A “quiet title” is a name given to a legal proceeding that takes place in civil court when someone makes a claim about the rightful ownership of a property during a real estate transaction. A “quiet title action” is the evidence provided by the person defending their ownership. The questions about ownership can come from the buyer, the seller, or a third party who believes they have a right to ownership or that a previous owner has a debt owed to them.
Claims on a title that result in a quiet title proceeding occur somewhat frequently, and there are numerous reasons. So if you’re on this post because someone is making a claim, we can tell you first hand not to panic. You have options and the claim doesn’t have to stop your transaction from going through. Before we jump into your options, lets look at some of the reasons someone may make a claim or you have to go through the quiet title process.
Reasons a quiet title claim is filed include:
- The death of an owner (there can be multiple owners)
- When a quitclaim deed is used
- Disputes between a mortgage lender and a borrower
- If there’s a period of time where no one knows who owned the property
- Property boundary disputes
- Properties that were unoccupied for a long time
- Errors in surveying
- When there is a case of adverse possession (squatters rights)
- To settle tax issues
Each state has their own specific laws on who is able to file a quiet title action. Some states only allow the lender who holds the mortgage to file. In states like Michigan, anyone who has an interest can file. States like Florida and Texas require the current property owner to file the quiet title action.
The Process of a Quiet Title Action
- Research the ownership
- Draft a complaint for a quiet title action
- File the suit and serve any parties involved
- Obtain a court order
Research the ownership of the property
You can research the property’s ownership by:
- Checking with your local assessor’s office
- Seeing your county clerk
- Going to your local library
- Asking your local real estate agents
- Talking to a real estate attorney
Hiring a title company to research the chain of title (tracing ownership back as far as possible, similar to checking ancestry lines in people) is an option too.
Draft a complaint
In order to bring a quiet title action, you’ll petition the court by filing a petition. Some courts have “fill in the blank” forms that you can use, and you file in the county where most of the property is located.
File the suit and serve any parties involved
Gather all of your attachments and your petition and take it all to the court clerk. In most states, a quiet title action is filed in the lowest level general civil court. Make several copies and have the clerk stamp them all. One copy will be for each defendant as well as keep at least one copy for yourself. You then file the original.
Next, a copy of the petition needs to be sent to all named defendants. The final judgment will not be binding against any parties that you do not serve. Make sure that the server fills out a Proof of Service form with the court after everyone has been served.
Obtain a court order
You’ll next obtain a court order which confirms your ownership in the property. If your quiet title action is uncontested, you will get a default judgment. If you are fixing a technical title defect, then you also get a default judgment. However, if there is a dispute over ownership, you will get a judgment via trial or summary judgment.
The judgment will need to be recorded with the county clerk to make it a part of the land records. It then becomes part of the chain of title. Following your quiet title action, you will be in full possession of the property in perpetuity. You will also be protected from any further claims of ownership made against the property.
How To Avoid A Quiet Title
There are a few ways to avoid a quiet title:
- Carefully look for and resolve any problems prior to closing when the lender, seller, and buyer are still all together.
- Have the title companies “cure the title” by contacting everyone involved with the previous closings and proceedings to get the proper documents recorded.
- Have the title company issue a policy with an exception for the problem you are having.
- Hire a title curative service.
A quiet title action investigates disputes over who owns a property. While a quiet title action isn’t the first step in clearing a title, it does clarify any claims on a property. When used correctly, it ultimately helps to simplify ownership.