lien – a legal right or proprietary interest a creditor retains in property until the debt &/or duty that it secures is satisfied:

     This page is continued from Legal Instruments >>>> Securities:


n. (16c)

1. A legal right or interest that a creditor has in another’s property, lasting usually until a debt or duty that it secures is satisfied.  *  Typically, the creditor does not take possession of the property on which the lien has been obtained.  Cf. PLEDGE (3). — lien, vb. — lienable, liened, adj. [1]

1. A charge upon property for the payment or discharge of a debt or duty.  The right which the law gives to have a debt satisfied out of a particular thing; a proprietary interest which, in a given case, may be exercised over the property of another.  33 Am J1st Liens § 2.

In the aspect of a common-law lien, the mere right in one person to retain that which is in his possession belonging to another until certain demands of the person in possession are satisfied.  Agnew v American Ice Co. 2 NJ 291, 66 A2d 330, 10 ALR2d 232.

The word “lien” is the same origin as the word “liable,” and the right of lien expresses the liability of certain property for a certain legal duty, or a right to resort to it in order to enforce that duty.  Wood’s Appeal, 30 Pa 274, 277. [2]

1. A claim or charge on, or right against, personal property, or an encumbrance on real property, for the payment of a debt.  A lien may be created by statute (EXAMPLES: a tax lien; an attachment lien) or by agreement between the parties (EXAMPLES: a mortgage on real estate; a security agreement covering personal property).  In some instances, a lien permits the creditor to retain the debtor’s property in his possession until the debt is satisfied.  Such a lien is called a possessory lien. (EXAMPLES: a landlord’s lien; an attorney’s lien.)  There is a great variety of liens. [3]

Related Terms:

lienable  adj. (1855) (Of property) legally amenable to a lie capable of being subject to a lien.

lienholder (1830) A person having or owning a lien. — aka lienor; lienee

lienee (1853) 1. One whose property is subject to a lien.

2. An encumbrancer who holds a lien; LIENHOLDER. Because the word is a “contronym” with opposite senses, it is best avoided — along with its correlative lienor.

     Excerpt from John Salmond, Jurisprudence 440 (Glanville L. Williams ed., 10th ed. 1947):

     “[A] mortgagee is the owner of the property, while a pledgee or other lienee is merely an encumbrancer of it.” 

lien creditor(1821) – A creditor whose claim is secured bya lien on the debtor’s property; specifically, someone who is 

(1) a creditor that has acquired a lien by attachment, levy, or the like,

(2) an assignee for the benefit of creditors from the time of assignment, 

(3) a trustee in bankruptcy from the date of the filing of the bankruptcy petition, or

(4) a receiver in equity from the time of pappointment. UCC § 9-102(a)(52). [1]

1. A creditor who holds a lien for the debt owed to him. [2]

1. A creditor whose debt is secured by a lien.  EXAMPLES: an execution creditor; a judgment creditor. [3]

levy n. (13c) 1. The imposition of a fine or tax; the fine or tax so imposed. — aka tax levy.

2. The legally sanctioned seizure and sale of property; the money obtained from such a sale. — aka (in sense 3) levy of execution.

  • capital levy – (1885) A tax on private or industrial wealth.
  • wrongful levy (18c) A levy on a third party’s property that is not subject to a writ of execution.

levy vb. (14c) 1. To impose or assess (a fine or a tax) by legal authority <levy a tax on gasoline>.

2. To take or seize property in execution of a judgment <the judgement creditor may levy on the debtor’s assets>. [1]

General Types of Liens:

attachment lien: (1842) A lien on property seized by prejudgment attachment.  *  Such a lien is initially inchoate but becomes final and perfected upon entry of a judgment for the attaching creditor and relates back to the date when the lien first arose.  — aka lien of attachment.  See ATTACHMENT.

chaste lien  (1882) A lien in which the lienholder, the property, and the monetary amount are established so that the lien is perfected and nothing else needs to be done to make it enforceable.

common-law lien  (1828) 1. A lien granted by the common law, rather than by statute, equity. or agreement by the parties.

2. The right of one person to retain possession of property belonging to another until certain demands of the possessing party are met.  *  This type of lien, unlike an equitable lien, cannot exist without possession. [1].

