If you are confused about what quiet title is, you are not alone.
This is because the vast majority of property owners never need to bother with it.
However, it’s always good to be informed.
To start, a quiet title action investigates disputes over who owns a parcel of land or a house.
You may be wondering, “How could it be uncertain who owns a property?”
For the most part, these situations occur when there is a defective title.
The title of your property is a legal document that states who owns it (usually the deed).
However, when the title is defective, conflict can arise, or the land or house can be sold illegally.
In these situations, it can be difficult to determine who owns the property at all.
For this reason, a quiet title exists.
It’s the process that can help resolve any title problems in real estate.
If you’re faced with this issue, keep reading to determine the 11 things you must know about a quiet title.
1. A quiet title helps to clarify ownership
A quiet title is an action lawsuit or legal proceeding that clarifies property ownership.
Unfortunately, there are instances when a prior transfer of title was not done properly, and this can complicate your claim of ownership by creating a title defect.
There are also cases when multiple claims to ownership of a parcel of land or house that was inherited can exist.
Other times, there may be another party who genuinely believes they have title to the property.
If a property has multiple claims, disputed interest, or title defects on it, then the quiet title process will allow you to clear up any potential discrepancies that may remain on the title.
Some other issues that quiet title can resolve are as follows:
adverse possession claims
tax taking issues (i.e. when someone acquires title through a tax sale and wants insurable title)
boundary disputes or survey issues
Regardless of the issue, quiet title helps to determine ownership once and for all.
For more key issues when buying vacant land, you can watch our video below:
In case this is all a bit confusing, here are two examples where a quiet title action was required.
Grandfather Jones passes away and leaves his property to his son, Mr. Jones, in his will.
Neither the son nor the estate initiates probate in the county where the property is located.
Mr. Jones passes away and leaves the property to his three sons in his will.
Again, neither the sons nor the estate initiate probate.
A few years later the sons try to sell the property, but the buyer’s title company will not insure the above chain of title.
In this case, there are two title defects that need to be cleared.
In addition, because one of the defective transfers was done so long ago, there is no realistic way to go through the probate process in the present day and so quiet title is necessary.
In this example, the quiet title action was not contested and the judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ (i.e. the sons) favor.
Mr. Jones passes away and doesn’t leave a will.
His daughter begins paying property taxes on a parcel of vacant land that Mr. Jones owned.
Probate is not opened in the county where the property is located.
The daughter tries to sell the property claiming she is Mr. Jones’ only heir.
The buyer’s title company will not insure the property.
It turns out Mr. Jones had a couple of sons as well.
A few of the sons contest the daughter’s sole claim to the property.
In this case, a quiet title action is necessary since there are competing claims of ownership and no will.
This is also a case where the judge did not rule in the plaintiff’s (i.e. the daughter’s) favor given the scarce evidence that she had a greater claim to the property than Mr. Jones’ other children.
2. You may need a quiet title action to get a mortgage
If there are multiple claims, title defects, or disputed interest on your property, then you may need to file a quiet title action in order to obtain a mortgage loan.
A title action clears up any claims on the property title, which is sometimes necessary for a title insurance policy to be issued.
Title insurance in turn is necessary to obtain a mortgage loan.
Long story short.
In certain circumstances, this isn’t a skippable step, especially if you are getting a mortgage.
Make sure you resolve any outstanding concerns at this stage in the process.
3. The legal process can take up to 6 months
While a quiet title action typically takes around 8 to 10 weeks to complete, it can also take up to 6 months.
The length of the process depends on your specific case.
If you are initiating a quiet title action just to clear up a technical issue, it will probably be a shorter process than if there is another party actively claiming ownership.
Be sure to give yourself time and flexibility.
4. A quiet title costs roughly $1,500 to $4,000 depending on the circumstances
Quiet title action is never the first step.
In most cases, a title company will look to cure a title defect on their own, and a quiet title is their last-ditch effort.
But if you need to initiate a quiet title action, the cost will not only depend on your specific situation, but also on your location.
Each area has different regulations on how these types of situations should be handled, which can affect the price.
5. You can avoid a quiet title
Ultimately, the quiet title action process is costly.
It requires an immense amount of time and effort and slows down your personal timeline as you attempt to purchase a property.
Thus, there’s a lot of motivation for everyone involved (you, the title agent, etc.) to try to close on time and avoid the quiet title altogether.
The lawsuit itself is intended to give every party with a potential claim to a home or a parcel of land an opportunity to present their evidence of ownership.
In the end, a judge will evaluate all the evidence presented and make their judgment.
If no one contests you in the suit, then you’ll be granted ownership rights.
The best way to avoid entering into a quiet title action is to seek advice from the right resources.
As mentioned above, the title company will often try to cure most title issues for you.
However, if something more complicated shows up, reach out to a local attorney with experience in this field.
They’ll be able to advise you on the best course, so you can avoid unnecessary action.
6. A quiet title action is a legal dispute, contacting an attorney is wise
A quiet title action is a legal dispute.
That means it is a real lawsuit with plaintiffs and defendants.
The quiet title action is filed by the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney in a court of law.
The defendant is then served notice of the suit and given time to respond.
