Some closing agents are electing not to perform certain work in connection with their closings, such as ordering municipal lien searches, conducting open permits searches, and researching possible code violations. Instead, they are placing this onus directly on the buyer, but unfortunately are not telling the buyer that they are doing so until the closing date (when it is far too late to conduct this critical research). In fact, some closing agents have gone so far as to have the buyer execute documents to hold them harmless should there be any unrecorded municipal liens, unrecorded charges, permit issues, or code violations.

A municipal lien search determines whether there are any unrecorded municipal liens arising by virtue of unpaid utilities, service charges, assessments, ordinances, waste fees, etc. These unrecorded municipal liens can be foreclosed by the municipality or county just like a lender can foreclose a mortgage. Open permit searches can identify if the improvements one is buying are legal or not, and researching code violations can insure that hefty fines do not exist that run with the property. It is of utmost importance to verify with your closing agent up front that the closing agent is performing these vital searches rather than finding out at the closing table that the closing agent expected you to do so.

Do not assume that your title policy will protect you as the buyer. When a closing agent fails to perform these searches, the buyer should understand (and the closing agent should clearly disclose to the buyer well in advance of the closing) that the following exception will appear in the buyer’s owner’s title insurance policy:

“Any lien provided by County Ordinance or by Ch. 159, F.S., in favor of any city, town, village or port authority, for unpaid service charges for services by any water systems, sewer systems or gas systems serving the land described herein; and any lien for waste fees in favor of any county or municipality.”

In other words, if you see this exception in your policy, that means you have no protection against these liens. The aforesaid exception may be deleted by the closing agent only if the closing agent performs a municipal lien search.

Fortunately, most reputable closing agents perform this service for their buyers, but you should always ask up front. As always, if you have any questions concerning the foregoing, we urge you to consult with your real estate attorney.

Berlin-Patten, PLLC

This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

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8130 Main Street, Suite 206, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202 P (941) 907-9022 F (941) 907-9024



  1. Thank you for your continuing advice, education, etc. I find every one interesting and a refresher at a minimum. I would have assumed these services, such as municipal lien searches were done as an industry standard. Now that this has come to light, I am now wondering what I should be asking a closing agent, in the event I can encourage them to use you or ICard (I know, an office preference perhaps) to assure the buyers are getting the proper amount of work to be done. I, personally have been stung by a disbarred attorney I was buying a house from, who had his “friend” do the title work, only to find out the house had 120K of liens against it and I had representation, but new to the business and thought I was protected through the transaction, so I take this to heart more than before.

    Also, it seems the buyers I’ve been working with seem to be of the opinion that foreclosures and short sales are the way to get the best deal. Do you involve yourself with these transactions?

    Many thanks in advance for your efforts.


    Susan Hawthorne RoseBay International 941-544-9717


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