A client suffered a judgment twelve years ago, and the creditor recorded the judgment in the county where the debtor resides. The debtor has moved to a new home this year to live with his fiancee , and he rented the old home to a tenant with a one year lease agreement.. He may want to move back in to the old home after he is married and after the one year term of the lease. He asks whether the judgment would be a lien on his prior residence when he moves back.
The client’s situation raises some interesting legal questions. The most basic question is: What is a judgment lien?
A Florida civil judgment gives the judgment creditor the ability to create a judgment lien on the debtor’s real property. Judgment liens are governed by Section 55.10, Florida Statutes. The Statute states the a civil judgment becomes a lien on the debtor’s real property in any county where the creditor records a certified copy of the judgment. The statute does not require the creditor to find the debtor’s property or to know the address of specific property. The recorded judgment automatically attaches to all property in whatever county the judgment is recorded. The creditor would have to record the judgment in all 67 Florida counties separately to create a state-wide lien on the debtor’s real property. Second, only “certified copies” of the judgment give rise to a lien. The creditor must obtain from the clerk of court a certified judgment copy to record in order to lien the debtor’s real estate.
The next question is: How long does a judgment lien last in Florida.
Some liens on real estate, such as a mortgage, remain a lien until the underlying debt is paid. There is a time limit on judgment liens. There is a 20 year statute of limitations on a Florida money judgment. A judgment lien on Florida property based on an underlying money judgment expires 10 years after a certified copy of the judgment is recorded in the county where the property is situated. A creditor can re-record the judgment and extend the lien for an additional 10 years, not to exceed the 20 year life of the underlying judgment. See, Section 55.10. If the creditor does not re-record the judgment according to statutory procedures the Florida judgment lien automatically expires after ten years.
Does a judgment become a lien on a Florida homestead?
Judgment liens do not attach to homestead property. The Florida Constitution provides homeowners broad protection from civil money judgments. A recorded certified judgment does not create an automatic lien on the real property that the judgment debtor owns and occupies as his primary Florida residence. The properly recorded certified judgment automatically attaches to a homestead property if and when the debtor moves out of the property or otherwise abandons the property as his primary residence.
Finally, Did a judgment lien attach to the client’s former home when he rented it to a tenant?
Generally, renting your home to third parties and moving to a new primary residence constitutes an abandonment of your former homestead and loss of homestead exemption, except if the debtor proves that he intends within a reasonable time to reoccupy the property as his primary home.
Given the Florida law explained above, one can apply the law to the facts of my client’s case and answer the client’s question.. The creditor’s judgment lien did not attach to the client’s property during the time the debtor occupied the property as his homestead. When the client moved out of his homestead and rented the property to a third party he abandoned the residence and lost the property’s homestead protection during the one year lease term. A properly recorded judgment lien would have automatically attached to the property the day he moved. In this case, assuming the creditor did not re-record his certified judgment, the lien on the property expired 10 years after recording and before the time the debtor rented the house. There was no judgment lien that could attach when the debtor rented the property. The debtor could sell or finance the property today free of the lien.
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