Judgment Liens on Property in the District of Columbia (DC)

In DC, a property lien can be used to collect a court judgment. Here's how it works.

In a civil court case, after a judge or jury hands down a verdict -- or after a court-approved settlement -- a judgment is entered by the court. As part of a typical judgment, the court orders the payment of money from one person to another. But the person who owes the money (the debtor) doesn't always pay up. A judgment lien is one way to ensure that the person who won the judgment (the creditor) gets what he or she is owed. A judgment lien gives the creditor the right to be paid a certain amount of money from proceeds from the sale of the debtor's property.

So how do judgment liens work in the District of Columbia? Read on to understand the rules. (For more background information on liens on property and judgments in general, check out Nolo's articles Collect Your Court Judgment with a Real Estate Lien and Can You Collect Your Judgment?)

What kind of property is subject to a judgment lien under DC law?

In all 50 states, a judgment lien can be attached to the debtor's real estate -- meaning a house, condo, land, or similar kind of property interest. And some states also allow judgment liens on the debtor's personal property -- things like jewelry, art, antiques, and other valuables.

In DC, however, a judgment lien can be attached to real estate only (house, condo, land, etc.).

How does a creditor go about getting a judgment lien in the District of Columbia?

To attach a judgment lien, the creditor files the judgment with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds.

How long does a judgment lien last in the District of Columbia?

A judgment lien in DC will remain attached to the debtor's property (even if the property changes hands) for 12 years.

Keep in mind: In the District of Columbia, a creditor's ability to collect under a judgment lien will be affected by a number of factors -- including a fixed amount of value that won't be touchable if the property is the debtor's primary residence (called a homestead exemption), other liens that may be in place, and any foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings. If things get complicated, you may want to talk with an experienced DC bankruptcy and debt attorney to help you sort out any lien issues.

Where can I look up DC law on judgment liens?

If you want to go right to the source and look up DC laws on judgment liens -- maybe you're a party to a judgment, or you're just researching potential encumbrances on property -- the relevant statute(s) can be found at DC Code Ann. Sections 15-101 to 102. For tips on looking up District of Columbia laws, check out Nolo's Laws and Legal Research section.