A title is the legal right to use and modify a piece of property how you see fit. Title also gives you the right to transfer your interest or any portion you own to others. Property ownership is not always straightforward, and disputes regarding who owns the title sometimes exist.
If your ownership rights are disputed, you may need to take legal action to end the dispute and reestablish your right to the title. This would be referred to as an action to “quiet title.” Disputes generally occur when another party has reason to believe they also have a claim on the property. As such, the point of a quiet title suit is to remove the other party’s claim so that the title is considered yours, free and clear.
There are numerous reasons someone may believe they are entitled to the property and thus have a title dispute. One example comes up frequently when a piece of property is to be distributed according to a will, and family members disagree about whether the title was properly conveyed from the prior property owner to the new owner. Another common situation is when co-owners disagree about their rights.
To summarize, a quiet title lawsuit is brought by the person whose ownership is disputed. This is done to obtain a court order that prevents anyone else from claiming any rights to the property. Quiet title actions are intended to quiet the claims to the property. The dispute to the title may be referred to as a “cloud” on the title or a title defect.
Why Would it Be Beneficial to Establish Title to Property?
According to property law, title provides a party with the legal and equitable interest in a piece of real estate. Past ownership disputes, as well as a clouded title, can complicate the transfer of real property.
Another reason to establish exact title to the property would be that you will need to obtain title insurance when purchasing a property. However, obtaining title insurance on a property that has a clouded title is considerably difficult.
Verifying that the seller of a piece of property has a clear title should be done early in purchasing the property. A title report will show whether there are any clouds on the title. A quiet title lawsuit can ensure that any title issues, such as ownership disputes or recording errors, are corrected. It will also ensure that other parties who claim an ownership interest in the property will not contest the sale.
Some examples of the most common claims for quiet title include:
- A dispute regarding a mortgage or a lien on the property
- A boundary dispute
- Someone used an easement on the property without the easement ever being recorded on the deed of property. (An easement is the right to cross or use another’s land for a specified purpose. For example, your city may have an easement over the first 6 feet of your property to allow them to access water lines.
Simply put, it is beneficial to establish title to the property because it makes buying and selling the property much easier later on.
When Does a “Cloud on Title” Occur?
Because quiet title actions revolve around a cloud on title, it is helpful to discuss further and understand what a cloud on title is and when it occurs. If there is a cloud on the title, there is frequently some legal impropriety related to the title document.
Some examples of these types of legal issues include:
- The property has been described incorrectly on the title document. For example, perhaps the boundaries of the land were recorded incorrectly
- As previously mentioned, there could be a long-standing easement on the property which was not recorded on the title document
- Issues with property taxes include the city claiming an interest in the property because the owner owes back taxes.
- The city may have a right to take ownership of the property or a part of the sales money to pay the city taxes
- The title was conveyed to the new owner under duress. Or through other fraudulent means
- Failure to note an old lease on the property
Who Can File a Quiet Title Action?
An action to quiet title is brought by a title holder when their claim to the title is disputed by someone else. This other party claims to have rights to the title and the property. The quiet title process resolves the disputing party’s claim so that the owner can regain a dispute-free title.
Each state has its laws regarding quiet title actions and eligibility factors for filing an action to quiet title. Generally speaking, most states require that the person filing a claim for quiet title has the real property at the time of filing. If there is a mortgage on the property, some states will require that the mortgagee or lender is the party to file the quiet title action.
How Long Does A Quiet Title Action Process Take? What are Some Resolutions to Quiet Title Actions?
The amount of time that a quiet title action process may take will vary greatly according to the specific circumstances of each case. It usually takes about 2 months but can take as much as six months.
The process varies from state to state. In general, if you need to file a quiet title action, you will need to take the following steps:
- Go to your local county assessor’s office and obtain a copy of the deed, which will show if there are any liens against the property
- Check county records to determine the exact boundaries and description of your property to ensure you understand what you own and why there may be a dispute. Another good way of doing this is to hire a surveyor to find the coordinates of your land
- File a complaint for an action to quiet title in the appropriate court in your jurisdiction. The complaint must describe your claim to the property, as well as the nature of the dispute which gives rise to the action to quiet title
- Include the name of any parties disputing the title and what their basis for the dispute is
- Serve the complaint on any parties involved in the quiet title action.
It is important to note that the court will only approve the action to quiet title if the evidence proves that they are the legal owner of the property. If so, they will obtain a clear title. However, if the court determines that other parties have the legal right to the title, they will transfer the good title to the property party. Any result will become a public record with the county where the action occurs.
Besides establishing free and clear property ownership, quiet title actions have other purposes. A quiet title action can clear outstanding liens from administrative errors, which are common when foreclosed properties increase due to the volume of transactions transferred because of foreclosure. Quiet titles are also used to resolve issues with quitclaim deeds, although quitclaim deeds do not guarantee a clear title.
Should I Consult an Attorney if I Need Help with Quiet Title Issues?
As you can see, quiet title issues are complex and require a working knowledge of differing state laws to be resolved. If you are involved in any quiet title issues, consult an experienced local real estate attorney.
An experienced attorney can help you determine whether you need to quiet one of your pieces of property or whether someone else wants to sue you in a quiet title action. Your attorney will know all the procedures required to clear up the issue, and the attorney is the best person to represent your interests.