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What is a lis pendens?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Lis pendens roughly translates to “a suit pending” in Latin. In layman’s terms, it means that there is a pending lawsuit over a piece of property or real estate. There are a number of reasons why you might file or receive a lis pendens, but some common situations are home foreclosure, divorce or a title transfer.

A lis pendens essentially means a pending lawsuit. It’s often used when there is a question of ownership, or a change in ownership, of land or property. For instance, if you default on your mortgage payments and your home goes into foreclosure, your lender can file a lis pendens against you. That would make you legally liable for any repercussions, rather than your lender.

When is a lis pendens used?

Lis pendens are most often used during foreclosures, divorce proceedings, and contractual disputes. 

For example, a couple that is getting divorced might fight over which person gets to keep their house and become the legal owner. In that case, the person who bought the home might file a lis pendens against their ex-spouse, because they believe they have the legal grounds to keep the home.

You might also see a lis pendens get filed in the event of a contractual dispute. For instance, say you’re in the market for a new home, and you put down an offer. The seller accepts the offer and you get ready to move in. But if the seller notifies you that they sold the home to another buyer, you have the grounds to file a lis pendens and sue the seller for breaching the contract.

Foreclosures often involve a lis pendens because lenders can sue homeowners for not paying their mortgage. Any unpaid fees associated with a home or property can warrant a lis pendens filed by the vendor. An example of this would be if you hire a gardener to landscape your yard and you don’t pay them, they can file a lis pendens against you. 

Why file a lis pendens?

The main reason why you would file a lis pendens is to get ownership of something that is legally yours. Your mortgage lender can file a lis pendens when you stop paying your mortgage because the home legally belongs to them. A contractor can file a lis pendens if you hire them for work, and you breach the contract by failing to pay the agreed amount.

However, there is one catch. You must have a valid reason for filing a lis pendens and claiming the property as your own. If you file without a suitable reason, you could end up in another lawsuit.

We included divorce, foreclosure and contractual agreements as common reasons why someone might file a lis pendens. The underlying issue in those situations is a dispute over who owns the property and why it should be turned over. At a deeper level, here are issues that often result in a lis pendens:

Ownership interest

Any person who has some interest in property or real estate has the ability to file a lis pendens. This includes the divorced couple disputing over who gets the home, or the home buyer who legally purchased a home, and later learns it was actually sold to another buyer. If you think you should get the rights to a piece of property, you would file a lis pendens.

Title transfer

A lis pendens might also be used to transfer the title of a home from one person to another. However, this usually isn’t the most common reason to file a lis pendens. For instance, if you bought a home and someone else claimed they were the rightful owner, you could file a lis pendens. A better way to transfer a title may be filing a quitclaim.

Unsafe conditions

The other situation when a lis pendens can come in handy is when a home or property becomes unsafe. If an office building became overrun with mold and asbestos, the city or town could file a lis pendens against the owner because it’s deemed unsafe for people to work there. 

Lis pendens and foreclosure

If you stop making your mortgage payments, your lender has the right to file a lis pendens and put your home in foreclosure. The lis pendens is essentially your written notice that the lender is taking legal action, and you home is being foreclosed.

Once you receive the lis pendens, it will likely take several months if not longer for your home to foreclose. In that time, you are still allowed to live in your home, sell the home, and refinance the mortgage.

Effects of lis pendens

The main implication of a lis pendens is how it affects buying or selling the property at the center of the lawsuit. All interested parties are notified when there is a lis pendens on a home or piece of land. If someone is interested in buying a home and they find out there is a lis pendens, it might make them think twice about going through with the sale because of the time and complexities involved. 

Lis pendens can also have a lasting impact on your ability to get a mortgage, or even homeowners insurance, in the future. Say you purchased a home that had a lis pendens and you applied for a loan; the lawsuit is public record, and the mortgage company might decide to deny your loan.

How long does a lis pendens last?

The amount of time a lis pendens lasts depends on the state you live in and can vary from months up to a year. If you intend to file a lis pendens, or have one filed against you, make sure you speak with a lawyer to determine the time frame based on your state.

How to remove lis pendens

A lis pendens will be removed from the public record after the lawsuit has gone to court and gets settled. It will also get removed if the title owner and the person who filed the lawsuit are able to reach an agreement. Wrongful lis pendens will be automatically expunged after the case is tried in court. 

A lawyer is the only person who can remove a lis pendens. After the lawsuit is settled, or if the suit is expunged, your attorney can file a motion to remove the lis pendens. Keep in mind that a lis pendens cannot be removed until the legal proceedings occur.

The takeaway

  • A lis pendens is a pending lawsuit over a piece of property or real estate.
  • The main purpose of filing a lis pendens is to get ownership of something that you believe is legally yours. 
  • Divorce, foreclosure, contract breaches and unsafe conditions are all common reasons to file a lis pendens.
  • Once a lis pendens goes to trial and is settled, a lawyer can have it removed from your record.

A lis pendens is used to gain rightful ownership over a piece of land, property or real estate. Some of the most common reasons why you would file a lis pendens is to get ownership of a home during a divorce, or to transfer your home’s title to another person. You might have a lis pendens filed against you if you break a contract, or default on your mortgage payments.

A lis pendens will stay on public record until the case is settled in court. That can take several months or years, depending on the state in which you live. In some cases, a lis penden has lasting effects, making it difficult to get insurance, sell your home, or get a mortgage.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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