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The Mechanics of a Quiet Title Case with an Old Land Contract

A quiet title action is a legal procedure that is used to establish clear and marketable title to real property. This is typically done when there is a dispute or cloud on the title, which could be due to a number of reasons such as conflicting ownership claims, mistakes in the deed, unresolved liens or encumbrances, or very old land contracts where the seller has failed to provide a deed upon fulfillment. This article will explore the basic steps of a quiet title case where the plaintiff is claiming title based on a very old land contract. In these types of quiet title cases, it is rare that the defendant responses to the complaint or cares about the property, adding steps to a regular quiet title case.

The mechanics of a quiet title case with a very old land contract involve several steps, including ordering title work, filing a complaint, serving the defendants, declaring the defendants in default, and obtaining a default judgment from the court.

1. Ordering Title Work:

The first step in a quiet title case is to conduct a thorough title search. This involves reviewing all relevant documents related to the property, including deeds, mortgages, liens, and other encumbrances. The purpose of this search is to identify any and all potential issues with the title, such as competing claims or unresolved liens, that need to be addressed in the quiet title action. Using the information obtained through the title search and commitment, the plaintiff will need to join all land contract sellers, mortgage holders, lien holders and other entities with unresolved interest in the complaint.

2. Filing A Complaint:

Once the title search is complete, the next step is to prepare and file a complaint with the court. The complaint typically identifies the plaintiff (the party seeking to quiet title), the defendants (any and all parties with an interest in the property, including all land contract sellers), the specific issues with the title that need to be resolved, and explains how the plaintiff is claiming title/ownership. It is helpful to attach copies of all deeds in the chain of title and necessary to attach the document from which the plaintiff claims title. The “chain” of title should be evident from the complaint.

3. Alternate Service:

After the complaint is filed, the plaintiff must serve the defendants with a copy of the complaint and a summons to appear in court. This is typically done by a process server or by certified mail to the defendants’ last known addresses. The defendants then have a certain amount of time to respond to the complaint, either by filing an answer or by defaulting (failing to respond). In cases with very old land contracts, the attorney will do a thorough search for each defendant, including a postal search and a public records search.

If the defendants are still unable to be found, the plaintiff can ask the court to allow alternate service by filing a motion and brief in support. Alternate service gives notice to the defendant by mail, posting and publication. If, after a hearing, the court orders alternate service, the plaintiff will be required to serve the documents on the defendants at their last known addresses via mail, post the order on the property at issue and in the circuit courthouse of the county with jurisdiction, and publish in the county’s legal newspaper for three consecutive weeks. Although alternate service can significantly slow down a quiet title case, it is absolutely necessary if the defendants cannot be found or served regularly.

4. Default:

If the defendants fail to respond to the complaint within the required timeframe, the plaintiff can request great the court declare the defendants in default.  Being in default means that the defendants have not responded to the lawsuit within the prescribed response period. Once the court has declared the defendants in default, the plaintiff can move for a default judgment via filing a motion and brief in support.

5. Default Judgment as the Final Order:

If the plaintiff has moved for a default judgment due to the defendants’ failure to respond to the lawsuit, a hearing will be held. After examining the plaintiff’s documents and holding the hearing, the court will issue a default judgment against the defendants. A default judgment means that the plaintiff automatically wins the case because the defendants did not show up to defend themselves. The plaintiff would then file the default judgment with the county’s register of deeds to clear title.

If the plaintiff prevails in the quiet title action or successfully moves for a default judgment, the court will issue an order that establishes clear and marketable title to the property. This order will typically require any parties with a claim to the property to release their interest in the property, and may also require the order be accepted by and filed with the register of deeds.

In conclusion, a quiet title case is a legal process used to establish clear and marketable title to real property. A quiet title case can be used to resolve the lingering interests of land contract sellers who failed to produce a deed upon the buyers fulfillment of the land contract and then disappeared.  These quiet title cases which involve very old land contracts involve several steps, including ordering title work, filing a complaint, serving the defendants, finding the defendants in default, and obtaining a default judgment from the court. If successful, a quiet title action can help resolve disputes and remove clouds on the title, making it easier to buy, sell, or refinance the property.


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

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