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Virginia Lien Search

A Virginia lien search reveals the presence or absence of liens on property within the state. Individuals who conduct the search are usually potential property owners, real estate agents, and mortgagees who wish to:

  • Confirm that no encumbrances exist on a property
  • Make informed decisions during property transactions 
  • Mitigate risks that may arise from a property's purchase 

The Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court is Virginia's official custodian of land records, which include liens. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) also keeps certain lien records.

What is a Lien in Virginia 

A Virginia lien is a claim or security interest on a property arising from the owner's failure to satisfy a debt. In other words, a creditor (party owed) holds the lien as security or a guarantee that a debt or obligation will be fulfilled. Upon the debtor's default, the creditor can institute legal action against the property to recover the unpaid sum. Creditors can also sell or take possession of property to protect their interests.

Types of Liens in Virginia 

There are different types of liens in Virginia, including:

These liens are classified according to several factors, including their nature and mode of attachment.

  • General Liens in Virginia 

A general lien attaches to all of a debtor's assets instead of a specific property. In other words, lienholders can recover an unpaid debt using any of the debtor's property. This may include their homes, vehicles, bank accounts, wages, and other property the debtor owns or has an interest in. Examples of general liens in Virginia include tax and judgement liens.

  • Specific Liens

In contrast to general liens, specific liens (also called particular liens) are limited to one identifiable piece of collateral. As such, if a debtor refuses to satisfy the inherent debt, the lender cannot go after any other property outside the one used as collateral. Examples of specific liens in Virginia include mechanics liens and deed of trust liens.

  • Consensual vs Involuntary Liens

A consensual lien in Virginia constitutes a legal claim to a property imposed with the consent of the owner (the debtor). If they default on repaying the loan, the lender can foreclose on (seize and sell) the property to recover the debt, per the written contract between both parties.

On the other hand, involuntary liens do not require a property owner's consent or a written agreement. Instead, they are established by operation of law or following a court judgement.

  • Statutory Liens

Statutory liens are liens imposed on property by law. Excellent examples of statutory liens in Virginia include liens against someone whose negligence caused an injury, mechanics, and judgement liens.

What is a Tax Lien in Virginia 

A Virginia tax lien refers to the legal claim the state government, through the Virginia Department of Taxation, has on the assets of a person or business that defaulted on tax payments to the state.

In Virginia, tax liens can be placed on different types of property. For example, per § 58.1-908 of the Virginia Code, a tax lien can be attached to a decedent's estate for the nonpayment of estate taxes. Meanwhile, § 58.1-3345 describes another type of tax lien imposed on timber in specific counties.

Are Tax Liens Public Record?

Yes. Tax liens are public information in Virginia according to the state's Public Records Act. The Act defines public records as documents collected and retained during an agency's official business. The definition expands to tax lien records maintained by government departments like the circuit court clerks. 

Virginia Tax Lien Search

Virginia's circuit court clerk offices maintain tax lien information as part of their land records. As such, individuals can query the circuit court clerk's office of the county or city where the property is located. A person can also contact the circuit court clerk's office with jurisdiction where the taxpayer resides or does business.

Generally, the circuit court clerk's offices prescribe different methods by which individuals can conduct tax lien lookups. The most common include in-person, online, or via mail.

  • In-Person: Individuals may verify whether a tax lien has been placed on a property at the physical address of the appropriate circuit court clerk's office. The visit can be made by oneself, or the interested person may hire a licensed attorney or title company to conduct the search. It is advised to visit during official business hours. 

It should be noted that although staff may help individuals get started on their search, they are not allowed to interpret the information obtained. Further, some circuit court clerk's offices, like that in Fairfax County, maintain public computers that researchers can use to find liens on property.

  • Online: Individuals can also check the relevant circuit court clerk's official website to determine whether they provide online access to land records. If the office does, the party can utilize the online platform to conduct a tax lien lookup. For example, the Chesterfield County Circuit Court Clerk's office manages an online index of land records to access free information on tax liens remotely. 

Besides an independent database maintained by a particular clerk's office, an individual can also access the state's Secure Remote Access (SRA) system upon subscription to find land records across the state, including records of tax liens.

  • Mail: Some circuit court clerk's offices in Virginia provide lien records by mail. Details about sending these requests are typically available on a clerk's website. One may also call an office for specific information on obtaining tax lien records by mail and the applicable fees.

Generally, researchers conduct tax lien lookups via mail by submitting a written request containing details about the requested record. This includes the page and book number and property owner's name. The mail should also have a self-addressed stamped envelope and the copy fee (usually money order or check) payable to the county circuit court. The requester must also indicate whether they require certified copies of the tax lien records.

Federal Tax Lien Search

A federal tax lien arises from outstanding federal taxes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes this security interest on the real and personal properties of taxpayers who fail to pay their taxes to the United States of America. 

