Real Property Judgment Liens in Colorado

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House closed in chain and padlock

April 25, 2016

This article is intended for educational purposes only and not as legal advice.

A Colorado state court judgment lien is created by recording a certified copy of a transcript of the docket entry of a judgment for any debt, damage, costs, or other sum of money rendered by any court of record.  C.R.S. 13-52-102(1).   A certified copy of the judgment (not the transcript) will not suffice in Colorado pursuant to Colorado Real Estate Title Standard 2.4.1 published by the Real Estate Section of the Colorado Bar Association.    Federal court judgment liens are created by recording a certified copy of the transcript of the docket entry of a judgment or decree rendered in a federal district or circuit court.

Once recorded, the judgment lien attaches to all non-exempt real property of the debtor presently owned or later acquired by the judgment debtor in the county or counties which the transcript is recorded.  The most common exempt property is the statutory homestead exemption.  When the property is subject to homestead protection, the lien only attaches if the net equity exceeds the homestead exemption.  C.R.S. 38-41-201(1)(a) provides for a Homestead exempt from execution and attachment arising from any debt, contract or civil obligation in the amount of $75,000.00 if the homestead is owner occupied or by an owner’s family.  C.R.S. 38-41-201(1)(b) provides for a Homestead exemption in the amount of $105,00.00 if the homestead is occupied by an elderly or disabled owner; an elderly or disabled spouse of an owner, or an elderly or disabled dependent of an owner.   C.R.S. 38-41-201(2)(B) defines elderly as 60 or older.  However, judgment liens do not attach to later acquired property of the judgment debtor when the judgment has been discharged in bankruptcy.  See In re Yates, 47 B.R. 460 (Bankr. D. Colo. 1985).

Judgment liens are valid for six years from the date of the entry of the judgment, not from the date of recording.  Prior to the end of that six-year period, the judgment creditor can revive the judgment lien for another six years.  See C.R.C.P. 54(h) and C.R. S. 13-52-102(1).   Judgment liens based upon unpaid child support, maintenance or arrearages thereof are valid for 12 years and can be renewed every 12 years indefinitely pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-122 (1.5)(b)(2). Federal court judgment liens in favor of the United States remain in effect for 20 years.  If a judgment debtor changes their name and then acquires real property in a county where the judgment lien is already of record, the judgment creditor would be wise to record a notice of judgment and change of name.  Otherwise, the judgment lien is of no effect against an innocent purchaser of the property for value.

If a property subject to a judgment lien is conveyed to a new party without satisfying the judgment lien, the judgment lien will attach and be superior to the rights of the grantee of the deed.  However, In Colorado, the purchase money mortgage (deed of trust) wins over both the IRS and judgment liens already of record against the mortgagor in the same county.   See Emery v. Ward et al., 191 P. 99, 68 Colo. 373 (Colo. 1920).   In one Colorado case, the owner’s down payment was held to be senior to an existing judgment lien via equitable subrogation.  See Hicks v. Londre, 125 P.3d 452 (Colo. 2005).

Judgment liens are extinguished pursuant to C.R.C.P. 58(B) by the recording of a satisfaction of judgment.  Judgment liens against one joint tenant affecting property owned in joint tenancy are extinguished upon the death of the joint tenant debtor.  This has come as a surprise to many judgment creditors.  See Park State Bank v. McLean, 660 P.2d 13 (Colo.App. 1982). Shore Building & Loan Corp. v. Bank of Somerset, 253 A.2d 367, 253 Md. 525 (1969); Zeigler v. Bonnell, 52 Cal.App.2d 217, 126 P.2d 118 (1942); see 4A R. Powell, The Law of Real Property, § 618 (1979).