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Resolving Old Land Contract Title Issues through Quiet Title Cases

Land contracts, commonly known as installment sale agreements, have long been used as a popular method for transferring ownership of real property. However, when such contracts date back many years or even decades, title issues can arise, creating uncertainties and disputes over the rightful ownership of the property. Quiet title actions provide a legal remedy for resolving these issues and ensuring that a clear and marketable title is established. This article will explore the complexities of addressing very old land contract title issues through quiet title cases and offer insights into achieving successful resolutions.

The Challenge of Old Land Contract Title Issues

Land contracts involve an agreement between a seller and a buyer, whereby the seller retains the legal title to the property, transferring equitable title to the buyer, until the buyer has fully paid the purchase price. However, when these contracts date back to a distant past, several complications can arise:

1. Missing or Incomplete Records: Over time, original land contract documents may be lost, destroyed, or become illegible. This can make it difficult to ascertain the terms of the contract, the identities of the original parties, or the chain of title for the property. Another frequently missing record is the ledger of payments. When the land contract was fulfilled decades ago, it can be difficult to find proof of full payment to the seller. In those situations, it is unlikely that either the buyer or seller have records of every payment. This obstacle can be overcome in a properly drafted Complaint and filed quiet title case.

2. Unresolved Interests: Old land contracts may have been subject to various encumbrances, liens, or other interests that were not properly addressed or released at the time of the transaction. These lingering interests can create a cloud on the title, making it unclear who has a rightful claim to the property.

Quiet Title Actions as a Solution

A quiet title action is a legal proceeding that seeks to resolve competing claims to a property and establish a clear and marketable title. When faced with title issues stemming from an old land contract, parties can file a quiet title action to:

1. Establish Ownership: A quiet title action can be used to confirm the ownership rights of a party who has purchased the property through a land contract but has not yet received a proper deed. This may involve proving that the buyer has met all the obligations under the contract, including payment of the purchase price and fulfillment of any other conditions.

2. Clear Encumbrances and Liens: A quiet title action can be used to identify and resolve any outstanding encumbrances, liens, or other interests associated with the property. This may involve providing notice to the holders of these interests and giving them an opportunity to assert their claims, or demonstrating that the interests have been satisfied or extinguished.

The Quiet Title Process for Old Land Contract Title Issues

1. Filing the Complaint: The process begins with the filing of a complaint in a court of competent jurisdiction. The plaintiff, typically the party seeking to establish ownership or other rights in the property, must describe the property, identify and join as defendants all known and unknown parties with potential interests, and state the nature of the plaintiff's claim. Further, the plaintiff must attach or reference the instrument from which they are claiming title (I.e. a chain of deeds, a land contract). It should be evident from the Complaint how and through whom the plaintiff is claiming ownership.

2. Service of Process: The plaintiff must serve the complaint on all known parties. In cases involving very old land contracts, the court may allow for alternate service. The process of alternate service requires a motion, a brief in support and a hearing in front of the judge. If the judge orders alternate service, the plaintiff will have to mail the documents to the defendants’ last known addresses via first-class mail, post the order on the property and at the courthouse and publish notice of the action the county’s legal news.

3. Response and Discovery: The defendants must respond to the complaint, either by filing an answer, a motion to dismiss, or other appropriate pleading. Once the issues have been joined, the parties typically engage in a period of discovery, during which they exchange information and evidence related to their respective claims.

As is the case with old land contract quiet title cases, sometimes the defendants do not respond to either normal or alternate service of process. In that case, the plaintiff can ask the court for a default judgment and no discovery is conducted.

4. Summary Disposition, Trial, or Default Judgment: After discovery, either party may move for summary judgment, arguing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If summary judgment is not granted, and no one moves for summary disposition, the case proceeds to trial, where the parties present evidence and arguments in support of their positions.

In quiet title cases that involve very old land contracts and missing defendants, a plaintiff will generally get a “default judgment”, where the plaintiff wins because the defendants failed to answer the Complaint.

5. Final Order: The final order in a quiet title case will establish the parties' respective rights in the property and extinguish any competing claims. When dealing with old land contract title issues, the final order would most likely be a default judgment, which may include additional provisions to address missing or incomplete records, unresolved interests, or ambiguous legal descriptions.


Resolving old land contract title issues through quiet title actions can be a complex and challenging process, but it offers a legal remedy for ensuring a clear and marketable title. Parties must carefully navigate the quiet title process, including filing the complaint, serving process, and obtaining a favorable final order. When dealing with very old land contracts, parties must also address the unique challenges of missing or incomplete records, unresolved additional interests, and/or ambiguous legal descriptions. With the help of experienced legal counsel and a thorough understanding of the quiet title process, parties can successfully resolve these issues and establish a clear title to the property.

If your title has encumbrances or defects, contact Wood Kull today to begin your quiet title case. Wood Kull is extremely experienced in these types of real estate cases and can expertly guide you through the process from Complaint to final judgment. Contact Southeast Michigan's premier quiet title law firm today!


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Wood, Kull, Herschfus, Obee & Kull, P.C.

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