • Specific Liens

A specific lien (or particular lien) is a type of lien that attaches only to a designated property or asset. The lien ensures the payment of a debt associated with the property. Examples of specific liens include mortgage, UCC, and mechanics liens.

  • Consensual vs Involuntary Liens

Consensual (or voluntary) liens are liens placed on property or assets with an owner's consent—typically when the owner uses their property as collateral for a loan. Contractual liens are the most popular types of consensual liens. These liens may arise from a mortgage, deed of trust, auto loan, or owed rent.

In contrast, involuntary (or nonconsensual) liens attach to property without the owner's consent. Examples are mechanics and tax liens.

  • Statutory Liens

Any lien fashioned by state or federal statute is a statutory lien. Such liens are imposed when a property owner fails to meet a mandatory obligation, such as paying their taxes or workers.

Statutory liens do not require a property owner's approval before being affixed to a property. Consequently, they are sometimes called involuntary liens. Examples include child support, IRS, judgement, and mechanics liens.

What is a Tax Lien in Florida

A tax lien in Florida represents the government's interest in a taxpayer's property or assets due to delinquent tax obligations. Several laws direct the operation and enforcement of tax liens in Florida. For example, FS 196.161 outlines the process for imposing tax liens due to homestead exemptions, FS 713.901 provides the filing procedures for federal tax liens in Florida, FS 443.141 covers liens for the payment of contributions or reimbursements, and so on.

Tax liens created in Florida are typically valid for a fixed period. Most Florida tax liens have a five-year limitation from when a tax is assessed or becomes delinquent, whichever occurs later (FS 95.091). However, federal tax liens are valid for 10 years after a tax is assessed (I.R.C. Admittedly, these timelines can be extended in some scenarios to guarantee the collection of a tax liability.

Are Tax Liens Public Record?

Yes. Tax liens are public records under Florida's Freedom of Information Act (or Sunshine Law). This means anyone can request to view or copy a tax lien record from a custodian's office.

Per state and federal regulations, a tax body must file a Notice of Tax Lien with the appropriate recording department to identify a taxpayer's pending obligations and establish lien priority where it matters. This action registers the document among public records maintained by a particular office or within a county.

Florida Tax Lien Search

As stated in FS 28.222, the Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller is the official recorder of all encumbrances or claims against real or personal property in Florida. As such, individuals seeking tax liens on properties in Florida, such as liens arising from unpaid property taxes, may inquire at the circuit clerk's office in the county where the delinquent taxpayer's property lies. Available search options include:

  • Online via an Official Records portal: Most Florida circuit clerk offices provide an Official Records Search portal on their websites, which interested persons can access to find liens on a property, including tax liens registered by taxing authorities. For example, the Palm Beach, Collier County, and Miami-Dade circuit clerks maintain internet portals to search for, view, and print uncertified tax lien documents for free. 

Several clerks (including the St. Lucie and Palm Beach circuit clerks) also provide online options for purchasing electronically certified copies.

  • In Person: Visiting a circuit clerk's office during business hours is another way to research liens imposed on property in Florida. 

A clerk's office may also accept written requests for lien documents by fax, mail, and email. Sometimes, an Official Records Order Form may be provided on a clerk's website for submitting mail inquiries. 

Regardless of the method one uses to check for liens on property, some or all of the following search parameters are frequently needed: 

  • Party name
  • Property's legal description
  • Instrument/document number
  • Document type
  • Book and page number
  • Record date

Specific record request procedures can be reviewed on a clerk's Official Records Search web page. An individual may also contact a customer service representative at the clerk's office for assistance.

Federal Tax Lien Search

The place of inquiry for a federal tax lien in Florida depends on the type of property (real or personal) and the type of debtor (whether an individual, business, estate, or trust). According to FS 713.901, otherwise called the Florida Uniform Federal Lien Registration Act, federal tax liens are recorded in Florida as follows: 

  • Federal tax liens against real property are filed in the circuit court's office of the county where a property is located.
  • Federal tax liens against tangible or intangible personal property are filed in the Department of State's (DOS) office if the taxpayer is a corporation, partnership, trust, or estate of a decedent.
  • All other federal tax liens against personal property are filed in the circuit clerk's office of the county where the defaulting taxpayer resides.

Persons checking for federal tax liens filed in a county circuit clerk's office can review previously stated guidelines. Meanwhile, individuals seeking federal tax liens attached to personal property can access the DOS Division of Corporations Federal Lien Registrations (FLR) database. The database accepts two search options:

Whether using a name or number for the federal tax lien lookup, the following information may be retrieved: 

  • The debtor's name
  • The secured party and debtor's addresses
  • Tax assessment date
  • Lien status
  • Expiration date
  • Filing date
  • Current number of debtors and secured parties
  • Document image(s) and the number of pages

The DOS Federal Lien Registrations Search Guide details how to search the FLR database and what the search results mean.

