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So, what exactly is a municipal lien search? Many sellers or buyers are not aware of its purpose, yet it’s a vital part of the home buying process. That is, if you want to make sure that you won’t be slammed with someone else’s unpaid water bill—or something worse—after you’ve purchased your house.

A municipal lien search consists of checking with various city and county departments to see if there are unrecorded financial code-enforced violations or permit issues that will follow with a property after it’s sold. These are liens and fines that won’t be found in a county’s clerk of the court. An average title search will uncover any verifiable liens that are recorded, but a municipal lien search looks for outstanding debts that may or may not result in a lien, but are expected to be paid, even by a new owner. Being unrecorded, they’re significantly harder to track down and can carry a really big risk if left undetected, and generally fall under the following categories:

  • Code Enforcement Violations: When owners don’t follow ordinances, code enforcement departments will fine them. Some fines accrue daily and will never be recorded as a lien, but keep totaling up until the issue is corrected. Common code violations include unkempt lawns, abandoned vehicles, uncleared yard waste, and many other things depending on local regulations.
  • Unpaid Utilities: Whether or not a local government will lien for unpaid utility balances depends on the municipality. However, if you’re purchasing a home and inheriting an outstanding water bill for thousands of dollars, they expect YOU to pay it. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were walking into someone else’s debts before buying a house?

As a Fort Myers title company, we juggle various parts of the closing, including looking for and identifying issues. There is no standard for how each municipal department records information, so attention to detail is important. Every county and city is different in how they handle property debt in Florida, and the issue of unrecorded municipal liens and fines can cause huge headaches for new owners.

To make sure your home purchase goes smoothly, we recommend that you consult a trusted real estate title professional.


At Title Junction we care about helping you stay informed throughout your real estate transaction. Have questions? Give us a call at 239.415.6574.

In case you missed it, check out our last Title Junction post: The Basics of Probate

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