1. A lien arising by implication of law, not by contract, which entitles the lienor to retain possession of an article in his possession which belongs to another until certain demands against such other person are satisfied. 33 Am J1st Liens § 16. [2]

1. A lien existing under the common law. [3]

consummate lien: (1867) A judgment lien arising after the denial of a motion for a new trial.  Cf. inchoate lien.

conventional lien  (1826) A lien that is created by the express agreement of the parties, in circumstances in which the law would not create a lien.

execution lien: (1859) A lien on property seized by a levy of execution.  *  Such a lien gives the execution creditor priority over later transferees of the property and over prior unrecorded conveyances of interests in the property.  See EXECUTION (3).

floating lien: (1923) 1. A lien that is expanded to cover any additional property obtained by the a debtor while the debt is outstanding.

2. A lien that continues to exist even when the collateral changes in character, classification, or location. — aka floating charge.

garnishment lien: (1897) A lien on a debtor’s property held by a garnishee.  *  Such a lien attaches in favor or the garnishing creditor when a garnishment summon; is served and also impounds any credits the garnishee owes the debtor so that they must be paid to the garnishing creditor. — aka lien of garnlshmentSee GARNISHMENT.

general lien: (18c) A possessory lien by which the lien holder may retain any of the debtor’s goods in the lien holder’s possession until any debt due from the debtor, whether in connection with the retained goods or otherwise, has been paid.  *  Factors, insurance brokers, packers, stockbrokers, and bankers have a general lien over the property of their clients or customers.  Cf. particular lien.

     Excerpt from 2 James Kent, Commentaries on American Law *637 (George Comstock ed., 11th ed. 1866):

     “The usage of any trade sufficient to establish a general lien, must . . . have been so uniform and notorious, as to warrant the inference that the party against whom the right is claimed had knowledge of it.  This general lien may also be created by express agreement; as, where one or more persons give notice that they will not receive any property for the purpose of their trade or business, except on condition that they shall have a lien upon it, not only in respect to the charges arising on the particular goods, but for the general balance of account.  All persons who afterwards deal with them, with the knowledge of such notice, will be deemed to have acceded to that agreement. 

inchoate lien (1838) A judgment lien that may be defeated if the judgment is vacated or a motion for new trial is granted.  Cf. consummate lien.

involuntary lien – (1889) A lien arising without the debtor’s consent.

judgment lien (1831) A lien imposed on a judgment debtor’s nonexempt property.  *  This lien gives the judgment creditor the right to attach the judgment debtor‘s property. — aka lien of judgment.  See EXEMPT PROPERTY.

judicial lien (1890) A lien obtained by judgment, levy, sequestration, or other legal or equitable process or proceeding.  *  If a debtor is adjudged to owe money to a creditor and the judgment has not been satisfied, the creditor can ask the court to impose a lien on specific property owned and possessed by the debtor.  After the court imposes the lien, it usually issues a writ directing the local sheriff to seize the property, sell it, and turn over the proceeds to the creditor. [1]

1. A lien obtained by means of a judicial process. EXAMPLES: an attachment lien; a judgment lien. [3]

lien by judicial proceeding – An expression, of particular significance in the law of bankruptcy, for a lien obtained by attachment, judgment, levy, or other legal or equitable process or proceeding. 9 Am J2d Bankr § 1022— aka lien by legal proceeding. [2]

possessory lien (1840) A lien allowing the creditor to keep possession of the encumbered property until the debt is satisfied.  *  A power of sale may or may not be combined with this right of possession.  Examples include pledges of chattels, the liens of innkeepers, garageman’s liens, and vendor’s liens.  See PLEDGE.

  • particular lien (1833) A possessory lien by which the possessor of goods has the right to retain specific goods until a debt incurred in connection with those goods has been paid. — aka special lien.  Cf. general lien.

     Excerpt from 2 James Kent, Commentaries on American Law *634 (George Comstock ed., 11th ed. 1866):

     “A general lien is the right to retain the property of another, for a general balance of accounts; but a particular lien is a right to retain it only for a charge on account of labor employed or expenses bestowed upon the identical property detained. The former is taken strictly, but the latter is favored in law. The right rests on principles of natural equity and commercial necessity, and it prevents circuitry of action, and gives security and confidence . . . .” 

secret lien (1830) A lien not appearing of record and unknown to purchasers; a lien reserved by the vendor and kept hidden from third parties, to secure the payment of goods after delivery.

specific lien (18c) A lien secured on a particular thing by a contract or by a judgment, execution, attachment, or other legal proceeding.

fixed and floating lien See fixed and floating charge CHARGE (7).

lien of factor at common law Hist. A lien not created by statute; a common-law lien.

statutory lien (1827) 1. A lien arising solely by force of statute, not by agreement of the parties.  *  Examples are federal tax liens and mechanic’s liens.

