When filing a mechanics lien (and in some states, preliminary notices), the legal description of the property is generally required to be on that document. The legal property description is essentially the description that the county labels the property as. It is “a written statement recognized by law as to the definite location of a track of land by reference to a survey, recorded map or adjoining property.” The legal property description can include the lot and block, township-section-range, and/or the parcel number.
While listing the municipal address of the property that you are placing the lien on is also required, it is not enough to describe the property. However, having the municipal address most certainly helps in obtaining the legal property description.
Finding the Legal Property Description
Since the legal property description is required to be included on a mechanics lien, most counties make the it available on their assessor’s website. Most assessors’ sites, like the Orleans Parish Assessor, have a “property search” function through which you can enter the municipal address, parcel number, or owner name to find the legal description. While most counties’ online resources are adequate in providing this information, there are some that are difficult to navigate, or that do not provide the necessary information.
The easiest way to find the “property research” is to go to the county assessor’s page and look for something along the lines of “parcel information” or “property research,” or simply Google search for the county name and assessor property search.
Once you have found the property research feature, simply select the criteria (owner, address, parcel number) you would like to search by. Generally, the most accurate results are obtained by searching by the parcel number (if you have it), because the county also uses this number to describe the property.
Please note that not every state or jurisdiction requires the Full Legal Property Description (see table, right). The requirement varies from state to state – there is no ‘one size fits all’ rule!
What If Nothing Comes Up?
Search by Owner
If you search by owner and nothing comes up, this could mean that the person you believe to be the owner is in fact not the owner. This is common in commercial developments, as you may think the person that commissioned the work is the property owner, when they may in fact be a tenant or management company. The same can happen on residential projects, as the lienor may list one person as the owner, but it is actually a married couple who owns the property. If nothing comes up when searching by the owner, try searching with the municipal address or the parcel number.
Search by Municipal Address
Not finding a property description from a municipal address is more common than you may think. The addresses that buildings or houses are commonly known as may be recorded as something different with the county. This is common for businesses, as they may want an address that is easier to remember, or the business is part of a larger parcel and a different address is used to encompass multiple addresses.
This problem can also occur for residential projects. For instance, there is a home that goes by 11757 Moorpark Ave in Los Angeles County. However, while searching for this address, nothing was coming up. I was able to find out that the project is recorded under the municipal address of 11755 Moorpark Ave (see image). So while it may be commonly known as one address, the county has it recorded slightly different.
Identifying the legal property description is necessary to include on the mechanics lien. If you are finding the property description through the assessor’s website, it is good practice to ensure that you have the property owner of record listed on the document as well. The owner information is available on most county sites along with the property information. California, however, does not provide this information online, but many counties provide it via email or over the phone.
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