IN REM: Michael Stipe and Your Liens

REMYou’ve probably heard your favorite member of Avenue 365’s Title Team throwing around the words “in rem” in reference to liens against a particular property. To be clear:  they’re not mispronouncing the name of the artist behind “Everybody Hurts”.

They’re referring to the phrases “in rem” or “in personam”; fancy terms that mean “property-specific” and “general”, respectively. In short, where a lien is in rem, it attaches only to the property listed in the lien.

For instance, mortgage liens affect the property in the legal description attached to the mortgage document. Likewise, mechanics’ liens are filed against the property where the work was actually done. The defendant may live at some other address across town, but the mechanics’ lien only attaches to the property where the plaintiff did the work.

On the other hand, “in personam” liens attach to all property owned by the defendant at the time the lien is entered. So, let’s say the defendant’s credit card company sues for nonpayment and obtains a judgment. The defendant, who owns a personal residence and a rental property, now has a judgment lien that attaches to both properties, regardless of the address listed in the complaint. Here is a list of common liens in each category.

In Rem

  • Delinquent real estate taxes
  • Water/sewer/trash/utility
  • School taxes
  • Municipal liens (if for actual work done)
  • Mechanics’ liens
  • Mortgage foreclosure judgments
  • Liens under Commercial Real Estate Broker Lien Act

In Personam

  • Federal tax liens
  • Federal & state death taxes
  • Criminal judgments
  • Support obligations
  • Department of Revenue liens
  • Municipal liens for fines
  • Creditors/personal injury
  • Confession of judgment
  • Notes

Contents of this education piece used with permission by First American Title Insurance Company. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

States law regarding title insurance varies greatly.

The list provided (from Pennsylvania) is a sample only and (other than items which are specifically listed as “Federal”) could vary by state.

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