Watchdog: You can fight wrongfully filed property liens
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Adolfo Ramirez got a big surprise when his daughter tried to sell his second house in Victoria earlier this month.
A lien for about $800 was placed on the home in the 100 block of Guinevere Street.
The San Antonio attorney who filed it had even taken him to a justice of the peace court in September - and won - without Ramirez knowing.
"I could have died, and my kids wouldn't have known anything about it and probably would have had to pay it," said Ramirez, 64.
Ramirez enlisted the help of attorney Alex Hernandez Jr., of Port Lavaca.
Hernandez wrote, at no charge to Ramirez, what he called a "threatening letter" to the attorney who filed the suit.
"A lien placed wrongfully on a piece of property is actually a violation of (the Civil Practices and Remedies Code)," Hernandez said. "I can get more than what the lien amount was - $10,000 - and say, 'I want $5,000 in attorney fees.'"
He also showed proof that Ramirez was not served.
"It's a scam. These lenders and credit card companies file lawsuits against cardholders, but they don't do their due diligence. ... People cannot be preyed upon," Hernandez said.
The affidavit of service said that a Hispanic man with brown hair received notice of the lien. Ramirez has white hair, Hernandez said.
An attorney who wrongfully files liens also can be sanctioned for malpractice, Hernandez said.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, print out a copy of the lien for a fee at the county clerk's office, which keeps real estate records. It is located on the first floor of the downtown courthouse, 115 N. Bridge St.
If you don't recognize the company or the individual who filed the lien, make whoever filed aware of the mistake.
If you do, work out a payment plan.
If you've already paid the lien amount and it's still on your record, contact the lien holder and provide proof of payment, County Clerk Robert Cortez said.
"Our deputies and employees are not bound or required to investigate the legality of a document," Cortez said.
Instead, they are responsible for making sure it has the appropriate information and signatures on it.
If they discover a lien is fraudulent, they forward it to the criminal district attorney's office, he said.
Cortez is exploring whether the county can hire an outside service to send a letter to residents with property liens.
Until then, residents should scrutinize their credit report to spot one, Cortez said.
Some liens can accrue interest and be subject to other provisions handed down by a judge.
Ramirez was supposed to pay 5 percent in interest every year, court costs and $150 in attorney fees, according to court records.
"Unfortunately, things like this happen," Cortez said. "It's just a matter of backtracking."