2. Bankruptcy. Either of two types of liens:

(1) a lien arising solely by force of a statute on specified circumstances or conditions, or

(2) a lien of distress for rent, whether or not statutory. 

     For bankruptcy purposes, a statutory lien does not include a security interest or judicial lien, whether or not the interest or lien arises from or is made effective by a statute.

voluntary lien (1900) A lien created with the debtor’s consent.

Specific Types of Liens:

agent’s lien  (1834) A lien against property of the estate, in favor of an agent, to secure the agent’s compensation as well as all necessary expenses incurred under the agent’s power.

bailee’s lien See BAILEE’S LIEN.

  • warehouser’s lien – (i986) A lien covering storage charges for goods stored with a bailee. — aka warehouseman’s lien.

Specific Liens
Used by Professionals:

accountant’s lien – the right of an accountant to retain a client’s papers until the accountant’s fees have been paid.

architect’s lien – a statutory lien on real property in favor of an architect who has drawn the plans for and supervised the construction of improvements on the property.

agricultural lien – a statutory lien that protects a seller of farming equipment by giving the seller a lien on crops grown with the equipment.

agister’s lien – a lien upon an animal provided by contract or statute for the benefit of a person who has fed or cared for the animal (an agister).

attorney’s lien – the right of an attorney to hold or retain a client’s money or property or to encumber money payable to the client until the attorney’s fees have been properly determined and paid.

  • charging lien – an attorney’s lien to secure their fee, on a specified property in the debtor’s possession, acquired from from the claim that the attorney has helped the client perfect, as through a judgment or settlement.
  • retaining lien – an attorney’s lien to retain possession of a client’s papers, books, documents, securities, moneys, and property as security for the general balance due to him until the client has paid for the attorney’s services.

auctioneer’s lien – the right of an auctioneer to retain property, goods, and documents held on the seller’s behalf until the winning bidder has paid all that is owed.

banker’s lien – the right of a bank to satisfy a customer’s matured debt by seizing the customer’s money or property in the bank’s possession.

carrier’s lien – a carrier’s right to retain possession of cargo until the owner of the cargo pays its shipping costs.

  • demurrage lien the lien of a carrier by ship or rail upon a shipment for unpaid demurrage (delay in shipping) charges.

hospital lien – asserted by a hospital against any judgment, compromise, or settlement received by a hospital patient either from a third person who caused the patient’s injuries or from the third person’s insurer, to recover the costs of emergency and ongoing medical and other services.

factor’s lien: (1830) A lien, usually statutory, on property held on consignment by a factor.  *  It allows the factor to keep possession of the property until the account has been settled.  See FACTOR (2).

healthcare lien: (1997) A statutory lien asserted by an HMO, insurer, medical group, or independent practice association against those liable to the patient for damages, to recover money paid or claim money payable for healthcare services provided under a healthcare service plan or a disability insurance policy.  — aka medical lien.  Cf. hospital lien; workers’ compensation lien.

hotelkeeper’s lien (1875) A possessory or statutory lien allowing an innkeeper to hold, as security for payment, personal property that a guest brought into the hotel. — aka innkeeper’s lien.

grantor’s lien See vendor’s lien (1).

landlord’s lien (1844) 1. At common law, a lien that gave a landlord the right to seize a tenant’s property and sell it publicly to satisfy overdue rent.  See DISTRESS.  2. Generally, a statutory lien on a tenant’s personal property at the leased premises in favor of a landlord who receives preferred creditor status on that property.  *  Such a lien usually secures the payment of overdue rent or compensation for damage to the premises.

possessory garageman’s lien (1975) A lien on a vehicle in the amount of the repairs performed by the garage.

Types of Liens Pertaining to

blanket lien: (1876) A lien that gives a creditor the entitlement to take possession of any or all of the debtor’s real property to cover a delinquent loan.

Government Liens:

municipal lien (1851) A lien by a municipal corporation against a property owner for the owner’s proportionate share of a public improvement that specially and individually benefits the owner.

superlien (1984) A government’s lien that is imposed on a property whose condition violates environmental and public-health and public-safety rules and that has a priority over all other liens, so that the government can recover public funds spend t on cleanup operations.  *  A statutory lien is superior to all existing liens and all later-filed liens on the same property.  Superliens are sometimes granted to a state’s environmental protection agency.  Several states — including Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee — have enacted statutes creating superliens on property owned by a party responsible for environmental cleanup. 

tax lien (1852) 1. A lien on property, and all rights to property, imposed by the federal government for unpaid federal taxes.

