Last edited 04 Dec 2015


A lien is a right to retain possession of another person’s property pending payment of a debt. For example, a garage might not allow the owner of a car to retrieve it until the work they have done has been paid for. The holder of the property is not usually able to deal with it unless there is a contractual or statutory provision permitting this.

A lien may be:

  • Legal (or possessory).
  • Equitable.
  • Contractual.

A legal lien can arise from a common law right, from contract or from statute. It is dependent on the creditor having rightfully obtained possession of the property and remains in force whilst the property is retained.

An equitable lien may arise from contract or by law of equity. It is the right to have property realised to satisfy outstanding debts and does not depend on possession of the property. It is based on the principle that possession of property under a contract for payment will not be allowed without payment.

A contractual lien arises from a contract between the parties.

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