What is a Lien on Property in Florida

A lien on property in Florida is any legal claim or charge against a property to collect a debt. Liens can be imposed on real and personal property in Florida. Real property (or real estate) refers to permanent, immovable property like buildings, land, fixtures, and all improvements to land. Meanwhile, personal property covers all property that does not constitute real estate, such as collectibles, equipment, furniture, jewelry, vehicles, inventory, horses, and business assets. 

Among Florida's statutes, Title XL has more laws relating to liens on real and personal property in Florida.

Who can put a lien on a property?

The Florida legislature does not restrict the right to lien to specific parties. Generally, anyone can put a lien on a property in Florida, provided the owner owes them money. Liens, however, are often used as a last resort when other collection devices have been exhausted.

How to put a lien on property in Florida

The procedure for putting a lien on a property in Florida depends on whether a lien is consensual. Voluntary liens automatically attach to a debtor's property when they sign off on a loan that uses that property as security. When such liens are required by law to be recorded, lenders or creditors will file documentation with the appropriate office to notify the public of the right to repossess or foreclose on the property if the borrower defaults on the loan's terms and conditions.

However, involuntary liens have specific statutory requirements that must be met for a lien to be valid and enforceable. These requirements vary based on the lien type. 

For example, to establish a judgement lien on property, the person who succeeded in a lawsuit must file a certified copy of the judgement or a Judgement Lien Certificate with the appropriate recording office (more details below). Meanwhile, mechanics liens follow a different process, as outlined in FS 713.001-713.37, which may begin by notifying the property owner of the pending lien (if the lienor has no direct contract with the owner).

As a result, it is essential to research relevant statutes that apply to the lien a person wants to attach. Additionally, one may seek legal advice.

How to Find a Lien on Property in Florida

Checking for liens on property in Florida is often called a title search. It is typically recommended that interested individuals proceed with this investigation through a title company or real estate attorney. The reason is that considerable effort and money may be expended to find liens affecting a property title, given that some liens may be unrecorded and the State of Florida maintains no centralized property lien search repository. Individuals may also purchase title insurance to safeguard against unknown liens.

A person who decides to conduct the investigation themselves may start by searching official/land records in each county where a debtor has property or resides. Searching records maintained by the Florida Department of State, a code enforcement division, or a municipality (city/town) is also crucial. One may also utilize a reputable third-party website to find liens in Florida. 

  • Property Lien Search By Address

A property lien search by address utilizes a property address as the primary search keyword for checking liens on property. 

In Florida, this inquiry is typically available through a code enforcement division, building department, or municipality when researching liens arising from code compliance, water/sewer bills, special assessments, unsafe structures, sidewalk repairs, public nuisances, false alarms, and Special Magistrate Orders, among others. In essence, such inquiries cover all records of outstanding property liens known or owed to a city, town, or code enforcement/building division. 

However, such offices charge a non-refundable fee ranging from $20 to $200 for each lien search, with additional fees charged by some offices for expedited requests.

Property lien searches by address can also be accomplished on a third-party aggregator website. Typically, users can submit a search query on a third-party website at no cost, but results may be withheld until the user pays or subscribes.

  • Free Lien Search on Property

In many cases, the general public can conduct a free property lien search in Florida via an online database provided on a government agency's website or by visiting the applicable office during business hours. Liens are public records in Florida—and with public records, record inspection is often provided free of charge. Usually, a fee applies when one requests a certified copy of a record or has staff search records on their behalf.

What is a Mechanics Lien in Florida?

The State of Florida refers to a mechanics lien as a "construction lien." The lien arises from a property owner's failure to pay those who worked on their property or provided materials. Florida's Construction Lien Law (FS 713.001-713.37) grants any unpaid contractor, subcontractor, laborer, materialman, or other eligible parties the right to place a lien on the property to recover the debt. 

When a construction lien is imposed on a property in Florida, it hinders the owner from selling the property until the underlying obligation is met. In certain cases, the property can be sold against the owner's consent to cover the overdue costs for labor, materials, and other provided services.

Per FS 713.22, a construction lien is valid for a year from the recording date unless the lienor files a lawsuit to enforce or foreclose the lien within that period.

Florida Mechanics Lien Search 

Mechanics liens in Florida are recorded against real estate. Therefore, anyone checking for such liens on a property may search official/land records maintained by the circuit clerk's office in the county where the property is situated.

What is a Mortgage Lien in Florida?

A mortgage lien is a legal instrument that secures the repayment of a mortgage loan. It is created when a property owner acquires a loan from a lender, often a bank or mortgage company, to purchase or refinance a property. The lien attaches to the specific property that serves as collateral for the loan. If the borrower fails to pay the loan, the lienor can foreclose on the property to settle the debt. 

It should be noted that a mortgage lien does not convey the property title or transfer the right of possession to the lender. 