In Virginia, federal tax liens attached to real property are recorded and indexed by the office of the circuit court clerk in the county where a property is located. However, federal tax liens pertaining to personal property are recorded with the State Corporation Commission (SCC)

As such, individuals can conduct federal tax lien lookups in Virginia by querying the relevant circuit court clerk's office or the SCC. These offices offer mail, in-person, and online searches. Third-party websites are also available for this purpose.

What is a Lien on Property in Virginia 

A lien on property refers to a creditor's legal claim over a debtor's property to secure a debt. Virginia describes property as real and personal property, as well as any right, interest, title, estate, or claim in or to such property. Real property is any property used for residential or nonresidential purposes. This includes vacant lands and anything attached to them.

Meanwhile, personal property refers to tangible and intangible assets people own that do not constitute real estate. They include vehicles, furniture, machinery, boats, household goods and personal effects, aircraft, and computer equipment.

Who can put a lien on a property?

Generally, anyone can put a lien on the property to ensure the satisfaction of a debt in Virginia. While some persons become lienholders due to an applicable statute, others must approach the court for a money judgement or enter a contract with the property owner to create a lien on the owner's property. 

How to put a lien on property in Virginia 

Below is the usual process for individuals to place a lien on a property in Virginia:

  • Preliminary Notice: The first step an individual may take to obtain a property lien in Virginia is to notify the debtor of the lien's filing if the outstanding sum remains unpaid. This notice should include the creditor's name, mailing address, and telephone number. It should also describe the property and the amount claimed. 

However, a preliminary notice is not compulsory in some cases. Also, specific deadlines are often imposed when the law requires prior notice.

  • Title Checks: A title check is an important step before placing a lien on a property, ensuring the lien is attached to the correct property. It also provides information about the existence of other liens that may determine the order of the priority of the proposed lien.
  • Drafting the Lien Document: When preparing a property lien document, parties should name the claimant and debtor and include other property details. The document should also state the unpaid sum and include information on any contract that gave rise to the lien. 

Depending on the lien type, individuals obtain lien forms from a circuit court clerk's office or the Virginia Judicial System's website. Some clerk's offices also provide forms on their official websites. The Arlington County Circuit Court Clerk's office is an excellent example of a record custodian that provides online land records forms.

  • Filing the Lien: The next step involves filing the lien document in the appropriate circuit court clerk's office or with the State Corporation Commission if it applies. Individuals may need to notarize the lien document before filing and must pay applicable filing fees.

Note that the information above is generalized. The steps for placing a lien on a property in Virginia may differ based on the lien type.

How to Find a Lien on Property in Virginia 

Interested parties can find liens on a property in Virginia through circuit court clerk's offices. As many liens affect real estate, land records maintained by the circuit clerk's offices are excellent repositories for finding liens on property. Individuals searching for liens on personal property, on the other hand, can query the State Corporation Commission.

Given that searching property liens in Virginia involves reviewing various public records, a person can engage a title search company or a qualified attorney to find liens on their behalf.

  • Property Lien Search By Address

Following Article 3 of the Virginia Code, circuit court clerk offices in Virginia index their property lien records by name. As such, interested parties will find it difficult to check for liens on property using an address as a search criterion.

Individuals may also explore a reliable third-party website to check liens on property by address.

  • Free Lien Search on Property

Individuals can perform free lien searches on property in Virginia by visiting the physical locations of the appropriate records custodian office. They can also leverage free online land records index options from various circuit court clerk offices. 

Another option to conduct a free property search lookup is to access databases on private websites offering the service. While these websites are mostly subscription-based, a person may find a service provider that offers free trials or basic land record searches for free.

What is a Mechanics Lien in Virginia?

A mechanics lien in Virginia describes a legal claim on a property because the owner failed to pay for labor or materials supplied for their property's construction or improvement. This lien guarantees contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and many others involved in real estate construction or improvement secure payment for work done. Per §43-3 of the Virginia Code, a mechanics lien, also called materialman's lien, covers labor and supply services valued at a minimum of $150.

In Virginia, mechanics liens have priority over many other liens once perfected (i.e., when a Memorandum of Lien is filed with the appropriate authority). 

Mechanics liens create an encumbrance on the property, making selling it somewhat tricky. Such liens also adversely affect a property owner's credit and discourage banks from granting refinance requests for the affected property.

Virginia Mechanics Lien Search 

Individuals can conduct a mechanics lien search in Virginia by:

  • Visiting the physical location of the circuit court clerk's office where the lien was recorded during official business hours
  • Conducting an online lien lookup through the available government-owned platforms as discussed above
  • Sending mail requests to the record custodians in counties or cities where the option is available
  • Searching online databases provided by private lien search service providers

A mechanics lien search follows the same process as any other property lien search in Virginia.

What is a Mortgage Lien in Virginia?

Mortgage liens refer to a security interest in a property because of a mortgage loan. Generally, these liens are expressed in a document called a deed of trust. A mortgage lien enables the mortgagee to seize and sell the mortgagor's property through foreclosure if the owed amount is not paid.

What is a UCC Lien in Virginia? 

