When asking how long recorded judgments remain of record in Pennsylvania, we should be clear from the start that this pertains to and references judgment creditors. This would not include tax liens or priority creditors which would be considered statutory lien creditors – liens are placed on one’s property as a result of a statute, not a judgment. Judgment creditors would include those common, traditional, creditors to which typical unsecured debts are owed, to include credit card debt, hospital and other medical bills, unsecured lines of credit or personal service loans, and most trade debts, as a few examples. The creditor has no special status as a result of a statute or consensual lien or security interest. Instead the creditor must first sue the borrower on the promise to pay when the debt is not paid per agreed upon terms. The lawsuit is commenced with the county Court of Common Pleas (includes actions brought before a District Justice), and a non-consensual "judgment" has been entered in favor of the plaintiff, thus the “judgment creditor.”
In order to create a judgment lien, a certified copy of the judgment is recorded with the County Recorder. When recorded, the judgment automatically creates a judgment lien on all real property, then owned or later acquired by the debtor in that county. If the creditor wants to create a lien in other counties, it must file additionally in those counties. A judgment recorded, hence a judgment lien, lasts for five years (the exception being a judgment lien for spousal support, which lasts until the support obligation is completely satisfied). Upon the passing of five years from the date the judgment was recorded, the judgment and the judgment lien automatically expire. However, both can be renewed for any number of additional five year periods by filing specific documents with the clerk of court and the county recorder, renewing the judgment lien. This must be done no earlier than 90 days before the expiration date of the existing judgment. Therefore, any creditor holding an unsatisfied judgment must be certain to docket the renewal date so that the judgment and judgment lien do not inadvertently expire. In many cases an unpaid judgment is satisfied years later when the judgment debtor attempts to purchase, sell or obtain a new loan or refinance an existing loan against real property. A title search discloses all such judgment liens, and the judgment debtor is forced to pay or compromise the judgment if he or she wants to conclude the transaction. Failure of the creditor to timely continue or renew a judgment lien cannot later be remedied, and in such cases, the judgment lien expires.