What Is Quiet Title?
Quiet titles are legal mechanisms that make it possible for a single owner to hold a clear title when there might be multiple claims to ownership. A lawsuit filed to establish ownership of real property is referred to as an action to quiet title.
The name of the action refers to the desired goal: “quieting” all other claims. A quiet title action effectively puts to rest any claims resulting from unclear transfers of the property in the past. A quiet title suit is also known as a suit to remove a cloud (any claim or potential claim to ownership of the property.) A cloud can be a claim of full or partial ownership of the property, such as a lien in an amount less than the value of the property. A title to real property is clouded if the plaintiff (as buyer or recipient of real estate) might have to defend her full ownership of the property in court against a future claimant. The owner may bring a quiet title action regardless of whether the respondent is asserting a present right to the property.
For example, the original owner of a property might give the property to a niece in a will, but later agree to sell the property to a buyer, and die before the sale could be finalized or the will changed. Both the niece and the buyer have valid grounds for filing a suit to quiet title because each has a valid claim to the property.
A common reason for seeking a quiet title is to clear up any problems associated with property conveyed with a quitclaim deed. A quitclaim deed ensures that the previous owner relinquishes all claims to the property, but it does not necessarily guarantee that the title is completely clear. Since the quitclaim deed can allow former owners to claim an interest in the property, the current owner needs some means of protecting their interests. This is the purpose of the quiet title.
When property is purchased via a quitclaim deed, the new owner usually requests a quiet title as soon as possible. This gives the current property holder a security of ownership that a quitclaim deed cannot provide. Once the quiet title is granted, the owner can feel confident in making use of the property in any manner allowed by current laws.
Other typical grounds for complaint include:
* adverse possession where the new possessor sues to obtain title in his or her own name;
* fraudulent conveyance of a property, by a forged deed, coercion, etc;
* Torrens title registration, which terminates all unrecorded claims;
* tax issues, where a municipality claims the title in lieu of back taxes owed (or a subsequent purchaser of land at a tax sale files action to gain insurable title);
* boundary disputes between private parties, states, or municipalities;
* surveying errors
* competing claims by missing heirs, reverters, remainders, and lien holders (often arising from basic foreclosure actions when satisfied liens are not properly discharged from the title due to clerical or recording errors.)
In order to obtain a quiet title, the claimant must request a decree from the local court of jurisdiction. The claimant must be able to present a legitimate claim to the property. For example, the claimant could document that the property in question is currently occupied by the claimant.
Further, the claimant would need to prove that he or she had taken possession of the property in good faith, and did not know there were other potential claimants.
The plaintiff must succeed only on the strength of his own claim to the real estate; the weakness of the respondent’s claim has no bearing on it. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof of ownership. A plaintiff may have less than full ownership, and maintain an action to quiet title. So long as the plaintiff’s interest is valid and the respondent’s interest is not, the plaintiff will succeed in removing the cloud (the opposing claim) from the title.
If the court deems the claim to meet the standards set by the local jurisdiction, the claimant is granted the action to quiet title. This is a formal announcement that the court has recognized the claim and that it supersedes any other possible claims against the property, even in cases where missing heirs, liens established under prior ownership, or remainders come to light at a later date. Unless compelling evidence comes to light, the claimant granted the quiet title is recognized as the legal owner of the property.
Quiet title law varies from state to state. Some states allow courts to fashion most of the laws regarding quiet title actions. Under common law, a plaintiff must be in possession of the property to bring a quiet title action, but many state statutes do not require this. In some states, only the person who holds legal title to the real estate may file a quiet title action, but in others, anyone with sufficient interest in the property may do so. Generally, a person who has sold the property is not considered to have sufficient interest. When a landowner owns property subject to a mortgage, the landowner may bring a quiet title action in states where the mortgagor retains title to the property. If the mortgagee keeps the title until the mortgage is paid, the mortgagee, not the landowner, would have to bring the action.
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