Wondering, What is a quiet title in real estate? It is a type of lawsuit filed to clear up questions about property ownership. People may discover these questions when they run into issues buying or selling real estate or performing improvements on their homes. In this post, we explore why people file quiet title actions, what a title is, and other aspects of quiet title actions.
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What Is Title?
Title describes someone’s ownership interest in a property. It explains what folks can or cannot do with real estate they own, such as make repairs, sell it, or build something on it. For example, if you rent property, your landlord has expansive property rights and can rent the unit and even sell it to others. As the tenant, you have limited property rights, which include living on the property for the term of the lease and excluding people from entering the property (except your landlord).
During a real estate transaction, the parties conduct a title search (usually with the help of a title search attorney or company). This search looks through the historical property records from when the property was first built to today. The investigation aims to determine the ownership rights the seller has in the property and discover if anyone else (say, a lender or a previous owner’s heir) has rights in the property. If there are actual or possible issues involving the title, the title is not considered marketable. In that case, the parties must either move on or file a quiet title action to resolve the issue.
What Is a Quiet Title Action in Real Estate?
A quiet title action is a lawsuit to resolve questions about someone’s property ownership. It typically arises when someone seeks to sell the property, but there are other instances where a quiet title action may occur. For example, an adjacent property owner may attempt to sell their property and discover that the fence on your property extends into the legal boundary of their land. In that case, the adjacent property owner may file a quiet title action to determine who owns what.
In most instances, a title company will not issue a title insurance policy unless the parties can resolve issues concerning the title. The possibility of a quiet title action poses a risk to the company, so they perform a rigorous title search at the outset. If you have title insurance, your policy may insure against losses associated with a quiet title action. It depends on your specific situation and the terms of the insurance policy.
Common Reasons for a Suit to Quiet Title
There are many reasons why issues concerning someone’s ownership in real estate may arise. For example, there may be an unresolved lien or conflict over boundaries. Additionally, someone may claim to own some or all of the property by virtue of adverse possession, or there may be breaks in the chain of title over the years. These situations can give way to a legal battle over someone’s title.
A lien is an unpaid debt associated with the property that is typically filed and included in the public record to help ensure payment. For example, a mortgage is a type of lien, as is an overdue invoice for an addition built on the house. For the title to pass from one to another, liens cannot be on the property when the transfer is complete. Unpaid liens that do not go away (e.g., are not paid off) during the transfer pose an issue. After all, the person owed money on the lien may file a lawsuit at any time. A quiet title action can help settle this issue so the new or existing owner can enjoy the property without the threat of a legal conflict.
Conflict Over Boundaries
Boundary issues may arise between adjacent property owners. They may occur if owners do not perform surveys on their properties when they buy or sell the land. Another source of boundary disputes is simply being unaware of where their property line is. Someone may have inherited the house and assumed that the previous owner built the old fence within their property line.
Breaks in the Chain of Ownership
If there is a gap in the chain of ownership, it calls into question the current owner’s rights. In theory, a break in ownership potentially means the actual owner is out there and may enter the scene and file a lawsuit to get their property. A quiet title action seeks to identify the source of the gap and determine who has ownership rights.
An adverse possession claim may occur if someone has used another’s property for years without issue. If the person uses the property continuously for a certain amount of time (currently, 20 years), they may gain title to the property even though they did not purchase it from anyone.
How Long Does It Take to Quiet Title?
There is no average or expected time for a quiet title action. The length of the case depends on the complexity of the issues, the number of parties, and the interests at issue. Some cases may last longer than others because the parties need additional time to conduct research and prepare arguments.
Contact the Attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC
If title disputes threaten to disrupt your ability to enjoy your property, our real estate lawyers are here to help. For over 160 years, we have stood by and fought for the people of Tennessee. Our team takes a collaborative approach to determine the best solution for our clients.
If you are experiencing quiet title issues, contact our team today to schedule a consultation.