An action to quiet title is an equitable action commenced in the civil court where the property is located to establish the true title holder to real property against any competing claims to title. The action is similar in nature to a declaratory judgement in that the court is declaring rights of individuals to a property in question. The issue in a quiet title action is whether the direct or indirect actions of another person put a cloud on title?
To have good title, a property owner(s) must have exclusive possession, use, and ownership of the real property.
A quiet title action is necessary when there is any question as to the validity of the title to real property. Ambiguous title will decrease the value of the real property and make it less than marketable.
A property owner seeking to transfer real property with questionable title will need to settle all potential claims before conveying it. Most title insurance companies will not issue a policy until all claims and potential claims to real property are settled. These claims can challenge all of the property owner’s rights to title or the just the property’s ability to use the property as in the case of a boundary dispute or an unpaid mortgage.
Adverse possession occurs when someone continuously, openly, and exclusively uses the property as their own. State statutes govern the amount of time that must pass before an individual can acquire title through adverse possession. Adverse possession can occur over the entire property or simply a portion of the property. An easement, a right to use or enter onto a portion of another person’s property without possessing it, is an example of when adverse possession applies to only a portion of the property.
A piece of land may have had several surveys taken over the years. One survey shows one set of boundary lines and another survey shows a different set of boundary lines. Hence, a neighbor may be able to claim a portion of the property as their own.
Prior owners may not have paid taxes or contractors. As a result, these creditors will have a financial interest in the real property. Perhaps, the former owners did not record lien releases. The potential claims of creditors will affect the ability to obtain a mortgage.
Incorrect Legal Description of the Real Property
When the legal description is missing information or contains erroneous information the parameters of the real property are uncertain. This ambiguity can lead to future claims. Examples of errors in a legal description include-
If a will of a former owner is uncovered years later, the beneficiary of that will may have a claim against the title of real property.
Who May Is The Plaintiff in A Quiet Title Action?
Many states allow on the true title holder to property to commence a quiet title action. Some states allow individuals in possession of property to be a plaintiff to a quiet title action. In some states, mortgage holders can be a plaintiff as well.
When to Bring A Quiet Title Action?
State statute of limitations govern the timeliness of a quiet title action. Statute of limitations can range anywhere from a few years up to 20. However, the rules relating to the beginning of limitations period vary according to the state’s statute. The statute may start to tolling when an adverse claim first exists or when it is discovered by the plaintiff.
How long does a Quiet Title Action Take?
Once a quiet title action begins it can take two to three years to complete. It can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
The first step is filing a petition in a civil court. In this petition, the plaintiff must describe the adverse claims to title, provide a legal description of the property, list the defendants, and a request for the court to quiet title.
Once the petition is filed, the plaintiff must make all those with possible claims to the real property in question aware of the pending quiet title action. This is done by filing a document called a lis pendens on the land records where the real property is located. The plaintiff may also have to serve all the defendants listed in the petition with notice of the quiet title action. This process can be difficult if all the defendants are not known or they cannot be located.
The plaintiff will need to obtain documents to assert his title. The types of documents will vary depending on the nature of the claims against title. Updated surveys will quell boundary disputes. Corrected legal property descriptions will fix clerical errors.
In order to obtain a satisfactions of tax liens and mortgages, the plaintiff may have to negotiate to pay a sum to settle the claim before obtaining them. The negotiation process can take time and may increase the duration of the quiet title action.
The judge must issue an order that quiets all claims to the title of the real property.
Once the plaintiff has the documents necessary to clear any adverse claims to title and a judgement, he will need to record them on the land records in the jurisdiction where the real property is located.
Alternative Remedies to Quiet Title
To prevent clouds on title it is wise to have a title title search conducted on property before you acquire it. A title insurance company will conduct this search and it can reveal potential claims. Also, having an accurate survey of the real property, making sure all debts (mortgages, taxes, loans and contractor bills) owed in connection with the property are paid in full and have the proper release executed and filed on the land records will prevent future claims.
Consider investing in a title insurance policy. Some banks require title insurance policies as a condition to getting a mortgage or line of credit. A title insurance policy protects a property owner against adverse claims that affect title. The cost of a title insurance is regulated by state statute. The cost of a policy ranges from a few hundred dollars to two thousand dollars. However, this policy will gives a property owner peace of mind knowing that if a claim to title arises, the policy will protect him against the costs to defend it.