What is a UCC Lien in Florida? 

Sometimes called a financing statement, a UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) lien in Florida is a security interest in personal property to satisfy a debt or other obligation. A UCC lien secures a lender against personal property transactions—usually transactions involving the purchase of personal property. Thus, if the debtor fails to repay the loan, the lender can retrieve the collateral or sell it and use the proceeds to resolve the debt. Title XXXIX of the Florida Statutes contains the state's UCC laws. 

UCC Lien Search Florida

UCC liens in Florida are recorded with the Department of State—specifically with a vendor that the DOS contracts. Therefore, anyone seeking a UCC lien search in Florida may access the Florida Secured Transaction Registry on the vendor's website. Searches can be performed for free with a debtor's name (last, first, or partial) or document number. Available information includes: 

  • A debtor's full name and address
  • The secured party's full name and address
  • The lien's status
  • UCC number
  • File date
  • Expiry date
  • Document images (including the document type and number of pages)

What is a Lien Title in Florida

A lien title in Florida is a legal claim to a vehicle, mobile home, or vessel because of an existing debt. Typically, the debt is incurred when a person finances such assets with a loan. 

When such a lien exists, it allows the lienholder (often a bank or dealership) to hold the title until the debt is paid or satisfied. Once the underlying debt is fulfilled, the lienholder will file a Satisfaction of Lien with the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) to discharge the lien and transfer the title to the new owner. 

Where the borrower defaults on payment, the lienholder can repossess the asset. 

Florida Title Lien Search

A researcher must possess a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or license plate number to perform a title lien search in Florida.

To begin, a person may order public records maintained by the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, including motor vehicle, vessel, and mobile home records. The FLHSMV provides Form 90510 for these purposes. The request form can be completed and mailed to the department. Copy fees apply depending on the record type and a request's scope. 

Additionally, one may access the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) to research a vehicle's history through approved vendors. The search reveals a vehicle's title and condition, including existing liens. 

  • Free Title Lien Search in Florida

Generally, an individual must pay a fee to conduct a title lien search in Florida. The fee requirement applies regardless of whether a person requests a public record from the FLHSMV or an NMVTIS-approved vendor.

What is a Judgement Lien in Florida

When two parties engage in a lawsuit resulting in a money judgement, the prevailing side (the judgement creditor) can record the final judgement, order, or decree to establish a lien. That lien is known as a judgement lien.

In Florida, judgement liens can be recorded against real and personal property. A judgement becomes a lien on real property when the judgement creditor files a certified copy of the judgement with the circuit clerk's office in the county where the debtor has real property (FS 55.10). Such liens attach to any real estate a debtor presently owns or will own in the county and persist for 10 years. The lien can be renewed for 10 years by rerecording the certified copy of the judgement. Notwithstanding, no judgement lien against real property can extend past 20 years from the entry date of such judgement (FS 55.081).

On the other hand, a judgement becomes a lien on personal property when the prevailing party files a Judgement Lien Certificate online or by mail with the Florida Department of State (FS 55.201-55.209). This filing is crucial for establishing priority for the lien and recovering the underlying debt if the sheriff levies upon (seizes) the debtor's property. Here, lien priority is the order in which all judgement creditors will be paid if a property is sold. Liens filed with the DOS lapse five years from the filing date but can be continued for another five years.

Any judgement lien secures a court-acknowledged debt. Suppose the debtor fails to pay the debt voluntarily. In that case, the creditor can sell the debtor's property to recover the debt.

Florida Judgement Lien Search

To conduct a judgement lien search in Florida, a person must determine if the lien they seek affects real estate or personal property. 

If seeking judgement liens against real estate, a party should submit their request to the circuit clerk's office in the county where a property is located. As mentioned, the circuit clerks in Florida offer various means to check liens on property. To succeed with such inquiries, a requester must typically provide a name, instrument number, or record date to the clerk's office.

However, persons researching judgement liens affecting personal property can search the DOS Division of Corporation's database with a debtor's name or the lien document number. Search results include the lien status, file date, expiry date, judgement creditor and debtor's information (names and addresses), due amount, and document image.

How to Get a Lien Release in Florida 

Under Florida law, liens may be discharged in one of four ways: 

  • The debtor pays the outstanding amount in full, including any interest, penalties, or other additions.
  • The debtor enters a stipulated payment agreement with the lienor.
  • The debtor contests the lien by filing a petition in the circuit court where the property is located. If the suit is successful, the court will issue an order canceling the lien. 
  • The lien self-releases once the statute of limitations has run.

Admittedly, the release standard for most liens is upon the complete repayment of a debt. When the debt is paid, the lienor will prepare a lien release letter or satisfaction of lien and record it with the appropriate office, which may be a circuit clerk's office or the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Typically, the payee incurs all costs that an office may charge to release the lien, and in some cases, it will be the payee's responsibility to file the release in the proper office.

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