2. A lien on real estate in favor of a state or local government that may be foreclosed for nonpayment of taxes.  *  A majority of states have adopted the Uniform Federal Tax Lien Registration Act.

Liens, by Order of Priority:

concurrent lien: (1876) One of two or more liens of equal priority attaching to the same property.

deferred lien  (1875) A lien effective at a future date, as distinguished from a present lien that is currently possessory.

first lien: (18c) A lien that takes priority over all other charges or encumbrances on the same property and that must be satisfied before other charges may share proceeds from the property’s sale. — aka first security; first security interest.

prime lien (1903) A lien that arises and attaches after another validly recorded lien in such a way that the lien has equal or superior rights in the same collateral.

prior lien (18c) A lien that is superior to one or more other liens on the same property, usu. because it was perfected first. — aka priority lien.

second lien (1830) A lien that is next in rank after a first lien on the same property and therefore is next entitled to satisfaction out of the proceeds from the property’s sale.

senior lien (1851) A lien that has priority over other liens on the same property.

junior lien (1858) A lien that is subordinate to one or more other liens on the same property.


dragnet lien (1980) A lien that is enlarged to cover any additional credit extended to the debtor by the same creditor.

equitable lien – (18c) A right, enforceable only in equity, to have a demand satisfied from a particular fund or specific property, without having possession of the fund or property.  *  It arises mainly in four circumstances:

(1) when an occupant of land, believing in good faith to be the owner of that land, makes improvements, repairs, or other expenditures that permanently increase the land’s value,

(2) when one of two or more joint owners makes expenditures of that kind,

(3) when a tenant for life completes permanent and beneficial improvements to the estate begun earlier by the testator, and

(4) when land or other property is transferred subject to the payment of debts, legacies, portions, or annuities to third persons. — aka equitable levy.



manufacturer’s lien (1860) A statutory lien that secures payment for labor or materials expended in producing goods for another. 

maritime lien (1831) A lien on a vessel, given to secure the claim of a creditor who provided maritime services to the vessel or who suffered an injury from the vessel’s use. — aka tacit hypothecation

     Excerpt from Griffith Price, The Law of Maritime Liens 1 (1940):

     “The maritime lien has been described as one of the most striking peculiarities of Admiralty law, constituting a charge upon ships of a nature unknown alike to common law and equity. it arises by operation of law and exists as a claim upon the property, secret and invisible. A maritime lien may be defined as:

(1) a privileged claim,

(2) upon maritime property,

(3) for service done to it or injury caused by it,

(4) accruing from the moment when the claim attaches,

(5) travelling with the property unconditionally,

(6) enforced by means of an action in rem.” 

mechanic’s lien: (1821) A statutory lien that secures payment for labor or materials supplied in improving, repairing, or maintaining real or personal property, such as a building, an automobile, or the like. — aka lien of the mechanic; artisan’s lien; chattel lien (for personal property); construction lien (for labor); garageman’s lien (for repaired vehicles); laborer’s lien (for labor); materialman’s lien (for materials). [1]

1. A claim created by law for the purpose of securing a priority of payment of the price or value of work performed and materials furnished in erecting or repairing a building or other structure, usually attaching to the land as well as to the buildings erected thereon. Schwartz v Whelan, 295 Pa 425, 145 A 525, 5 ALR 277.

A lien upon moneys withheld by a public body from a contractor in favor of a laborer or materialman for the amount of his claim for labor or materials furnished the contractor upon the improvement under construction by him pursuant to a contract with the public body. Anno: 112 ALR 816. [2]

1. A lien created by law for the purpose of securing payment for work performed or materials furnished in constructing or repairing a building or other structure.
     Also see materialman’s lien. [3]

     Excerpt from Samuel Phillips, A Treatise on the Law of Mechanics’ Liens on Real and Personal Property § 9, at 15-16 (1874):