A UCC lien in Virginia, also referred to as a financing statement, describes a type of security interest against a debtor's personal property. Like other liens, it indicates a lienholder's legal claim to specific assets a debtor owns to secure a loan transaction. It is regulated by the state's Uniform Commercial Code. 

UCC Lien Search Virginia 

While UCC liens are majorly against personal property, there are some instances where they may attach to real property. In such cases, the lien is filed with the circuit court clerk's office, and interested members of the public can find them using search methods similar to other property liens. However, the State Corporation Commission maintains records on most UCC liens.

The SCC clerk's office maintains a Clerk's Information System (CIS) that grants individuals access to the UCC lien filings in the SCC's database. To use this service, searchers will need to create a user account. Besides viewing lien details, users can also download UCC lien filings via CIS.

Alternatively, one may download, fill, and submit an Information Request Form (UCC-11) to the SCC. The form should be mailed with a money order or check addressed to "State Corporation Commission" at the following address:

Mailing Address

Clerk's Office

State Corporation Commission

P.O. Box 1197

Richmond, VA 23218

Interested members of the public may also visit the commission at:

Physical Address

State Corporation Commission

1st Floor 

1300 East Main Street

Richmond, VA 23219

Searchers should note that the commission honors requests for certified and uncertified copies of UCC lien records for applicable fees. They can contact the clerk's office at (804) 371-9733 or 1-866-722-2551 or visit the SCC's UCC lien page for associated costs. 

What is a Lien Title in Virginia 

A lien title (also a lien on a title) is a legal claim on a vehicle to settle a debt. This debt is typically incurred when someone purchases or refinances a vehicle, except where the buyer pays the total sum at the time of the transaction. Here, the title that carries the lien is given to the lienholder or lender and is only transferred to the owner when the debt is satisfied. If the debtor fails to pay, the lender can repossess or sell the vehicle.

Virginia Title Lien Search

A title lien search in Virginia describes the process of scrutinizing the title of a vehicle registered in Virginia to determine if a lien was attached to it. Individuals take title lien searches seriously because they help prospective buyers make well-informed decisions before purchasing a used automobile. Generally, title liens on a vehicle can affect the owner's right to sell or transfer it. 

Interested parties can conduct a Virginia title lien search by querying the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) through any of their approved providers. Upon choosing a provider, a person can obtain a report with the automobile's VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Search results include a vehicle's historical and current title lien records. Members of the public should note that they will be required to pay a fee for this service. 

  • Free Title Lien Search in Virginia 

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) honors requests from vehicle owners for their vehicle history, which includes titling transactions. However, the department does not provide free title lien search options for members of the public to look up encumbrances on a vehicle. 

What is a Judgement Lien in Virginia?

A judgement lien under Virginia law stems from a court ruling that grants one side money as relief for an injury or other damage. The lien gives the judgement creditor (the winner) a legal interest in a debtor's property. 

In Virginia, judgement liens are perfected by recording the judgment in the county where the judgement debtor has property. Upon perfection, the lienholder has the right to foreclose on the debtor's property to recover the owed sum. Notably, such liens only affect real estate. A judgement lien generally lasts 20 years in Virginia. However, the lien can be extended or renewed for another 20 years.

Virginia Judgement Lien Search

A judgement lien in Virginia is a claim on real estate. As such, members of the public should request land records from a circuit clerk's office (in the county where the judgement debtor's property lies) to find such liens. 

How to Get a Lien Release in Virginia 

A lien release is a legal document stating that a lienholder's interest in the debtor's property no longer exists. Creditors typically issue lien releases when a debtor pays off or satisfies a debt. Admittedly, the process for getting a lien release in Virginia depends on the type of lien attached to a property. For example:

Mechanics Liens 

Mechanics liens in Virginia are released when a debtor pays the owed amount. Subsequently, the lien creditor must record a Certificate of Satisfaction in the circuit clerk's office. The release can also be obtained by paying the outstanding sum to the court or filing a bond before or after the suit is brought.

Title Liens 

Lien releases are noted by the Virginia DMV when a vehicle owner pays off the associated loan. If the lienholder participates in the state's Electronic Lien Program, the lien is released automatically, and the DMV will mail the owner a new title to their registered address.

However, if the lienholder does not participate in the program, they will sign and date the title's lien release section and mail it to the vehicle owner. However, the process does not automatically delete the lien from the DMV's records. The property owner must pay $15 for a new or substitute title to remove the lien from the department's records. If one loses or destroys their title, they must get a lien release letter from the lender and apply for a new title.

Lien Release by Court Order

Liens releases can be obtained via a court order. Property owners can apply to the circuit court in the county or city where a lien was recorded to have it released or discharged. However, the law mandates the provision of a 20-day notice to the lender and proof that the outstanding debt has been satisfied. 

Alternatively, a person may show that more than 20 years have passed since a lien matured. The timeline raises a presumption of payment, provided it has not been disputed at the hearing or by any lawsuit initiated to enforce the lien.

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