In terms of real estate law, owning the title to a property means that you are the property’s rightful owner. As such, you may live on or sell the property as you please. However, property ownership is not always straightforward, and disputes regarding who actually owns the title and the property itself frequently arise.

The person who is having their ownership rights disputed may need to take legal action in order to end the dispute and reestablish their right to the title. This would be referred to as an action to “quiet title.” Associated disputes generally occur when another party has reason to believe that 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 to be free and clear.

A second party may believe that they are entitled to the property, and dispute the actual title holder’s rights, for numerous reasons. An example of this would be when family members disagree about whether the title was properly conveyed from the prior property owner to the new owner. This specific example is also common when the property has co-owners.

To summarize, a quiet title lawsuit is brought by the person whose ownership is being disputed. This is done in order to obtain a court order that would prevent anyone else from claiming the property as their own. 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 either legal or equitable interest in a piece of real property. Past ownership disputes as well as a clouded title can complicate the transfer of real property. Another example of why it would be beneficial to establish title to property would be that when purchasing a property, you should obtain title insurance. However, obtaining title insurance on a property that has a clouded title is considerably difficult.

Establishing title to property is also beneficial early on in the process. Before a property transfers owners, a title report will show whether there are any clouds to title, which can be expensive and time-consuming to clarify. A quiet title lawsuit can ensure that any title issues, such as ownership disputes or recording errors, are corrected. This would further ensure that other parties who claim an ownership interest in the property will not contest the sale of the property.

Some examples of the most common claims for quiet title include, but will be further discussed below:

  • A dispute regarding a mortgage or lien on the property;
  • There is a boundary dispute; or
  • Someone used an easement on the property, without the easement ever being recorded on the deed of property.

Simply put, it is beneficial to establish title to property because it makes buying and selling the property much easier later on. It provides clarity in situations that may be unclear without an established property title.

When Does a “Cloud on Title” Occur?

Because quiet title actions revolve around a cloud on title, it is helpful to further discuss 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, such as the boundaries of the land were recorded incorrectly;
  • As previously mentioned, a long-standing easement on the property was not actually recorded on the title document;
  • Issues with property taxes, such as the city claims that the new owner’s title is not sound due to back taxes being owed;
  • The title was conveyed to the new owner under duress. or through other fraudulent means; or
  • Various other issues related to recording the title properly, such as failing to note an old lease on the property.

What Is the Purpose of a Quiet Title Action? Who Can File a Quiet Title Action?

To reiterate, action to quiet title is brought by a title holder when their claim to the title is disputed by someone else. This other party also claims to have rights to the title and the property. The quiet title process resolves the disputing party’s claim, so that they can regain a dispute-free title. While the title owner hopes to have the dispute resolved, the court will determine who the actual property owner is based on a number of factors. As such, it is possible that either party could be granted title to the property.

Each state has its own laws regarding quiet title actions, as well as eligibility factors for filing an action to quiet title. Generally speaking, most states require that the person who is filing a claim for quiet title possesses 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. An area attorney will be best suited to explaining what is required to be eligible for filing an action to quiet title.

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. The quiet title legal process can take up to six months. 

The process varies from state to state. In general, the process is as follows:

  1. Obtain a copy of the deed, which will show if there are any liens against the property. This can be at your local county assessor’s office;
  2. Check records to determine the exact boundaries and description of the property in question, to ensure you understand what you own and why there may be a dispute;
  3. File a complaint for an action to quiet title, in the appropriate court in your jurisdiction. You should ensure that the complaint describes the title owner’s claim to the property, as well as the nature of the dispute which necessitates the quiet title action;
  4. Include the name of any parties disputing the title and why they are disputing; and
  5. The complaint should provide notice and be served to any parties who are involved in the quiet title action.

It is important to note that the court will only approve the property owner’s action to quiet title if the evidence proves that they are actually the legal owner of the property. If so, the party who brought the lawsuit may 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 be recorded with the county in which the action occurs. As such, it will be public record, and further disputes may be avoided.

Resolutions to quiet title action generally involve establishing free and clear ownership of a property, and resolution of any potential defects found from a title search. Another resolution would clear outstanding liens from administrative errors, which is 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 in order to be resolved. If you are involved in any quiet title issues, you should consult with an experienced and local real estate attorney. An experienced attorney can help you determine whether you have a claim, and if so, how to begin the process of taking legal action.