Even if you are not a lender by its strict definition, you can still place a lien on real property — such as a house or apartment — owned by your non-paying client in a New York debt collection case.
The key word is “can.”
In many instances, the money judgment entered by the court clerk will not automatically convert to a lien on real property. In order to create a valid lien, you — as judgment creditor or counsel — must take affirmative steps to create the lien.
New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules, section 5203, provides that a judgment creditor can docket a judgment, which will act as a lien for up to ten years from when it was first entered.
In other words, you have an enforceable judgment when the clerk signs in your favor. You can take the judgment and record it in other courts — and one or more of the 62 counties in New York state — to become a lien on real property.
The mechanics of liening real property with your New York judgment are fairly straightforward but can easily be confused by those not familiar with the process.
How to Do It
First, you need to make sure that you are able to record the judgment “docket” with the clerk in the county that you sued.
For example, if you sued someone in the Supreme court of Kings County (Brooklyn), your judgment was already entered by the Kings County clerk. If your judgment debtor owns property in Brooklyn, you will automatically have a lien. Bringing your case in Supreme Court will give you a lien against any property in that county within New York’s 62 counties. You will not need to take any additional action.
But, bringing your case and recovering judgment in any of the lower courts of the 62 counties does require some additional work. You must take the lower court judgment and “docket” it by recording it with the county clerk in the same county where you brought your case and recorded judgment.
For example, say you sued in Civil Court in Kings County and your judgment debtor owns property in Kings County or any of the other 62 counties. You must take your lower court civil judgment and docket it with the Kings County clerk. Docketing the civil Kings County judgment with the county clerk will grant you a valid lien.
Next, you must docket the judgment in the other counties where your judgment debtor owns real property.
Take, for example, a non-paying customer — now judgment debtor — who owns a condo in Manhattan, a house in The Hamptons, and another house in Woodstock. You may have sued him in Supreme Court in New York County (Manhattan), giving you an automatic lien against the condo in Manhattan. In order to have a valid lien on the house in the Hamptons and the house in Woodstock, you will need to take the judgment from New York County and file it with the Suffolk County clerk covering the Hamptons and the Ulster County clerk to lien the house in Woodstock.
Last — and finally — make sure not to skip this basic but important step.
You must elevate the judgment from the lower court in the county where you sued to the highest court in the county, the Supreme Court, even if your judgment debtor does not own property in that county to lien. This step is essential to have a valid lien in any of the other 62 counties.
Let’s say your debtor owns property in Nassau County. Because you are located in Manhattan and your case is for $15,000, you sued in Civil Court in New York County. Your debtor does not own any property in Manhattan, but in order to have a valid lien in Nassau County, you must elevate the judgment and file it first with New York County clerk. Only after you docket the judgment with the New York County clerk can you docket the judgment in Nassau County.
The ability to file a lien against real property owned by a non-paying with a New York debt collection judgment is key in collecting on your judgment.
Are you owed money or have a judgment you wish to collect? Contact us to discuss a debt collection plan that can work for your business.