“Lis pendens” is a Latin term that describes a specific type of written legal notification, often in connection with a real estate issue. The term lis pendens translates into “suit pending” in Latin and is used to notify potential buyers and lenders that a lawsuit has been filed over a piece of real estate. The real estate can be a house, condo, or piece of land.

Unlike a lawsuit that is filed with the court, the lis pendens notice is recorded like a deed with the office of land records in the county where the real estate is located. Like most land records, a lis pendens is public information. Potential buyers will see that the notice exists when conducting a property title search.

The requirements of filing a lis pendens notice vary by state statute, but a plaintiff will file a lis pendens notice when they file a lawsuit that contains a real estate related claim. The real estate claim will typically assert a financial interest in a property or ownership rights to real estate owned by another person.

These lawsuits commonly involve the legal enforcement of a real estate lien, a dispute over title to the property, or a request for specific performance regarding the sale of the real estate. The lis pendens notice will remain associated with the property until the lawsuit is resolved by the court or until the lis pendens is successfully expunged or dissolved at the request of the homeowner.

How Does a Lis Pendens Notice Impact the Homeowner’s Title to the Real Estate?

A lis pendens notice is a powerful legal tool and acts as an encumbrance, or burden, on the title of a property. Along with lis pendens notices, title encumbrances commonly include mortgage loans, liens, and easements. An encumbrance may reduce the value of the real estate and make the sale and transfer of its title difficult.

Notice of a lis pendens can also make getting a loan that is secured by the real estate or refinancing an existing mortgage on the real estate problematic for the homeowner.

Can a Homeowner Challenge a Lis Pendens Notice?

Yes, a lis pendens can be challenged by the real estate owner in cases where they believe that the notice is improper. In these cases, the homeowner can request that the court expunge the lis pendens notice. An expungement will remove the lis pendens from the land records.  

A lis pendens notice may be expunged or cleared if a homeowner can show that the lis pendens is associated with a lawsuit that does not involve a real estate claim. This argument is commonly used when a homeowner is sued in a breach of contract lawsuit by an independent contractor, such as a landscaper, painter or repair person. In the lawsuit, the independent contractor may request that the court place a lien on the home because of homeowner failed to pay the independent contractor for their services.

In these cases, the homeowner can argue that the breach of contract lawsuit does not involve a real estate claim, but rather a claim for damages. The court will typically expunge lis pendens notices associated with lawsuits that only involve financial requests for relief.  

The court may also expunge a lis pendens notice if the homeowner shows that the lis pendens was filed as part of a lawsuit where the plaintiff is unlikely to establish ownership rights in or possession of the property.

If the plaintiff has little evidence of ownership rights in the real estate, the court will likely expunge the lis pendens. These cases are common in family estate planning disputes, where a relative may claim ownership of a decedent’s property, without valid proof from a will or estate transfer deed.  

In cases where a lis pendens notice is improperly filed, the homeowner may be awarded attorneys fees by the court. In some states, a homeowner may even be awarded damages for slander of title if a meritless lis pendens notice is filed by a plaintiff. These protections are given to homeowners by the court in an attempt to dissuade lis pendens notices from being misused by plaintiffs.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Lis Pendens Notice?

If your home has been the subject of a lis pendens notice, you may be able to have the notice expunged on your own, but the process can be difficult. A lis pendens notice can have serious financial consequences for a homeowner. A lis pendens notice can reduce the value of your property and negatively impact your ability to sell your home, refinance your mortgage, and qualify for a secured loan.

For the best chance in having your lis pendens notice expunged, consider contacting an experienced real estate attorney. An attorney will help you understand whether expungement is appropriate in your case and the best strategies to implement throughout the expungement process.