In most cases, the defendant will be everyone who may have a claim to the property other than the plaintiff.
Oftentimes, the defendant never shows up or asserts interest, but it’s still best to have a lawyer represent you as the plaintiff.
Unless you have legal knowledge or experience with previous cases like this, it’s in your best interest to have a representative who can handle it on your behalf.
7. If you’re seeking to purchase an unoccupied house, you may want to file a quiet title action
If a home has been unoccupied for quite some time prior to your purchase, you may consider opening a quiet title action on it.
You may not know whether there are lessees, lien holders, or heirs that exist without your knowledge.
To ensure that your ownership can’t be undermined, you may want to have the title cleared by a judge.
Remember that loans, easements, corrected documents, and liens all have the potential for recording errors.
This means that you need the court’s help in resolving the issue before you can move on in the process.
If you do find out that there are heirs, lien holders, or unknown lessees on the property, then you can move forward in having them relinquish their claim.
8. Quiet title is often relevant to properties in certain unique situations
A quiet title may be pertinent to properties bought in foreclosure sales, estate sales, tax sales, or sheriffs’ sales.
If you’re considering purchasing a home or parcel of land from one of these types of sales, it’s never a bad idea to open a quiet title action to ensure that you resolve any existing questions about the possible claims of unknown lien holders, heirs, or unknown lessees.
Likewise, a quiet title action can clear the title if deed fraud or forgery exists in the property’s conveyance history.
Or you may consider it when there are boundary disputes, survey inaccuracies, or a failure to indicate the correct/complete parcel in the deed.
A judge can help to clear these defects and identify the buyer’s rightful position in regard to the title.
For more common mistakes when buying land, you can watch our video below:
9. If you acquired a property with a quitclaim deed, you may want to file a quiet title action
Quitclaim deeds convey a property, but give no warranty or promise that the title is clear.
This is why they are often used to convey title between family members or other related parties (such as from an individual to the individual’s trust).
In these cases, there is likely no issue if the original deed was a warranty deed or similar document.
However, if you acquire property from a third party via a quitclaim deed, you may want to consider a quiet title action to ensure title is clear.
As always, it’s best to consult with a lawyer before taking any action.
10. The quiet title action process includes a number of steps
These steps are the reason that the process can take so long.
The longest phase of the quiet title action process is often notification because it can take so long to find defendants.
Here are the steps you can expect.
Step 1: Complaint
This occurs when the legal action is filed within the county in which the property is located.
A document will be directed at any person or entity that stakes a claim on the property.
Step 2: Service
The clerk of the court issues service to the defendants in the case.
These may include heirs, prior lenders, and others who may have an interest in the title.
This basically means that the court will notify all defendants of the action.
The defendants will then usually have a set period of time to respond.
If it takes weeks to find the defendants in the case, then you’ll have a prolonged quiet title action.
Additionally, there are cases where one of the defendants is deceased.
In these situations, a guardian ad litem may need to be appointed to handle the case on their behalf.
All of these steps take time, which is why the process can be prolonged.
Step 3: Negotiation
In cases where no defendants respond or contest ownership, the process usually moves directly to judgment.
However, if a defendant responds, you may be able to enter into a negotiation with them depending on your situation.
For example, if the defendants are a mortgage company or another lienholder, then they may accept compensation in a certain amount to release the lien.
If a defendant is contesting your claim and is unwilling to negotiate, you will need to enter the litigation process.
Step 4: Judgment
In order to complete the case, you’ll need a judge to sign the judgment.
The plaintiff will receive the court order once the case has been decided.
Step 5: Recording
After you’ve received the judgment, you (as the plaintiff) must record the court order with the county where the property is located.
This prevents future claims to the title.
Step 6: Delivery of the order
The judgment and related documents must be delivered to the title company in order for them to issue the title policy for the property.
This is the conclusion of the case if there are no additional outstanding claims on the property.
11. Quiet title action comes with risks and limitations
Even if you go through the quiet title action process, there can still be multiple claims on a title.
Some jurisdictions only allow one quiet title action to address a particular claim or specific title defect at a time.
Therefore, unless you’ve acquired a property with a warranty deed or filed an action over breaches upon delivery of the warranty deed, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to bring legal action against any prior owners for defects.
Nonetheless, you need a clear title to finance or sell a property.
Thus, it’s in your best interest to go through this process and seek assurance that you are the owner.
No one else should be able to claim ownership or interest in your property.
Consulting a lawyer can help ensure that you’re protected against any specifics in your case.
While a quiet title action shouldn’t be your first step in clearing a title, it is a useful step in clarifying any existing claims on a property.
This type of lawsuit ultimately helps to simplify ownership when used in the right way.
Throughout this process, you’ll amicably resolve title issues or settle ownership disputes that exist due to issues with easements, property boundaries, previous ownership claims, or prior liens.
Reach out to a local real estate attorney if you think this is the right step for you and your property.
We also want to give a shout-out to Justin Sliva who contributed the examples in this post.
He is an active land investor and co-hosts Casual Friday’s REI Podcast with Adam Southey. Join them every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as they discuss some of the lessons they’ve learned over the years and more.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.