     “The lien of the mechanic, here treated of, is a remedy in the nature of a charge on land, given by statute to the persons named therein, to secure a priority or preference of payment for the performance of labor or supply of materials to buildings or other improvements, to be enforced against the particular property in which they have become incorporated, in the manner and under the limitations therein expressly provided. it is exclusively the creature of statute, deriving its existence only from positive enactment, and not arising out of, or of the essence of, the contract for labor, or dependent on the motives which suggest its being enforced, it is a mere incidental accompaniment as a means of enforcing payment, — a remedy given by law, which secures the preference provided for, but which does not exist, however equitable the claim may be, unless the party brings himself within the provisions of the statute, and shows a substantial compliance with all its essential requirements.  It is not a judgment, and does not give the mechanic a right to his debt, which arises out of the performance of contract, and exists without the aid of statute.  It does not confer an independent right, or create an estate in the property itself, or give any interest which would support an action of ejectment.  It has, however, been held to confer an insurable interest.  The absolute ownership of land and powers incident to property are not in the slightest degree suspended by its operation; nor are prior encumbrances interfered with.  It does not give any right of possession to the property, as against the owner; nor a right to have a receiver of rents and profits appointed pending the suit.  The owner’s free enjoyment of the property will be interfered with only when his use of it tends to its injury to such an extent as to impair its value as a security.  It does not create, even after being judicially established by judgment or decree, any privity of estate, or right of entry thereunder, but is in the nature of a legal charge, running with the land, encumbering it in every change of ownership, and preventing subsequent alienations or encumbrances only by making them subordinate to the rights of the lien-holder.


mortgage lien (1846) A lien on the mortgagor’s property securing the mortgage.



partner’s lien (1870) A partner’s equitable lien on partnership property as security for the application of that property to partnership purposes; especially, a right to have the partnership property applied in payment of the partnership’s debts and to have whatever is due the firm from fellow partners deducted from what would otherwise be payable to them for their shares. — aka lien of partners.

     Excerpt from Floyd R. Mechem, Elements of the Law of Partnership 373-74 (2d ed. 1920):

     ‘The lien of the partners is intended to secure whatever is due to or from the firm by or to the members thereof as such. it does not extend to debts incurred between the firm and its members otherwise than in their capacity as partners, and in case of the bankruptcy of a partner his assignees may claim his share without regard to such a debt; as, for example, a debt for money borrowed by one er from another for a purely private purpose of his own.” 




vendee’s lien (1859) Real estate. A buyer’s lien on the purchased land as security for repayment of purchase money paid in, enforceable if the seller does not or cannot convey good title.

vendor’s lien (1830) 1. Real estate. A seller’s lien on land as security for the purchase price.  *  This lien may be foreclosed in the same way as a mortgage: the buyer usually has a redemption period within which to pay the full purchase price. – aka grantor’s lien.

2. A lien held by a seller of goods, who retains possession of the goods until the buyer has paid in full.



workers’-compensation lien (1976) 1. A statutory lien, asserted by a healthcare provider, to recover the costs of emergency and ongoing medical and other services.  *  The lien applies against any workers’-compensation benefits paid to a patient.

2. A statutory lien, asserted by a workers’-compensation insurance carrier, against an insured worker’s recovery from a third party tortfeasor, to recover benefits paid to the injured worker. — aka workers’-compensation subrogation lien.  Cf. healthcare lien.


lien account See ACCOUNT.



lien of a covenant (1916) The beginning portion of a covenant, stating the names of the parties and the character of the covenant.


lien theory (1882) The idea that a mortgage resembles a lien, so that the mortgagee acquires only a lien on the property and the mortgagor retains both legal and equitable title unless a valid foreclosure occurs.  * Most American states — commonly called lien states, lien jurisdictions, or lien-theory jurisdictions — have adopted this theory.   Cf. TITLE THEORY.

lien waver See WAIVER (3).

Pertaining to Bankruptcy:

lien avoidance (1957) Bankruptcy. A debtor’s depriving a creditor of a security interest in an asset of the bankruptcy estate. 11 USCA §§ 506(d), 522(1).

lien-stripping (1987) Bankruptcy. The practice of splitting a mortgagee’s secured claim into secured and unsecured components and reducing the claim to the market value of the debtor’s residence, thereby allowing the debtor to modify the terms of the mortgage and reduce the amount of the debt.  *  The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited lien stripping in all Chapter 7 cases (Nobelman v. America Savs. Bank, 508 U.S. 324, 113 S.Ct. 2106 (1993)) andi Chapter 13 cases involving a debtor’s principal resident (Dewsnup v. Timm, 502 US. 410, 112 S.Ct. 773 (1992)), and the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994 modified the Bankruptcy Code to prohibit lien-stripping in Chapter 11 cases involving an individual’s principal residence.


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is pertinent to people everywhere, and is being utilized in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.


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