Can a Default Judgment Effect a Lien on my Home?

You better believe debt buyers and collection lawyers are looking for your money and property to satisfy their default judgment. First, they'll seek to restrain ("freeze") your bank accounts, which forces you to turn over money out of sheer desperation. Next in line is the wage garnishment if they can find where you're employed. Depending on their collection strategy and the size of the judgment, they may seek to attach a lien on your home.

Two questions I'm often asked:

  1. Can my debt collector put a lien on my home?
  2. For how long is that lien effective?

For these answers, we look to New York CPLR § 5203 [Priorities and liens upon Real Property], the section that represents the third entry in my blog series that seeks to summarize all 53 sections of New York's Statutory Code "Enforcement of Money Judgments."

Yes, a money judgment—even one that arose from a small credit-card debt—can result in a lien being placed on your home and on any other real property.

"Docketing" of Judgment Creates the Lien

A money judgment becomes a lien on the judgment debtor's real property, and secures a priority for the judgment creditor, when the judgment is "docketed"[1] with the county clerk of the county in which the real property is located. Docketing creates a lien.

The Lien is Effective for 10 years

A properly docketed judgment creates a lien on real property for 10 years even though a judgment is enforceable for 20 years. But the 10-year period begins to run upon the filing of the "judgment roll" (which, as addressed in the footnote, can happen before the docketing). A judgment creditor can renew[2] that lien but must do so before the expiration of the 10-year time period.[3]

Call us if you're worried about any money judgment, especially if it could interfere with the title to your own home.

Here is a brief description of how debt collectors obtain their judgment in a lower civil court and then transcribe the judgment in Supreme Court to obtain the lien on your home.

The above applies to New York only.



[1] This "docketing" should not be confused with "entry" of the judgment, or with the filing of the "judgment-roll," although in the supreme and county courts the three steps are virtually simultaneous. Entry occurs when the judgment is signed and filed by the clerk. "Docketing" occurs when the basic facts of the judgment are recorded in these alphabetical dockets--the form of this docketing is prescribed in CPLR 5018(c) and is carried out by the clerk--and the judgment becomes a lien on the real property of the judgment debtor in the county as of that moment. N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5203 (McKinney).

[2] CPLR § 5014.

[3] The 10 years begins to run from the filing of the judgment roll, which happens before docketing, and can happen in a lower court (not Supreme Court or County Court).

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