Brief Fact Summary. Two parties entered into an installment sale contract with a forfeiture clause
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Buyers in installment land contract, if they go into default, have the right to redeem their property by paying the debt, interest, and expenses incurred by the creditor due to default.
Issue. May a clause in an installment land sale contract providing for forfeiture of the buyer’s payments and return of the property upon the buyer’s default be enforced by the seller?
When an installment land contract is used to finance the purchase of property, legal title remains with the seller until the buyer has paid the entire contract price or some agreed-upon portion, at which time the seller tends a deed to the buyer. But, equitable title passes to the buyer when the contract is entered. The seller only holds bare legal title as security for the payment of the purchase price.
There is no real distinction between a land sale contract and a purchase money mortgage. In each, the seller finances the buyer’s purchase of the property, using the property as collateral for the loan. When a purchaser of property defaults on his payments, his entire interest in the property is not forfeited. The mortgagor can redeem the property by paying the full debt plus interest and expenses incurred by the mortgage during the default.
A rule treating the seller’s interest as a lien will best protect the interest of the parties. The sell will receive the contract price and expenses, thus fulfilling his expectations at the time he agreed to sell his land. Also, the buyer’s equity in the land will be protected.
The modern trend is for courts to treat land sale contracts as analogous to conventional mortgages, thus requiring a seller to seek a judicial sale of the property upon the buyer's default.View Full Point of Law