When May a City Place a Lien on Real Property?
The purpose of a municipal lien on real property is for the city to recoup unpaid assessments, bills, and fines. Under what circumstances may a city place a lien though? We find authority for municipal liens in four separate Texas statutes. In each instance, the city council must adopt an ordinance to enforce the provisions.
The first kind of lien a city may place is commonly referred to as a mowing lien.
It is authorized by the Texas Health and Safety Code Section 342.004. By ordinance, the city council may require an owner of real property within the city limits to keep the property free from weeds, brush, and any condition constituting a public nuisance. If, after being notified of a violation, the owner does not comply with the ordinance, the city may perform the work, pay for the work, and charge the expenses to the owner. The city council may then assess expenses against the property on which the work was done. To obtain a lien on the property, an authorized city official must file a statement to be recorded in the county clerk’s official public records. The lien attaches to the property upon filing the lien statement as security for the expenditures made by the city and runs from the date the city paid to remove the public nuisance.
Another type of municipal lien is often called a substandard building lien.
Substandard building liens are authorized by Local Government Code Chapter 214, Subchapter A entitled Dangerous Structures. By ordinance, the city council may require occupants to leave a building that is dilapidated, substandard, or unfit for human habitation, such that the building is a hazard to public health, safety and welfare. Council may also require the building to be secured, repaired, removed, or demolished. The ordinance must establish minimum standards for continued use and occupancy of all buildings, provide for proper notice to the owner of the building and provide for a public hearing. If the building is not vacated, secured, repaired, removed or demolished, or its occupants are not relocated after the city follows the proper procedures and issues an order for action, the city may do the work at its own expense. Such expenses may be assessed against the property by recording the notice of lien with the county clerk’s office, unless the property was a homestead protected by the State Constitution.
The third kind of municipal lien is for delinquent utility bills.
This is set out in Section 552.0025 of the Local Government Code. After adopting an ordinance, the city council may impose a lien against an owner’s property for delinquent bills for city utility services. This does not apply if the property is a homestead protected by the Texas Constitution. The lien is perfected by recording a notice of lien, which may include penalties, interest and collection costs, in the real property records of the county clerk’s office.
Lastly, there is a lien which covers street improvements.
The lien is authorized by a less well-known statute in the Transportation Code Chapter 313 entitled “Street Improvements and Assessments in Certain Municipalities”. This lien may only apply to a city with a population of over 1,000. By ordinance, after an eligible city orders the improvement of a city street, the city council may assess the costs of such improvements against the property that abuts the street, and the owner of the property. The assessment creates a lien on the property and a personality liability against the property owner. If the property is exempt from such a lien, then the owner of the property is personally liable for the assessment.
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