Vermont is best know for its rural charm. Small towns with under 3000 residents are the norm throughout Vermont’s landscape. Also, in a similar fashion, many of these town offices are quaint in size and somewhat unique in how they index their land records.
From online databases, to card catalogues to “ledger sheets”, it can be difficult to find exactly what you are looking for if you first do not have experience in how to look for it. Although many of the larger cities have converted to a digitized index that easily allows the abstractor to search by name or physical address, most of the smaller towns still rely on the hard copy approach, indexing their recordings through a physical recording. Although most of these indexes are organized fairly well, there is a significant reliance on documents being returned to the exact location they were found.
This process can lead to misplaced index cards, or improperly recorded documents, which an abstractor needs to exercise diligence in finding before submitting their final title report. To minimize this risk it is important to research the type of index prior to visiting the town clerk and to understand what potential errors can occur with these indexes so that a proper plan can be put in place when making the trip.
Vermont Title Standards Section 1.1 states that “an attorney has an obligation to identify those factual circumstances which constitute clouds on the title that are disclosed in the public records and report those matters to the recipient of the results of the search.” Due to this standard, the question then becomes, what effect an improperly recorded instrument would have on the marketability of title.
It is difficult to discern whether an instrument improperly filed still raises a standard of care by the title abstractor to disclose. The closest analysis that can be found in Vermont Supreme Court Case law is in the decision of Estate of Fleming v. Nicholson which states “in conducting a title search for a client, an attorney has a duty to inform and explain to the client the implications of any clouds on the title that would influence a reasonably prudent purchaser not to purchase the property.”
Although it is impossible to catch all errors that surround an index or filing mistake, understanding one’s role in exercising due diligence in looking beyond what the indexes read, will limit any potential errors suffered by Vermont title searchers. Taking a careful and organized approach that may vary depending on the clerk’s index system is an excellent first step in reducing the risk for these costly errors.