Definition of lien
From Middle French lien, from Latin ligāmen (“a bond”), from ligō (“tie, bind”).
- IPA: /liːn/, /lɪən/
- Homophone: lean (IPA: /liːn/)
lien (plural liens)
- (law) A legal claim; a charge upon real or personal property for the satisfaction of some debt or duty.
In law, a lien (UK: /ˈliːən/; US: /ˈliːn/) is a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation. The owner of the property, who grants the lien, is referred to as the lienor and the person who has the benefit of the lien is referred to as the lienee.
The etymological root is Anglo-French lien, loyen "bond", "restraint", from Latin ligamen, from ligare "to bind".
In the United States, the term lien generally refers to a wide range of encumbrances and would include other forms of mortgage or charge. In the USA, a lien characteristically refers to non-possessory security interests).
In other common law countries, the term lien refers to a very specific type of security interest, being a passive right to retain (but not sell) property until the debt or other obligation is discharged. In contrast to the usage of the term in the USA, in other countries it refers to a purely possessory form of security interest; indeed, when possession of the property is lost, the lien is released. However, common-law countries also recognize a slightly anomalous form of security interest called an "equitable lien" which arises in certain rare instances.
Despite their differences in terminology and application, there are a number of similarities between liens in the USA and elsewhere in the common-law world.
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